Using hand tools is fun for adults and children. It’s easy to stay safe when you teach kids to follow the top two woodworking safety rules. Please model safety as an adult by using a vice or clamp to keep wood still.
This is only a partial list of safety rules for kids. For the complete list, please download my freebie bundle on Teachers Pay Teachers. It includes a Woodworking Safety Rules printable, along with a Tools and Supplies Checklist, Woodworking Buying Guide, and links to helpful Hammer Saw Drill videos.
Top Two Safety Rules
1. Supervise children when they are using tools.
2. Keep the wood still.
If the wood moves, the tool can slip and might hurt someone. To stay safe, secure wood while using tools.
Here are four options to keep the wood still:
1. Use a vice for sawing or drilling.
● A vice is sturdy, holds wood away from the table, and allows for more versatility when positioning the wood. When using a vice, you saw through the side or end of the wood.
● A vice is heavy and may cost more than a miter box.
● A clamp-on vice is small and quick to set up and take down on tables 2” thick or less. You can put a small piece of scrap wood or thick cloth padding between the clamps on the vice and the table if you are concerned about the table getting damaged. Some kids are strong and have the ability to overtighten!
2. Use a miter box and clamps for sawing.
● A miter box helps you cut vertical and diagonal lines. For straight cuts, a miter box is the way to go. When using a miter box, you can saw across the side or the face (the widest part) of the wood.
● A miter box often comes with a backsaw. This is fine for most adults and older youths, but in my experience most young children prefer using the dovetail saw with the miter box.
● A quick-release bar clamp is usually lightweight, and opens wider than a vice, making it a good choice if you have a thick tabletop. There are a variety of clamps to choose from to fit your budget. C-clamps are usually more affordable than quick-release clamps and most kids love turning the handle around and around. The quick-release clamps are easier for adults and children with weak hand and wrist muscles.
Clamps have jaws that open and shut. To secure a miter box, open the jaws and put the top jaw on the end of the miter box and the bottom jaw under the table. Then close the jaws tight enough that the miter box does not move.
Most kids love using the clamps. Let them do it! (As stated above, you can put a small piece of scrap wood or cloth padding between the jaws and the underside of the table if you are concerned about the table getting damaged.)
After the clamp is on, have the kids wiggle the miter box. If it moves, have them tighten the clamp. Depending on physical ability, you may need to finish tightening it. If it still moves, no worries–see adaptation below for a solution.
Many adults and older children can use a miter box by holding it still with one hand while sawing with the other. But adults with weak muscles may need to use clamps when using one by themselves and while woodworking with children.
I use one clamp to secure the miter box to the table and another to secure the wood in the box. The addition of the second clamp should keep the box still. This may not be the traditional way to use a miter box, but it’s the adapted way that works for children and adults with weak muscles.
3. Use clamps or a vice for drilling.
If nothing is holding the wood when kids drill, sometimes the wood will spin. Some kids love this spinning action, but it may cause the hole to be crooked or in the incorrect place.
They can use a vice to hold it still or clamp it to a table. If they clamp it to a table, remind kids to put a thick piece of scrap wood under the piece they are drilling so they don't drill a hole in the table.
4. Use a human clamp.
Adults or other kids can be human clamps by holding the wood still with their hands while the builder drills holes.
Once kids start nailing project pieces together, they can be tricky to fit in a vice. It's often easier to have someone else hold them.
Have the human clamp helper hold the wood still against the table by pressing down on it. Then the builder can drill holes or nail pieces together. A human clamp works well for drilling with a hand drill that is not electric. Do not use a human clamp for sawing. Always use a vice or miter box for sawing.
To learn more about the basics needed to get started woodworking, be sure to read Beginner's Guide to the Essential Tools & Supplies You Need for Woodworking with Kids.
Be safe and have fun sharing woodworking with kids. They'll love it!