Kids of pretty much any age can use tools. Determining which age groups can use what tools (with what kind of supervision) is the trick. When do you trust someone to use power tools? When do you trust a student to cut without supervision? In this post I will talk about cutting tools used in woodworking. Here are some thoughts based on our experiences at Lighthouse.
Japanese Saw- The japanese style handsaw is much easier to cut with than the European counterpart. It cuts while pulling towards the body, which helps keep the blade flat and straight. The saw cuts best when the saw is not being excessively pushed or forced. Use of strength is not necessary, and is in fact counterproductive, to quick and accurate cutting. Young makers (5-10+ yrs) can use a Mitre Box to help maintain a square edge. These saws can be used safely with minimal supervision at any age.
Battery Powered Circular Saw – A battery powered circular saw is a good tool for middle-school aged makers. The saw must be held with two hands, eliminating the possibility that a stray hand gets in the way of a stray blade. The motor is not powerful enough to pinch and create kickback, unlike a corded saw. Using a Square to draw a straight line helps students create square edges. After a few supervised cuts, most students can begin to make cuts on their own. Goggles should be used at all times when using power tools.
Mitre Saw – Also called a Chopsaw, used by middle school and high school students, and requires an adult present at all times. Students should be instructed on how to hold and move the saw, then do some ‘dry runs’ without wood to get used to the noise. Goggles should be used at all times when using power tools.
Jigsaw – Since the jigsaw is best for curved cuts, it is a more specialized tool than the other saws discussed here. Most young/new makers making simple projects (boxes, stools, small chairs) only need straight cuts. The few students who need to make curves can be individually instructed to use the jigsaw after learning to make other cuts. Goggles should be used at all times when using power tools.
Table Saw- The table saw should only be used by advanced high school makers. They may start by making cuts on medium sized pieces of plywood, and only later move on to making longer rip cuts. Make sure the guard and push sticks/blocks are used at all times. With the amount of time we had this summer, I felt more comfortable making the few necessary table saw cuts and having students catch the offcuts behind the saw. I wore goggles, because I don’t like wood chips in my eyes.