Kids and Carpentry…

Monday, November 3rd, 2014 | Family

…in which I talk about how I’m a terrible carpenter, but how that doesn’t matter when you’re only 7 years old.

This weekend, Ansel wanted to do a woodworking project. You see, at his request, we bought him some tools for Christmas. Not toy tools either, but real, kid sized tools. I don’t do a lot of projects around the house, but with the occasional inspiration, or infrequent maintenance, I do have the tools out now and again. Often enough, it would seem, that Ansel wanted to get his own set.

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Hard at work.

So when I asked Ansel what he wanted to do this weekend, he said he wanted to build something out of wood. I said, “Okay, but we can’t just ‘build something,’ we need to have an idea about what we’re building.” He gave it some thought and decided that he wanted to build a toy. Well, no surprises there. I asked him to be more specific and really think about what he wanted to make. He ultimately decided he wanted to build a toy boat.

So as far as the construction went:

Ansel designed the entire project. He came up with the concept and layout and drew it on paper. He had even thought about how individual pieces of wood and how they would be placed against each other. He thought through the thing mechanically. His drafting skills still need a bit of work, so I suggested he build a LEGO mock-up. He excitedly ran back to the LEGO room and returned a bit later with a decent prototype. At this I had a much better idea of what he was seeing in his head. I asked him a few questions about certain parts and how they related to the original drawing, and we both got on the same page about how it was all going to come together.

The next day, we went to Lowes and bought a couple of pieces of wood. He picked out the pieces to go with the scale that he was imagining. Neither his drawing or LEGO model were to scale, so I let him decide how wide and long the boat would be. He had to decide how long the boat was going to be as well as how wide and the thickness of all of the parts. He was very confident in his choices and we walked out with a whopping $3 worth of wood.

When we came home, we went over his plans again, still the original sketch mind you, and started to look at how we were going to take the raw materials and put it all together. We discussed how the walls were going to be oriented, which ones would box in others, and such, so that we could make correct measurements. We talked about construction, about whether he planned on using nails, screws, or both. He decided he wanted to do both – which was nice because it would give him additional experience. We had a few more minor details to work out before we actually set to cutting and constructing.

Once we got going, he was responsible for measuring out and marking off all the pieces we would need and I would cut them. He told me how long the boat would be, and we set right to measuring out the interior walls/benches. I showed him how to use the tape measure and to my surprise, he already knew inches, halves and quarters. I had to teach him eighths, which he never quite got, but we did pretty good. I showed him how to hold the T-square and how to make a straight line that I could cut on.

The final product - a boat, complete with aft cabin and "cube people."

The final product: barge/boat, complete with aft cabin and “cube people.”

The initial, interior walls/benches were screwed on, so I drilled some pilot holes for him to make the process a bit easier. Once we got to the outside walls, however, they were all nailed on and he did that unimpeded (with the exception of one particularly stubborn  knot that I had to pound through). All in all, I focused entirely on the sawing and placement of parts, while he was responsible for everything else. I’m so proud of his developing skills. We went through his plan, step by step, inside to outside, saving the more complex cabin for last.

We were probably on it for about an hour and while it is not the best construction – there are crooked edges, gaps, split wood, and other very unprofessional marks – it was very close to what he had imagined. Most importantly, he had the experience of starting with an idea that existed solely in his mind, going through the planning stages, and coming out the other side with a physical product. I’m proud of him for all the work that he put into it, and so happy that I could facilitate this project for him.

So while we could have purchased some pre-cut, quick assemble project, this one was a lot more personal. That’s not to say that we won’t invest in something like that in the future, but I feel like with this, there was a lot more growth and learning. It wasn’t just about how to use the tools, but also about how to think structurally and develop an actual plan. Most importantly, however, is that we both had a great time with it and it was an ultimately rewarding experience  – splinters and all.

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