Some Projects are More Important than Others

I’ve been doing a fair amount of work on the entertainment center lately; building, filming, and editing. I’m just about ready to post the first part of the build. However, in the last two days I had to stop to work on a much more important project. My 5 year old was playing in the shop one evening with me last week and asked if we could build a project together. Well, when one of my kids asks me to build a project with them, I don’t pass up the opportunity. Of course if my 5 year old wants to build something, my 3 year old will too. So the work on the entertainment center got pushed aside, I stopped at Home Depot to pick up a couple pine boards, we cleaned up some space for us to work, and we started making dust.

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The one thing I’ve learned about working in the shop with kids is to let them decide what they want to build. If you try to make something too complicated, or if it takes too long to build (like more than an hour), they quickly lose interest. So it’s important to just let them have fun. If that means just driving some pegs into a board to make beds for their babies, so be it, even if the bed resembles nothing more than a board with some pegs in it. To them, their creation is a masterpiece, serves their intended function, and provides them with enjoyable time in the shop with Daddy. This is not the time to teach fine joinery. These are glue and nails projects.

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This time, however, they upped the ante a little. The project my girls decided on was a Handy Manny toolbox, and it needed to be a “real one” that they could paint this weekend. For those of you without kids or grand kids, Handy Manny is a Disney Cartoon handyman that uses talking tools to make house calls and fix things. Of course there is a lesson in every show, but the kids just like the talking tools. Building a real toolbox would require breaking the project up into two evenings (so they wouldn’t get bored) and doing some of the work for them while they were in bed. Basically, I created a kit that they could mostly just do the assembly. I did let them help saw some parts, to get them involved and teach them about using sharp tools safely; and kids always like using the egg beater drill. But most of what they did was assembly of the “kit”.

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So I cross cut all the parts to size with their help. We used the shooting board to true the ends (they really liked this part) and assembled the center boards with liquid hide glue and nails. That got us to bed time, so after they were slumbering, I took the time to scroll out the end boards, drill the pilot holes for the nails and bore the 7/8″ holes for the handle. Tonight, we finished the assembly by gluing and nailing on the end boards and adding the handle. Total project time, about an hour and a half for them and another hour for me while they were sleeping. All that’s left to do is break a few corners and their new tool boxes will be ready for them to paint. However, they couldn’t wait for paint before loading their tools up in them and trying them out. They were two happy handy girls who were all smiles while they fixed everything in the house until bed time.

Total project cost, $19; time spent working with the kids (or grand kids), priceless.

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15 thoughts on “Some Projects are More Important than Others

  1. Bob I am glad to see your having some quality time with your kids. I am sure this will be in both of your memories in the future.

  2. Best reason for project delay ever. The time we have with our kids is precious. Mine is 2 1/2 right now, and I hope to work with him in the shop some day. Great post.!

  3. You’re really doing something right Dad!

    An hour of attention at that age is asolutely wonderful. I’ve seen a lot of young children lately who are “blessed” with so many activity choices (and piles and piles of toys) that their attention span is often less than 5 minutes. I sometimes think “Attention Deficit Disorder” is based in overwhelming numbers of choices given by well meaning parents who pile on too many choices, trying to offset the two few choices they remember having when they were young.

    So much for my pop-psych opinion.

    Great post!

  4. Great job, dad.

    Working with your kids in a shop can be nerve-racking at times due to their impatience and your concern over finger-loss and such. But the payoffs are, as you say, priceless.

    I miss projects with my daughter. She’s now a teenager and less interested than she once was with pounding nails and cutting wood 🙂

  5. Bob–

    Not only do you have beautiful girls, not only are they spending time with Daddy, but they are learning something far more important, something they will keep long after the tool boxes are history.

    They are learning that they can make things, that if they want something they can do it themselves, and if they want, they have the ability to do almost anything. They are learning that toys don’t have to be purchased at the store, that they can be generalists and do many things.

    And they get toolboxes as well … how cool!

  6. Bob,

    That’s great. I love doing projects with my 2 boys (a little bit older than your girls). I do struggle with what is age appropriate for them to learn (and also they only want the power tools which I don’t use much any more!).

  7. Nice post Bob. It looks like you’ve had a great time there. And I have to admit that I can imagine the quality of pine you have there even at a home depot. Even in big lumber yards here in Holland you cannot find that quality of pine, its knots all over the place. So you can imagine what the quality is like in home depots.

  8. GOOD JOB!
    I still have the stool my daughter built in grade school…(she is forty something now. It is one of the pending projects to renovate it and give it to her daughter.

  9. Bob

    What a great project! It spurred me on to do the same thing with my 2.25 yo daughter this weekend just gone. Her attention span and ability is still developing, but she has absolutely loved it. I’ve done a bit of (amateur) freehand painting on the side with her name, flowers, insects, etc, and this is now her favourite thing. Thanks for the inspiration.

  10. This is a great example of getting kids in the shop and working with Dad. Well done.

    I love the tips about just following their own ideas of what they want to build. Creativity is so easily stifled.

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