DIY training for children and others

By Tom Phelan - ReminderNews
Featured Article - posted Wed., May. 16, 2012
- Contributed Photo

The other day I needed to get out my electric drill, which I keep in a special case - one that holds some sentimental value for me. Although I have had a few electric drills over my DIY history, I still use the same carrying case.

This special box - it's not really the sort of case you would buy for an electric tool - was one of my earliest creations as I began to learn how to use tools and build and repair things. Though it is dilapidated now, I designed and made it myself out of scraps of wood left over from the renovation of the living room in my family's summer home. The square exterior is made of wood paneling, and the top slides completely off the box. It is fitted with the handle from a drawer of an old dresser I had demolished. If this “creation” doesn't sound very sophisticated or glamorous, then you have an accurate picture. It is, however, functional. And, as I said, it made me think about how I came to be a DIYer, and how I obtained my “training.”

I can track my introductory training in the DIY skills across a few key project-points. I was the “go-fer,” and occasionally allowed to operate a hand tool during that living room renovation project. I watched, listened and retained almost all of the information I could absorb as the project was planned, material was purchased and demolition and construction took place.

Helping to demolish the old plaster and lathe walls in an 18th century wood frame building was the beginning of the education. As far as I can tell, it was the first time I could see how the walls of a house were constructed.

The first time I really used a hammer was during kitchen floor renovation a few years earlier. My older brother did the renovation, but a boyhood friend and I were assigned the tedious job of nailing down an underlayment of Masonite hardboard, over which he installed a new vinyl tile floor. My brother says his headache returns whenever he thinks about the relentless hammering my friend and I contributed to the effort. That was the biggest box of nails I have ever seen, and we tried to use every one of them.

Here are some of the principles I have distilled from many years of DIYing and a few less years of helping others catch the bug.
Introduce a tool, and demonstrate its use. Then let a youngster try it and practice on his own. A hammer is probably the best to start with. Use scrap wood and whatever old nails you can find. See what they make of it.

Help the neophyte learn to use a tape measure, and let them work on a project with you. Ask them from time to time to get the measuring tape from the toolbox and help you with a project. Teach them early to "measure twice and cut once."

Using a saw is a more difficult skill to learn. Once again, using leftover lumber and a simple project will produce quick results and help develop skills. Let them try making a sawhorse.

Screwdrivers require some dexterity that small children don’t have. But your student can learn about different types of screws, what they are used for, and the ubiquitous nature of the hardware in construction and other trades.

Demonstrate, but don't do it for them. You can't teach a child to paint or draw by wielding the brush or pencil yourself. Let them help with the design of the project or exercise. Let them try it themselves, and succeed or fail. Let them build things on a small scale at first, for use in play. They can fix them when they break, or build new and better versions when they need to.

By all means, teach your DIY students about safety, organization, cleanup and tool maintenance. Buy them or help them build a tool box of their own.

As a young man, I helped introduce a nephew to DIY. In truth, he helped himself to my tools, and I was forced to show him how to use them. That way I was sure to get my tools back. Today he is an accomplished HVAC expert, as well as a fellow DIY addict.

Indeed, the very essence of DIY is that when something needs to be done and you can't afford to have someone else do it, you do it yourself. When you do enough of these projects, regardless of the level of success, you develop confidence. At some point you cross an invisible line. Once you pass that point, if something needs to be done, there's no question whether someone else will do it. You can and will do it yourself. This is both a blessing and a curse, as I have learned over the years.

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