This woodworker admits that he is lucky to have an 11-year old daughter who is interested in woodworking, but he freaks out every time she uses a power tool. He’s taught her how to use them safely, has her using all the safety gear (eye protection, push sticks, etc.) but can’t control his fear when she fires up the table saw and goes at it. Any advice?
Michael Dresdner: I, too, have children ages 13 and 14, who at times work in the shop. However, I introduced them to tools a bit at a time when I felt they were ready for them andwhen I was ready to see them on that tool. Frankly, the table saw is not one they can use yet, not because I don’t trust their attention or judgment, but because it is a stationary tool built for a person of a certain height. They are too short to handle that tool safely, even with every other precaution in place. I guess I must have impressed them with just how dangerous it can be, because neither of them cares to use it yet. They have used the band saw, drill press, drum and disk sanders, and hand-held power drills. Presenting it in this way reassures them that it is not their ability I am impugning, but simply their size, and that will change over time. I might hasten to add that a tablesaw ? or any other tool ? would be too dangerous for anyone it was not sized for. There is a safety aspect to ergonomics that goes beyond comfort.
The kids have also watched me on tools, and from that have learned that even after 30 years in woodworking, I am never blase’ or cavalier about using them. Every single time, I still approach them with extreme caution and go through all the motions ? we all wear safety glasses no matter where we are in the shop, I make sure I sound a verbal warning when I am about to turn on a tool (and wait to make sure no one will get startled or be standing in the wrong place). They have often seen me stop and make a special push stick, fixture or jig, or clamping arrangement to make a cut safely. All that has its impact ? just like the fact that they have never seen me start or ride in a car, not even for one block, without a seatbelt on, nor do they ever see me exceeding posted speed limits when I drive. You may think that such risk taking has nothing to do with how you act in the shop, but that is not how kids interpret it. The message of safety is passed on in dozens of subtle ways, and the most important, I suspect, is through your own actions ? especially the ones you are not aware of. But know that they are aware of all of them.
Ian Kirby: I can well understand this father’s concern for his daughter’s safety. It’s fundamental. However, this whole question leaves me wondering how much Dad knows about using the table saw. He treats safety as though it were an ‘add on’ and mentions the ‘usual safety gear.’ Safety gear is not what safety is about. Safety is about understanding the work being done and doing it in a way which is inherently safe.
On a table saw you can do four operations. You can:
1. rip solid wood
2. cut man made boards
3. cross cut
For each operation there is a saw setup. In other words, there is a way that the table saw parts are positioned in relationship to one another so that the operator is safe as the work is carried out. Where the fence, the splitter, the top guard and the operator should be is different in each of the four operations. You can read about this and other table saw stuff in “The Accurate Table Saw,” (from Cambium Press) which I authored.
Rick White: The first question I would ask is: is the kid tall enough to use a tool. I know my 11-year old is too short to be working on a table saw. This is a bit more difficult, but you should also judge how much common sense the kid has. How’s his or her attention span? And do they show enough caution in their day-to-day existence. There are some kids I wouldn’t let near power tools until they are much older just because they are a bit flighty. Others show a level of intense concentration that makes me very comfortable allowing them to use power tools.
I also wouldn’t start them on power tools. Begin their woodworking education with hand tools (hand planes, sanding, hand saws, etc.) so they will learn how tools work. They will also show a greater appreciation for power tools if they’ve had to do the work by hand first.
Rob Johnstone: As a parent, I know nothing creates a greater sense of vulnerability than watching your child do something dangerous. I don’t really know how to get around that. My wife was unable to teach our daughter to drive, she was not afraid for herself or the car, but for our daughter’s safety. But I will use that situation as an example. Properly trained, with a good understanding of the rules of the road and in a safe car … there is no reason for extreme fear. Concern is well founded but freaking out is not. So, train your daughter well, help her where she needs it and don’t let her work alone.
Ellis Walentine: Only the parent has enough information to make the decision of when to start kids on machinery. My advice is to play it safe. A child of eleven may not be tall enough or strong enough or coordinated enough to use these machines properly. There are plenty of worthwhile and rewarding hand tool skills that can keep a younger woodworker busy until he/she is ready to start using machines.