Video: Kids in the Shop – Shaker Step Stool
Watch the kids of Fine Woodworking build their own versions of a classic
A few months ago, I saw a beautiful step stool made by Christian Becksvoort in associate editor Anissa Kapsales’s office, and I immediately wanted to build it. My 4-year-old has hit the stage where the kitchen stepladder was too high for him and this single step stool would get him to the perfect height. Then the thought hit me: Why not make the step stool with my son? The stool has a through-mortise on one leg and dovetailed construction on the other. If I was going to ask a 4-year-old to take on the task, I thought I’d better stack the odds in his favor and simplify it.
Then it hit me again: Why not get a bunch of kids together and make a bunch of step stools? While we were at it, we could make a video and encourage everyone to get out to the shop with their favorite little ones. Everyone thought it was a great idea, including video manager Jeff Roos (even though it was a logistical nightmare for him). As you can tell in the video, all four kids, aged 4 to 9, had a blast—no meltdowns, not even from the grown-ups.
If you want to try something similar with your little ones, there are a few things to keep in mind.
- Nobody knows your kids like you do. What is in the comfort zone for some might not be for others.
- Before you set foot in the shop with kids, set some ground rules. Ben Brunick once told me his golden rule with kids in the shop is “Push No Buttons!” and it sounds like a great start to me.
- They’re watching you, so when you’re operating the machinery, set a good example.
- No messing around while a machine is running.
- Make sure you have a good ratio of children to adults. We had three adults and four kids—it worked great for us—but I could understand setting a rule that each kid needs to have an adult helping/watching.
- Don’t underestimate the “biting” power of hand tools. I once saw a kid nearly cut himself at a tool show clearing a shaving from the mouth of a spokeshave. Show them the blade and create a no-go zone for them.
- Have extra parts on hand. It’s likely someone is going to screw something up. If you have extra pieces, it’s no big deal. I made up enough pieces for six step stools. In the end, it was just enough to get us through the day. It’s way better to have too many parts than too few.
We didn’t have the kids start the project from the top. I cut the parts to size and added the mortise in the step beforehand. If we had included the older kids they’d likely have been fine for the whole build, but when you throw two 4-year-olds into the mix, it seemed best to take out some variables. Again, you’ll know what’s best for your kids, but in my opinion, it’s better to leave them wanting more at the end of the day than have them be bored or frustrated because there is so much work to do.
If you’d like to build this step stool with some little ones, there is a free set of printable plans available here.
Very enjoyable. I can't wait for my grandkids to visit and I'll have a project for them.
Nice, getting them interested at an early age. You could see how proud they were of their accomplishments.
The adults could take some tips from the kids, ear protection, dust masks, etc. How about eye protection for everyone?
I enjoyed the video.
I love these kids. I cannot lie.
Thank you for this! I'm always trying to find good projects to get my kids (8 & 5 years old) involved in and this looks like a great one.
I think I just overdosed on "cute". That's a whole lot of sweet going on there.
Ben's video has added an ear-to-ear smile to this old face. There are few things more rewarding than the gleam in a kid's eyes when he/she sees the piece they built come together. Ben rocks!!!
These kids are the cutest!
Step stool for granddaughter Ava coming up! :-)
I hope you have as much fun as Ava does!
How many hours would you estimate for kid involvement? I'm wondering if I could break the work up into smaller intervals based on attention span and physical activity tiring my 4 year old out...
We had one day, probably 5 hours all told, with a lunch break in there.
I don't know about this.... Looks like forced child labor....
Just kidding. Great idea Ben and love the video share.
Love seeing you parents helping these kiddos make something they’ll probably have forever. Inspiring video for all of us!
Just finished one for the neighbor's granddaughter. She can use it to get into al kinds of trouble. Our son had a little 4 leg stool that he carried all over the house - it got him into more trouble than anything else.
Having built this, I have begun working on an adult-size version. I think it will be very useful here in our retirement community. The handle eliminates stooping and allows it to be hung out of the way. It also serves as a flag indicating the presence of the stool , hopefully eliminating stumbling over a lower stool somewhat out of view. I'll try a couple at out annual arts and crafts fair.
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