An introduction to DIY tools for children

This activity teaches children how to use a hammer, a wood saw, a screwdriver and an electric drill. Learning about hand tools and how to use them safely helps children understand the physical world around them and helps build their confidence at the same time.

What you'll need
  • A claw hammer or cross pein hammer
  • Small pins or wire nails (smaller the easier i.e. 4cm or 1.4inches)
  • A tenon saw
  • Screwdriver (crosshead is easiest for children)
  • Screws (small crosshead i.e. 4cm or 1.4incse)
  • Electric drill (corded or battery is fine)
  • 6mm an 5mm drill bits
  • Safety glasses or goggle (optional buy advised)
  • Ear defenders (optional but useful when using the drill)

Handing a hammer and box of nails to a child probably won't end well. However will a little planning and close tuition children can become confident in using hand tools with safely and with precision whilst building the basic skills required to carry out DIY projects.

1. How to use a hammer and nails

The hardest part of using a hammer to hit a nail into wood can be starting it off, it's also the part most likely to end with a bruised thumb. To make it easier take a piece of wood, pine is best, and lightly tap the nails into the face of the wood.

Now let the child tap the nails into the wood using the weight of the hammer. They don’t need to hit the nail very hard so encourage them to strike the nail head without swinging the hammer too much. Just let it fall onto the nail head and watch the nail disappear into the wood.

Older children might like to have a go at taking a nail out using the claw end of the hammer head. To do this simply slide the claw under the nail head and gentler lever it backwards to pull the nail out.

2. How to use a wood saw

Sawing a piece of wood is another exciting challenge and again a little bit of preparation can really help out here. Take a piece of wood, ideally flat and about 30cm (12inchs) long is fine and no thicker than 8cm (3 inches) and nail 2 small pieces of wood across its face leaving enough space between them for the saw blade. This will act as a guide stopping the saw bouncing around and reducing the risk of fingers getting caught by the blade.

Now let the child hold the saw and draw it back and forth between the guide letting the weight of the sway cut through the wood. It's worth putting the wood on some other scrap wood so that the blade doesn’t catch on the floor as they cut.

It doesn't matter if the cuts doesn’t go all the way through as it’s the feeling of cutting that will interest the child however most will probably want to see the cut completed so help out f needs be.

3. How to use a screwdriver

You can use one of the pieces of wood from the saw activity or the piece previously used for learning how to use a hammer and nails. Just like with the hammer it’s a good idea to start the screw off by giving it a couple of turns into the wood so that it stands up on its own.

Now show the child how to use the screwdriver to drive the screw into the wood. Remember to explain that the screw is threaded meaning that you turn it clockwise to screw it in and anti-clockwise to take it out again.

Let the child drive a few screws in and out so that they understand how the screw works and their turning of the driver is making it go deeper or return out of the wood.

4. How to use an electric drill

Power tools are very useful when carrying out DIY however it might be tempting to steer children away from using them as they can be noisy. However with the right support children can use an electric drill to make holes in wood which is a very satisfying activity.

Using the 6mm bit make a small hole in the wood as a guide hole so that the drill doesn’t bounce around when the child has a go.

Swap the drill bit to the 5mm bit and let the child hold the drill. They just need to put the tip of the bit into the pre-drilled 10mm hole, hold the drill upright and pull the trigger.

If your drill has a speed control its worth reducing the speed as this will make it easier for the child to handle the drill when its running.

General safety advice

It can be tempting to say no when children want to use hand tools. That's ok it's a natural response to the potential dangers of handling sharp, heavy or powered objects. Afterall tools are not toys. However by taking a few simple steps to manage the potential risks children can enjoy learning new skills whilst remaining safe.

  • Never let children use tools unsupervised.
  • If multiple children are taking part in the activity only allow one to use a tool at a time. Ask the others to watch from a safe distance.
  • Wear googles or safety glasses.
  • Wear ear defenders if your child is concerned by the noise of a drill.
  • Choose a dry day or use the tools inside if safe to do so.
  • Make sure the tools are in good working order before allowing children to use them.
  • Tidy all tools and materials away after the activity.
  • Be sure to communicate to the children that they are not to use the tools unsupervised and to ask an adult if they want to do the activity again.

Above all the aim is to give children the freedom to use the hand tools but to do so in a way that means they respect the risks but are not put off or intimidated by them. Following these safety guidelines will ensure that the activity is fun but safe at all times.

Extra information

Always test each part of the activity yourself before letting the child have a go.

Very young children might need some extra help holding or guiding the tools as they use them. Once you've helped them encourage the child to have a go on their own.

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