Sunday, April 28, 2013

Learning To Use Tools - Balsa Wood

About a year ago Mr Bubble&Squeak set up a tools area for the girls in our garage. He likes to work on our cars during his spare time and tries to involve them in what he is doing whenever it is safe. He put together a box of kid friendly tools and sectioned off an area where they could spend time with him and watch while he worked.
The girls have spent hours ripping up old cardboard boxes with pliers, making their block towers even with spirit levels and hammering golf tees into foam board. Their interest in building things and tools led me to create a little area outside this week where they could learn to use things like hammers and screwdrivers safely, and experiment with making things.
We started with balsa wood which is nice and soft as well as light to handle. I rang a few balsa wood workshops and was able to collect their offcuts for free which were perfect for the girls to work with.
Instead of nails we used thumb tacks which were easy for them to hold and hammered easily into the soft wood.
These were perfect for Squeak and she hammered tack after tack into her pieces of balsa. Bubble very quickly moved from thumb tacks to nails, starting with large headed thick nails to a range of other sizes. Both girls mastered the screwdriver very quickly and were both busy screwing and nailing bits of wood together all afternoon.

Please note : Obviously, safety equipment is a must whenever kids are using or around tools of any kind, but most important is supervision. Constant and vigilant supervision. Before the girls laid hands on the tools they were shown how to use them properly and they are both already well versed in the dangers of using them improperly. We made sure the tools were appropriate for them in size and appropriate to their skill level as well.

 * balsa wood offcuts
* child sized tools 
(hammer, measuring tape and screwdriver) 
* thumb tacks/push pins with large grips
* safety glasses 
* safe and secure work area 

The balsa wood offcuts were perfect for the girls to start with. The wood is very light and very soft. Make sure your thumb tacks have large grips to give the kids something to hold.

We keep our balsa in a large tub so the girls can choose what they need.

Squeak loved being able to use the hammer and tacks all by herself.

They both loved using the screwdriver. Squeak needed me to start her screw going the first few times but they both had it mastered in no time.

It didn't take long before Bubble was joining wooden pieces together.

The girls enjoyed measuring their offcuts with the measuring tape and marking the wood with textas to show where they wanted them cut. I would then saw the pieces for them to the lengths they wanted.

At the end of the day the screws and nails can be removed easily and all of it reused again.


  1. I love this post! I'm a big believer in letting kids do real jobs and use real grown-up tools, with the proper precautions. I'm featuring it at Layers of Learning tomorrow. I hope you come see it.

    1. Thank you Michelle! Me too, I want our girls to learn to respect things like tools and use them the right way. Woodwork is also a great skill to build (no pun intended!). Thank you for the feature, I'll pop over and check it out.