Chris Schwarz's Blog

My Young Apprentice: Day 1

I looked at my 10-year-old daughter Katy over a plate of chili dogs today and realized that this was the chance I had been waiting for all my adult life.

When I teach people woodworking, I spend about 42 percent of my time undoing the junk they have taught themselves, or trying to make them forget the machinist-like rules they learned for taming wood with electrons.

Unlearning is a lot harder than learning. I wish I were a hypnotist – I could cram a five-day class in handwork into about three days with time for coffee and crumpets, whatever those are.

My daughter doesn’t suffer from the problems of my students. Everything she knows is either directly from me or from watching me. She doesn’t fear any hand-tool operation because no one has told her it’s hard. The first blade she sharpened was like a razor. Her first mortise was square. Handplanes are easy and fun.

Today we embarked on a more formal education. This summer I am home with our kids and I have resolved to have Katy help me build an early Charleston side table that will be in Popular Woodworking Magazine.

It’s a simple piece, but it has turning, joinery, moulding, the works.

So as she munched on a chili dog, I talking about wood, and how you needed to learn to read a board the same way you learn to read a book. We talked about the rings of the tree and how they looked when you cut a board free of a tree. We talked about straight grain and cathedrals.

And then we went to the lumberyard to buy cypress.

I “read” a few boards for her and showed her how I evaluate stock – how it looks, how it feels, its defects and how warped it is. We went through six or seven boards before I found one we could use for the legs.

I pulled it.

Then I let her try. She pulled down some 14’ boards (thank goodness cypress is lightweight) and showed me how each was twisted, cupped or bowed. She pointed out shakes that were in bad spots. She was incredibly picky.

As I paid, Katy wandered around the store with my camera to take pictures of what she liked – mostly exotics.

When we got home, we unloaded the wood and stickered it in my rack to let it acclimate to the shop. And that’s when Katy spied my shaving horse, which I recently brought to my home shop.

“Can I try it?”

Sure. I gave her a piece of yellow pine left over from some workbench project and she secured it in the jaws of the horse. Then she went after the stick with a spokeshave.

“I love the smell,” she said, as she dove into a pitchy part of the pine.

After about 20 minutes or messing around I announced I was headed upstairs.

“Can I stay, dad?” she asked. “I want to make this round.”

Lesson one is over.

— Christopher Schwarz

Learn the Basics – Right
I can’t adopt you (what would the neighbors think?). But I can help you get started on the right foot with hand tools. Last year we reprinted a great book called “Exercises in Woodworking” that details all the lessons you need to become a hand-tool woodworker. Then we produced two DVDs that showed these lessons in action. It think it’s a great resources. You can read more about it in our store here.

25 thoughts on “My Young Apprentice: Day 1

  1. GregMiller

    Nice one, Chris. Kids are like sponges. They not only learn from what we actively teach them, but I am amazed how much they also learn by osmosis. I probably learnt more from my father while I was a kid by just watching him and being around him in his joinery shop than through him “teaching” me. The latter happenned more when I was in my 30′s!

    I run woodworking activities with kids aged 4 upwards, and have benches and tooling specifically geared for them – all hand tool stuff. Everywhere from festivals to pre-schools to schools to birthday parties.

    Lots of parents ask me about how to get their kids going in woodworking, when they see how much fun their kids are having. So I have started a second blog, specifically aimed at resourcing parents and other adults wanting to see their kids get woodworking:
    http://www.thejoyofwoodforkids.blogspot.com
    Some of your readers may find this helpful.

    Anything to promote the wonders of hand tool woodworking!

  2. mtnjak

    As a father of one (son) and soon to be father of two (a girl) in one month, I find this article very interesting. I wonder if I could take similar photos with my daughter 10 years from now? Oh, well. Got to work on the son’s skills first of course!

  3. Marlon1

    I have a 1 year old too. She likes to watch me work on the wood, but not as much as my 6 year old. You made a good decision to take on your new apprentice. Thanks for being my teacher also.

  4. donwilliams

    Chris you have just spoken truth to the enterprise of being an adult, to inculcate maturity into the young. Its paucity in our instant gratification culture is in great part behind most of the problems we face as a culture and a nation. too many people with big bodies want to have people with little bodies around as pets or trophies, not offspring to be nurtured in the wisdom of the ages.

  5. Sean A

    Cool story Chris. Just don’t make your apprentice sleep in the shop like in the olden days. DFACS might come knocking on your door! (^:

  6. BLZeebub

    Ditto what you say about UN-learning a thing. Bad habits are just that, BAD. Good habits are hard won but worth the effort. My pops didn’t teach me what I know now BUT he did teach me the basics starting with stance, body position relative to the work, controlled force and most importantly how to put an edge on a tool. Good stuff on which I’ve been able to expand comprehensively because my father cared enough to make sure I got off on the right foot.

    Also, he taught me that you can do a great number of things better if you can train yourself to be ambidextrous. I still can’t swing a hammer with my left but I can push a saw as well as I can with my right. Go figure.

    1. tsstahl

      Ambidexterity is normal for those of us who grow up sinister (left handed). :)

      I still haven’t decided the best hand to cut dovetails with.

  7. woodcanuck

    Keep these posts coming Chris. I’ve got a daughter turning 11 next week and she loves coming out into the shop with me…as long as the power tools stay off (her rule, not mine).

    She’s showing a lot of interest in wood and hand tools. It’s posts like these that help me focus my time in the shop with her to give her the best base from which to develop her interest.

    Thanks
    Ian

    PS…dang that’s a good lookin’ chili dog!

  8. yaakov

    Can I be your older apprentice? Or do you need a secretary, personal assistant, sidekick, lacky, toadie, shop dog or a man friday?

    My oldest girl is 9 and she visits me in the shop from time to time, but my 2 year old boy loves being in the shop with me all the time. I hope he will be my right hand man one day.

    BTW, I wanted to thank you so much for teaching me about Roubo and teaching me (via books) how to build a Roubo workbench. It has made me a better woodworker and a MUCH happier woodworker. You da man!

    yaakov….

  9. Snugitup

    It never ceases to amaze me how kids can appreciate the finer points of craftsmanship if someone takes the time to teach them. That’s one lucky kid!

  10. chris k.

    AWESOME Chris!

    Thank you for the inspiration, I owe my 11 and 8 YO daughters a date to turn some pens to start thier woodworking endeavors.

    Cant wait for the next installments!

  11. MarkHochstein

    I love these posts! My girls aren’t old enough yet, but every time you post one of these it warms my heart! I really hope you take notes and write an article some day on the best steps to acclimate kids to the shop, useful tools for their small hands, and projects that suit teaching them. Keep up the great work!

      1. LanceG

        I would pre-order that book today, on faith, if you guys put it in the bookstore. The books on woodworking with kids that I’ve seen have been much more about projects than learning, it seems. Also, most of them seemed targeted for older kids (mine are 4 & 5).

        /brainstorm on/
        Perhaps you could plan a book as a series of articles, which could be pre-ordered or subscribed to, perhaps as a companion to Exercises in WW? I know at least in my family, my kids and I would be co-apprentices, not master/apprentice. My primary job would mostly be “safety engineer”. :-)

        Heck, perhaps there would be enough of us to pitch in to “fund” such a project from PWW or LAP, with the aim of it becoming a free resource for keeping woodworking alive? Possibly an idea worthy of development at the WIA session? (& I think Ajax was writing something about Pay-It-Forward?! :-)
        /brainstorm off/

        OK, so it was more of a “brain shower” than a “brainstorm”.
        Fine, “sprinkle”. Be that way. :-P

        -Lance

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