Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Apprentice Day

I'd lay odds that most of us have a desire to share our woodworking knowledge with others and would welcome the opportunity to spark an interest in a young person.

With that in mind, I asked our friends if they'd like to bring their son, Eli, to my shop so that he and I could build something. They took me up on the offer and brought their three kids—Eli (five), Jillian (two), and Joel (5 months)—for an introduction to woodworking on Sunday.

I spent all day Saturday cutting the pieces, dadoes, grooves, and rabbets, for what would become Eli's first tool box. I also drilled a bunch of various-sized holes in some boards and chopped up a pile of pegs for Jillian's amusement. Joel, I figured I'd set up to work at the lathe. (joking)

It suddenly hit me, as I was designing the toolbox and working on the cut list, that being the one to introduce woodworking to a child was a huge responsibility. And I don't mean the safety factor.

Eli's first experience with woodworking could possibly make or break the enthusiasm for a potential newbie woodworker. What if the project wasn't fun and Eli ended up hating woodworking all because of me? Oh man. Pressure was on.

Well, you can see from the photos that both Eli and Jillian were captivated by woodworking. Both kids immediately snatched up the wooden mallets and started banging pegs into place. And Joel? He didn't cry or fuss and genuinely seemed interested in the unfamiliar noises.

One heartstopping moment came as Eli and I were deeply focused on building the toolbox. The adults were chatting, Joel was observing, and Jillian? Unbeknownst to any of us, Jillian had snuck behind me, entranced by the bright green "start" button on my table saw. The temptation was too great. She pushed it. And the rest of us took a collective leap out of our skins.

Fortunately, I had lowered all the blades and blade guards in the shop, so no one was in any danger. Despite this, Joel was the only one who was fully prepared for that little scare. He was the only one wearing a diaper.


Jeff said...

That is so nice of you to do that! I imagine myself in my dotage reading some woodworking magazine and reading about some famous modern woodworker and seeing that first picture again... Of course to be honest, the first thing I noticed about the pictures was the furry visitor in the 4th photo.

Grover said...

Kari that is awesome. It looks like everyone had fun. I have totally had that same HOLY CRAP moment with a table saw. My son was in the shop with me and decided that my table saw needed to be turned on I mean it's just a red button with some yellow what harm could it do. I think it scared him more than me. Needless to say from that day forward the safety key was pulled and all my tools unplugged. I learned my lesson and so did he. Congratulations on what looks to be a successful introduction to woodworking.

mdhills said...

Cute photos. Think you're a little more daring with your thumbnails than I would be (photo of Eli w/ metal hammer). Now, about making that good first impression -- I see you "let" him use a sanding block by himself, but your grip on the LN block plane looks pretty firm... think you need to pick up a couple user planes

Gonna have to solve that TS power issue myself (right now have a 9-month baby who dashes across the kitchen floor every time the door to the garage opens)

Allen Lindsey said...

That's fantastic! Next Wednesday I'm going to do the same thing with my son's pre-school class. 14 kids, 4 & 5 years old, each with their own birdhouse/bat house/butterfly house to build. I plan on taking pliers to hold the nails for them. No way am I getting my thumbs bashed that many times.

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Kari Hultman said...

Jeff, that's Rosie, my cairn. She was smart enough to observe from a distance. haha

Kevin, I figured with four adults and only two mobile kids, we'd be able to keep an eye on them. Wrong! Kids are fast!

Mdhills, I have only one blood blister after all that hammering, so I consider myself lucky. A 9-month old? Yep, you're going to be busy!

Allen, I hope you have a few more adults to help you with all those kids. Wowza. Good idea about the pliers. Wish I'd talked to you before last weekend....

Bob Easton said...

What a great day! The attention on the kids' faces says it all. It brings smiles all around. GOOD on you Kari!

... and that's a really nifty first toolbox!

Gye Greene said...

Pliers to hold nails: Or, a piece of narrow scrap (grain the long way) with a drill hole about the size of a nail, plus a kerf out to the end (for pulling the jig away once the nail's mostly in.

"Joel, I figured I'd set up to work at the lathe. (joking)": I was going to add, in the comments, "What? Not the miter saw [on the Workmate]?" And then I read on...

Little kids: To be forewarned: I have twin two-year-old boys. I'm finding that this age is the most hazardous intersection of speed, mobility, reach, and "got no sense". Younger ages are slower, and not as tall; older (e.g. my 5yo daughter) have at least a modicum of sense. But 2yo's...

Tool box plans: Nice! Saved to HD. (Saved as filename "toolbox_Kari_VillCarp.jpg". I guess you're the koi down in the old mill pond...)


JERM said...

Still waiting for the day my little girl (10 month) can help me out the shop. I installed a swing so she can hang out with me while I work. I don't let her "help" while doing glue-ups so she doesn't pick up any new words =)

Steve said...

Nice job with apprentice day. my 17 month old is actually driving me down the galoot path. I can't use any of my power tools while he is in the shop, so i've been doing it all with handpower. I even built a saw bench / toddler workbench (based on your saw bench)for him to use ...when I'm not using it.

Thanks for the great plans on the tool tote. I like the addition of the drawer.

John Cashman said...

Hey, Eli uses a hammer and mallet left-handed, and saws with his right. Good for him.

These are the days you'll always remember. Good for you.

Mitchell said...

There goes that kid's disposable income for the rest of his natural life. Way ta' go, Kari.

Anonymous said...

Great post Kari!

Dave said...

Great post Kari!

Al Navas said...


These are memories that will last a lifetime. A truly wonderful experience for you, and for the children, too!


Woodbloke said...

Hi Kari - you may have missed your true vocation somewhere along the line. I had 20 years of it and am very glad I'm out of the teaching scene. I have a life now and am slightly less frazzled than I was a few years ago - Rob

MKTRAT said...

I decided long ago to put all my power tools on a separate breaker. When I leave the shop I flip the breaker. If my son is in there with me its hand tool only time. So with the breaker off he can push all the buttons with no risk of powering up anything. Just have to be careful when I turn it back on. An un-person-ed drill press can be interesting.

bko said...

Hi Kari,

Nice job! I love that you put so much time and energy into making it special for these kids.

As a Cub Scout leader I have lead many, many woodshop projects with my Scouts and I can say you have it just right, with one little correction: I keep a supply of kid sized safety glasses in my shop. The kids love to wear them and they just make sense. Lee Valley sells nice ones, but I also bought a box of a dozen from an online safety gear store for around a $1 each. Good cheap insurance.

The other thing my Scouts love is the hand miter box. The boys know that can grab any scrap out of my scrap bin, clamp it down, and start cutting!

Anonymous said...

This is great! I'm working with a 15 year old who has a real confidence problem with his physical abilities (no physical problems...just totally believes he is destined to be uncoordinated). I've known him since birth and watched him grow. About a year ago I started taking him into the work shop and trying to show him that he could work with tools rather than be afraid of them. It's been slow going but it's working. Why we ever let shop and art be cut from schools is beyond me.

One question. Any nails or just glue in the tool box? It looks as if the bottom is just butted up against the sides and back.

Your blog's an inspiration...thanks!!


Kari Hultman said...

Bob, they were very focused the entire time we were in the shop--for two hours!

Gye, double check all those measurements before you build your box. I'm pretty sure they are correct, but you never know. Sounds like you'll be making at least 3 of them. :o)

Jerm, it's great to hear dads say they want to teach woodworking to their daughters. And holding off a while on the colorful language that only be created by glue-ups....good move. ; )

Steve, ah, you have in your son a GIT (Galoot In Training). What a nice journey for both of you. Please double check the measurements of that toolbox before you cut your pieces to size. Just in case....

John, you're right! I was thinking he was using his left hand all the time. Didn't realize he was a switch-sawyer.

Mitchell, no, no--repeat after me: Tool buying is an investment!

Thanks, Herrien, Anon, and Dave!

Al, I hope the memory sticks with the kids so maybe they'll pick up woodworking someday. Maybe even little Joel absorbed something.

Rob, I've taught a number of woodworking classes to adults, but never children. Both groups wear me out, so I don't think I missed my calling. ; )

MKTRAT, that's an excellent idea when you have kids. Of course, like you said, you must learn to brace yourself every time you flip the breaker back on. That would frazzle some nerves, for sure.

bko, thanks for the input. I did think of safety glasses, but I didn't have an kid-sized and the parents brought swim goggles, which might have worked, except they were tinted. I thought he'd be able to see better without them. But you're right, safety glasses are a must. Miter boxes are great for kids....and adults. :o)

Greg, that's awesome that you're working with him on building his confidence. What a great gift! We used glue and nails on the box. The bottom is glued and nailed as well, since all the grain matches.

bko said...

Hi Kari,

Here are the $0.99 each kid friendly safety glasses that I bought:


Two tricks for small nails and brads with kids: first, as others said, you can use needle nose pliers to hold the nail. Second, you can push the nail through some light-weight cardboard near the edge and use that as a handle to get started, then remove the cardboard by tearing to the side before sinking the nail all the way down.


rhenton said...

LOVE the westie in the background. Is he/she an apprentice? Or a fully qualified Shop Dog?

Anonymous said...

Thats awesome Kari. These kids will remember this for a long time.

Nice first tool box too....It's better than the one I have now!!

Dave B

Tico Vogt said...

Once I got cajoled into teaching woodworking mid-year at a Waldorf School. They were sixth and seventh graders. The idea was that kids should work with "nature". It was held outdoors because at the time they had no shop room, benches, work surfaces, nothing. But, they did have chisels and gouges. My first day was insane. Kids were running all over the place, jabbing at each other, carving on trees, woa. I was so unprepared. I can't remember what we possibly could have done but I have one particular memory seared into my conscience. At the end of the class a boy came up to me and said "Mr. Vogt, look what I did in class today" and then rolled back the sweater sleeve from his left arm. It was covered with crescent shaped, bleeding cuts he'd carved into himself. Later I learned that he was a "special" kid and he'd not taken his meds. Thanks for letting me know that after the fact, faculty! I didn't miss my calling as a teacher, either.

Kari Hultman said...

Brian, thanks for the link (I'll send it to Eli's parents) and keep it on hand, and for the tip on nailing. Like I said, I wished I'd talked to you guys before Apprentice Day! haha

Rhenton, Rosie is a Cairn terrier, which is the exact same thing as a Westie, except they're any color but white. And yes, she is a full-fledged shop dog. And a heck of a dust collector.

Dave, come on over sometime and we'll build two more--one for each of us. :D

Tico, that sounds like a teacher's nightmare!

Extremely Average said...

I am glad you posted this story about your weekend woodworking. It was delightful.

naomi said...

How nice! Rosie must be so cute with the kids! The tablesaw part is scary as hell!

Shannon said...

Good for you Kari, and what a great toolbox! I have become the unofficial shop teacher for a local church in the past year for a 1st-3rd grade class. So far we have built stools, churches, and boats. Next week we will be building little chariots and clothespin horses. Finding ways to design the projects so that they can be assembled without any kind of adhesive drying time or sharp objects has been a fun challenge.

JCHSwoods said...


As a High School Woodshop Teacher, I loved this entry. It makes what I do still seem relevant. Great pick me up story

Dyami said...

I've meant to post a comment since you posted this. That's what the rush of getting ready for vacation does to everything I want to do.

As a father I must say I'm a bit moved by the post and I can't wait for my boys to be old enough to apprentice.

Keep up the woodworking education to all!

Unknown said...

Kari.. Good post and glade to see.

A lesson to us all, by we woodworkers introducing the younger generations to the craft insures it will stay alive and well.

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Anonymous said...

Great idea for a project for the kids. If I didn't already think you were a caring person, this proves it. Glad I'm related to you. Hope some of your genius rubs off. Love, Margie

Kari Hultman said...

Thanks, Brian. :o)

Naomi, you said it!

Shannon, that's awesome. Those kids will never forget the time you spend with them.

Jacob, I'm glad to hear there are still some high schools that offer woodshop.

Dyami, I can imagine that it will be very rewarding for you to be able to pass your woodworking skills onto your boys.

Charles, that's the truth. It's vital to the craft.

Spammer deleted. Be gone!

Margie, Brianna is next!! ; )