A Tool Chest for My Son
Kids between the ages of 3 and 12 are the most prolific craftspeople and artists in America today
Kids, let’s say between the ages of 3 and 12, are the most prolific craftspeople and artists in America today. Yes, that notion might not resonate with whatever negative sentiment some folks like to indiscriminately couple with the phrase “kids these days,” and sure, they might not create great work. Nevertheless, it’s true. Children create their way to knowledge in paper, paint, cardboard, duct tape, and Lego every day. This truth, coupled with my love for making things in wood, compelled me to make and fill a tool chest for my son last Christmas (he was 7 at the time).
While we’d done some woodworking tasks together now and again, this seemed like a good time to give him a few real tools to call his own–he’d long since outgrown the plastic ones of his toddler days. I wanted to give him a good variety of tools to introduce him to the kinds of tasks involved in simple toy making (he’s a kid after all), furniture making, and basic home handyman stuff. In other words, I needed everything from handplanes to pliers and I needed to keep the cost down. Affordability has as much to do with budget as with practicality. Seven-year-old boys don’t need the best of everything to get a taste of the craft–that’s easy to forget when you’re a woodworker always looking for the next best plane or chisel.
Fortunately, I, like most woodworkers, had plenty of extra tools. Many of these were tools that I or my father (who had passed away three years earlier) had used regularly, so they also came with stories to pass along–my son loves feeling connected to his family’s history in that way. Because of this, I was most excited to pass on the vintage Stanley “Sweetheart” No. 3 smooth plane that my father gave to me as I was first getting interested in cabinetmaking, which had been given to him by its original owner. This is also the only somewhat valuable tool that I’ve put in the box so far. Choosing tools and sizes of tools was a challenge, but after a year of my son using them, I am happy with my choices (I’ve included an annotated list at the end of the post).
Though several chest designs would have been well suited for this project, I decided that a traditional dovetailed box best modeled the kind of work I do. Honestly, it’s the type I most wanted to make and give to him. To keep the investment in time and money more manageable, I limited myself to materials and dimensions I could get at a home center. For example, I took the main carcase from a single 8-ft.- long 1×12. The chest (16 in. deep by 32 in. long by 12¼ in. tall) features two sliding trays over a saw till and two storage wells on the bottom (I’ll probably add another tray over the saw till soon). I didn’t get around to building the frame-and-panel lid in time for last Christmas and, well, I still haven’t found the time to finish that yet.
Since my son is constantly creating and is usually pretty curious about my work, I was excited to give him the chest and all its tools on Christmas morning. I was eager to open the door to the world of woodworking and see if he’d like to come on in. I’ve been able to teach him a lot over the past year as we put these tools to use and we’ve also had a lot of fun. As it turns out, the biggest lessons have been less about woodworking and more about creative problem solving, managing frustrations, and working safely with things that are inherently dangerous (no blood has been spilled so far).
For me, the greatest, immediate reward in giving him the tools and chest came in the form of his reaction on Christmas day. He was excited to unwrap such a large package, but maybe a little underwhelmed by its contents. I was neither surprised nor upset by that. I knew that he’d come around. That night, as he was surveying the living room full of new things before he shuffled off to bed, he went over to the tool chest and fished out the copy of Richard Starr’s Woodworking With Your Kids (The Taunton Press, 1990) that I had set down inside it. He asked if we could look through it for just a minute. I obliged with a typical “just for a minute, it’s late.” Forty minutes later, I carried a very enthusiastic budding woodworker up to bed. Yes, the tools and chest were neat, but he was most excited by all the projects in the book that he could use those tools to build. I didn’t need to teach him what most good woodworkers already know: The tools don’t matter as much as what you do with them.
These are the things that made most sense to me for his age and as an introduction. You may have other ideas. If I had a spare spokeshave, I would have included that. I also left out marking gauges figuring that they’d be better later on. There’s plenty of room for growth in this chest.
- ¼-in., ½-in., ¾-in., and 1-in. bench chisels–I chose butt chisels because they are a much better size for little hands than the typical hardware store chisels (the WoodRiver set was nice and affordable).
- Carving tools–This is the one I might have gotten wrong. I included 6 palm-style carving gouges that I happened to have. Though these are small tools, I think they are more challenging to handle and control. I’ve since found full-size gouges better suited and would instead include a V-tool (something like a 6mm No.12) as an introduction to carving.
- Measuring tools: measuring tape, 12-in. combination square, framing square
- Set of screw drivers, pliers, adjustable wrench
- Hand drill (egg beater style) plus set of bits
- Saws: coping saw, dovetail saw (or any small backsaw), 20 in. – 22 in. panel saw 8-10 ppi filed for crosscut
- Set of basic files and a rasp
- Claw hammer, mallet, small cross peen hammer, nail sets
- Planes: Smooth plane (either a No. 3, No. 4, or a similarly sized wooden smoother– the larger planes are just too hard to push) and a block plane.