Teach your children to use tools safely

“What the?! You let your kids use tools?”

It’s a common question with an easy answer. Yes. My children use tools because they know how to do it safely. At 8 and 11, my two girls have been using screwdrivers, saws and pliers for years, and these practical skills have served them well.

When children are introduced to tools at an early age, they will continue to learn how to safely use them as they grow – making repairs or completing projects.

Woodworking and other DIY activities provide an excellent play situation in which children can work on their problem-solving skills, developing hand-eye co-ordination, spatial awareness, precision, and understanding how to use potentially dangerous tools safely. If nothing else, learning how to use tools properly helps boost a child’s self-confidence, self-regulation and self-control, creating students who are more focused and motivated to learn.

From a more physiological perspective, the act of using real tools has also been found to support the development of young children’s arm and hand muscles, which is a double bonus because it helps familiarise them with pre-writing tools before they move into their first year of school.

So are you convinced?

If you want some guidance on a few tools you can introduce your children too, check out our suggestions below…

wall of tools in garage

TOOL SAFETY

  1. Always wear safety glasses.
  2. Tie up long hair.
  3. Wear closed-toe shoes.
  4. Clean up after each project.

A little common sense goes a long way: Never leave your child unattended with any tools. Use your own judgement as to what age feels appropriate for your child to use hand tools unsupervised.

DON'T FORGET TO CLAMP!

Children don’t really have the strength to hold wood and use tools at the same time like adults do, so vices and clamps are a must-have to hold everything still. Plus, you don’t want them putting their hands or fingers in the way.

They may however need a little help to get the required clamping force to stop the wood moving. So help them out by getting them to tighten the vice as much as they can, and then giving it the last turn for them.

START WITH SANDING

Recommended age: 4+ years

Give your little one some sandpaper or a sanding block and let them loose on some old wood pieces. There’s not much that can go wrong here, but it’s still good to keep an eye out.

This sort of activity can also be good practice for teaching your kids about clearing up!

child hammering nail

IT’S HAMMER TIME!

Recommended age: 6+ years

First off, let your kids get used to the weight of the hammer. Talk to them about how it works and how to properly hold it (with two hands spaced apart).

Next you can get your child to practice their accuracy. Draw targets on a bit of wood and get them to try and hit the same one repeatedly. The more accurate they are the better for everyone – especially if you’re the one holding the nails for them in the future!

Now you can move onto something a lot more fun. Start off some nails in an old stump or chunk of wood that’s been secured down. Then let your little DIYers go to town hammering every nail until it’s flush.

TOP TIP: Roofing nails work well for activities like this because their big heads make them easy to hit and their short bodies mean they don’t bend very easily.

Once they have the technique nailed (forgive the pun) you can let your children try holding a small nail themselves and hammering it into some soft wood. It’s likely they’ll miss a bit and may even catch themselves – but practice makes perfect!

Bashing in nails isn’t the only thing you can use a hammer for. A claw hammer is essential for pulling out those inevitable bent nails. You can create a practice board to help your child work out the right technique.

Handsaw on a worktop

SEE-SAW

Recommended age: 6+ years (always supervised)

The hand saw is one of the most basic tools found in a toolbox and despite its scary looks, it’s actually one of the easiest and safest tools to use. Why? Because there isn’t much need for little hands to get near the blade.

How to saw like a carpenter…

  • The perfect fit. Make sure the saw is not too big or too heavy for your child. Not only do they need to know how to use it, they also need to be physically able to.
  • How to hold your saw. Grip the handle firmly, with your forefinger extended along the side of the handle – this will help you point the saw along the cut-line.
  • Keep your elbows close to your body. This will stop you from twisting or tilting the blade and make sure you get a good cut.
  • Measure twice, cut once. Always start by measuring where you want to cut (twice to be sure) and draw a line marking it. This line will help you saw straight.
  • Getting the cut started. Place the saw (with the part of the blade closest to the handle) on your cut line, then with a little force draw the saw backwards. Place the saw on the line again and draw it backwards. Once a groove of around 5mm has been created, get your little one to lightly push the saw forwards and backwards until the groove is around 2cm deep. Now they can really go for it – putting all their strength into it!
  • Make a backstop. A backstop is a great idea in case your little ones cut through a sheet of wood and slip. A sheet of plywood will stop the saw harmlessly, leaving you with nothing to worry about.
child holding pliers

PLUCKY PLIERS

Recommended age: 7+ years

If your child is ok with scissors then they can handle pliers. Start off with smaller ones (think about the size of their hands) and get some with comfy rubber grips.

To help them get used to using pliers, give them a spool of copper wire and let them have a play. Once they get the hang of it they’ll be bending, cutting, and twisting wire into whatever shape they want.

child drilling wood

THRILLING DRILLING

Recommended age: 9+ years

Now this is a step up – a proper power tool – so it should be approached with caution. Although we say a recommended age of 9 years, it’s up to you to judge whether your child seems capable and responsible enough to follow instructions.

There are a few tips to help you and your children use a drill safely…

  • It’s usually better to drill a pilot hole first. A pilot hole is a slightly smaller hole that’s drilled before you drill the full-size hole, and it’s used as a guide.
  • If you’re drilling a small, loose piece of wood, make sure it’s clamped down firmly.
  • Make sure to hold the drill steady as you apply pressure.
  • If you’re drill has a cord, make sure it is never left stretched across any pathways when not in use. Also remember to never pick the drill up by the cord.
  • Even if the drill bit doesn’t look hot after you’ve finished drilling, give it time to cool down before touching it.

A drill can also have other uses. You can attach screwdriver bits to your drill, start some screws in an old scrap of wood, and let your little ones finish them off.

child whittling stick

NIFTY KNIVES

Recommended age: 4+ years (for blunt starter knife) 8+ years (for a sharp knife)

Knives get a bad rap (and too right you probably say), but learning how to use a knife properly and for its intended use teaches critical and transferable motor skills.

Whether your little one wants to help in the kitchen or in the workshop the premise is the same – teach them to be safe and responsible – once they have that nailed, they can get as creative as they want.

Start off with a blunt knife (a butter knife or equivalent) and teach your children the basics. You can cut up play-doh if that makes you feel less nervous, but the kids will love helping you with dinner if they get to cut up the butter into cubes, or slice the cheese.

Once your little one is proficient with a knife, it’s actually better to use a sharp one – dull knives tend to slip off what you’re cutting, making it more likely that you will cut yourself.

Here are a few knife-cutting tips:

  • Hold the knife firmly but comfortably at the handle.
  • Never hold the blade end.
  • One useful cutting technique is to ‘Rock that knife’ from point to end. Start with the point of the knife on the chopping board then push the knife away from yourself, following the natural curve of the blade.
  • NEVER cut towards yourself! Even if you’re an expert, one slip in a textured surface could really injure you.
  • ‘The Chop’. Place the palm of your free hand on top of the blade (not the sharp edge). Them push the knife away from you while moving it in a 45° direction.
  • Watch out for any fingers – rogue pinkies sometimes get in the way, and children have a tendency to try and grip around the item they’re cutting.