Plan a woodworking birthday party

Eight tips for a safe and entertaining introduction to power tools and project-building

By Michel Roy

Photo by Michel Roy

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With my twin boys’ ninth birthday approaching, Elliot and Nelson asked if we could host a woodworking party for their friends. I happily agreed, but it took some preparation to make sure the event turned out to be a safe and rewarding experience for the boys and their pals.

1. Pick a project that isn’t too simple, but one that kids can finish by the end of the party. We chose the gumball machine from the Winter 2012 issue of Canadian Home Workshop.

I couldn’t imagine a group of eight-year-old boys spending two hours building bird houses; but to get those gumballs, they remained relatively focused.

2. Make a big deal about safety. We printed a list of nine safety rules and had each boy read one out to his peers. We encouraged everyone to point out safety slip-ups to each other, for example: “Those glasses won’t protect your eyes if they’re on your forehead.”

3. Precut components to save time, but don’t do all of the work. Give the kids several steps to complete before moving on to the next part of the build.

4. The serious tools, such as the drillpress and the bandsaw, obviously require adult supervision. But if you make jigs to position parts for the kids, they’ll find the machines safe and easy to use. Trusting them with these types of tasks is a great confidence-builder.

5. If you can, divide up each workspace with scrap-wood corrals to contain project pieces and to keep the kids from wandering around the shop.

6. Hand out parts and tools as they are needed rather than in one big pile at the beginning.

7. Limit the number of guests, based on their age, the size of your shop and the complexity of the project.

8. Enlist some help. For nine kids in the shop, we had three adults to make sure everything went smoothly.

Nelson’s and Elliot’s party was a great success. Their friends loved making a fun project and their parents were impressed that their children had accomplished so much in such a short time. And I had an excuse to make a tablesaw-shaped birthday cake for my boys.

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