Chris Schwarz's Blog

The Best Uncle in the World?

Reader James Carpenter is trying to put together a list of tools to purchase as a gift for his 6-year-old nephew. Man I wish I’d had an uncle like him. The best present I got from an uncle was a “Men at Work” LP.

In any case, James has been doing a lot of research and come up with this preliminary list. What do you think of his choices?

– 6″ or 8″ sweep Millers Falls 30 series brace with improved Barber chuck without ratchet.
– A nice complete set of auger bits appropriate to the bit brace.
– An auger bit file appropriate for sharpening the auger bits.
– Miller Falls No 2A Hand drill. (Maybe a new $20 Schroeder Hand Drill with Ã?¼” chuck)
– Better quality small woodworker’s vise (mounted into a child-sized workbench)
– Coping saw
– Well-made Ryoba or Dozuki Japanese pull saw.
– Appropriate small hammer (likely  a 225g Japanese Octagonal hammer)
– Small crow-foot for removing small nails. (I’ll skip this is if the hammer has crow-foot)
– combination square
– tape measure
– Surform tool
– Assortment of slotted and Phillips screwdrivers
– Assortment of small pliers
– possibly a few books
– child safety glasses
– Nice set of appropriate portable toolboxes.  This will either be a smaller suitcase style toolbox(s) with wheels, or a few small hand carried toolboxes small enough for my nephew to carry.
– wood glue
– rubber bands for clamps

Roughly speaking, the items higher on the list are better candidates for a used purchase than a new purchase.

If you want to help James spend some money, leave a comment below. Also, check out this article on Charles Hayward’s basic list.

– Christopher Schwarz

36 thoughts on “The Best Uncle in the World?

  1. Bikerdad

    NO slotted screwdrivers. They are evil, and dangerous. They slip so easily, and the ol’ screwdriver in the palm is a sure fire enthusiasm killer! They should be outlawed, any vendor selling slotted screws in this day and age should be flogged! Okay, maybe one.

    For a tool box, look for a "stool box". A place to store his tools. A place other than the floor to sit. A place to stand when needed.

  2. Charles Davis

    One other option is the old-time Handy Andy Child Woodworking kits that you can always find on eBay… the tools are kid sized… here’s one for example:

    A lot of these sets on eBay require a tetanus shot prior to use.

  3. Narayan

    Great idea, and it’s good that you’ll let your brother be a filter for the more dangerous tools.

    You’ve got a great list already, and I sure as heck would have been happy to receive that even as an adult! I like Mattias’ idea of making the actual present more project based. To build on that theme, perhaps you should get the tools, and have him use them with your help to build his own toolbox(es). That would be a great, utilitarian way to introduce him not only to the craft, but to the tools themselves. You could even have them magically appear in the toolboxes later…

    The only things I’d add is some real clamps (handscrew or spring or even some small f-bar clamps) and some sandpaper.

  4. Bill Owens

    Oh, one more thing – consider a kid-size sawbench. My kids kept wanting to crosscut things by clamping them onto their benches, which is terrible for them for all the same reasons that it’s terrible for adults.

    My kids can manage with my ‘full-sized’ sawbench, though the youngest would benefit from one slightly shorter. You’d win major uncle points by including one; both John Wilson and The Schwarz have nice designs.

  5. Bill Owens


    I started my kids on ‘dangerous’ tools quite early, by impressing upon them the difference between tools and toys. After a couple of repetitions it stuck, and hasn’t been a problem since. If that works with your nephew, I don’t think that 6 years is too young.

    As for the saw; I don’t buy pull saws because I don’t like pull saws – it’s just as simple as that. What I do buy are old, worthwhile saws at flea markets, usually in the range of $1 each. A saw with a comfortable handle and a blade that will bend without taking a set is going to be a thousand times better than anything you can buy in the home stores, even before you de-rust it. Once you clean it up and put some wax on the blade, I’m betting it will be perfectly usable for the little guy, without any further work, but if you know how to sharpen the saw, so much the better. If you don’t, what’s keeping you? 😉

    Amongst new saws, I have found a couple of inexpensive gent’s saws that were usable, and although I don’t really like those handles the kids seem to be OK with them. They tend to use those with the bench hook for small parts, and the ‘real’ saws on the sawbench for heavier work. Or they ask me to cut it, which I’m always happy to do – better to keep the project going than to have it stall out in frustration.

    I only have one other recommendation, if you can find it – a Stanley Bell System eggbeater. They have a completely enclosed gear system, which saves on the pinched fingers. I’ve scored a couple off of eBay at reasonable prices and the kids love them. I don’t mind avoiding the pinches either, but I’m addicted to my M-F eggbeaters, as well as the bigger Stanleys.

  6. James Carpenter

    I forgot to list the HSS Japanese pull saw mentioned by Rob Porcaro which looks like a particularly good choice, and not terribly expensive. Does anyone know the relative danger of this saw compared to a Ryoba or Dozuki and to the rather mild 15pt/inch dovetail saw?,42884,42924&ap=1

    (I’m assuming the set would also contain a coping saw.)

    Thanks again to everyone for all the great feedback. If I saw my nephew more often, I would likely heed much of the advice on a more gradual introduction of the tools. As it is, I’m better off just letting my brother introduce them as he sees fit. The best part is my brother has all the responsibility, and I get to play uncle. 🙂

  7. James Carpenter

    Straight cut options from Stanley:

    20-221 – 10" Blade Length x 12 Points Per Inch SharpTooth™ Fine Finish Mini Utility Saw

    15-022 – 10" Blade Length x 15 Points Per Inch Dovetail Saw

    15-086 – 15" Blade Length x 12 Points Per Inch SharpTooth™ Fine Finish Saw

    Notice all saws have a simple wood handles which allows them to be easily modified for small hands as needed. The dovetail saw is probably fine as it is ignoring orientation, which would take an entirely custom handle to fix.

    * Is a 12pts/inch Sharptooth blade going to be too dangerous?

    * How much does handle orientation matter? In my limited experience, I believe I could put a whole lot more power onto a saw with a handle at a right angle to the blade as the finish saw has. When I was young I needed all the mechanical advantage I could get.

    * Any suggestions for an alternate, decent but non-elite brand/model that might be a better choice? The Craftsman saws appear to simply be re-branded Stanley tools. I can’t see spending a fortune in this case on an amazing high-end Schwarz/reader worthy saw.

  8. James Carpenter

    I just got back from a tour of sears’ tools department. James Watriss is definitely right about a Japanese pull saw being too scary for a 6yr old.

    For straight cuts the 15pt/inch 10 inch dovetail saw seemed about the right size and danger level. Unfortunately, the handle alignment is like that of the coping saw rather than a small cross-cut saw. It was a better child size than a miter box saw which gets a bit heavy. The miter saw available also had an angled handle, which would be very useful in an adult operated miter-box but less so as a cross-cut tool. (Please, forgive me if I mess up my woodworking terminology.)

    I suppose I could build an alternative handle for the dovetail saw, but it would be easier to find a similar model online with a different handle. I don’t have much in the way of tools in my loft. Mom and Dad’s farm 6 hours away is a different story.

    Any ideas here?

  9. Rob Porcaro

    Few ideas, mostly with safety in mind:

    Lee Valley sells a very rugged HSS pull saw with a handle that will probably be easy for the little guy to use:,42884,42924&ap=1

    Square drive screws and driver are much less likely than slot drivers to produce a cam out accident.

    Nails can fling up unexpectedly when being removed. Better to hammer them in and leave them. Make sure any nail is well entrenched before releasing the finger hold. Soft end grain is a good training place.

    Consider designating some tools as only to be used when an adult is right there with the child working, and others for less immediate supervision.

    Snap back: I’d use C, F, or small parallel clamps instead of rubber bands. The clamps can also hold work for rasping, sanding, etc. Careful with the tape measure.

    Get some pine and poplar (better than plywood) from the home center and have a blast!!! (First project: toolbox??) Beats video games by a mile.

    Rob Porcaro

  10. Jim

    I think this is a wonderful gift. I wouldn’t be overly concerned about safety, assuming that there is adequate adult supervision. Any tool that will cut wood, will also cut skin, so supervision is a must.

    I don’t, however think 6 is too young for building projects. My three year old daughter LOVES working in the shop with me. She absolutely refuses to let me use any power tools because of the noise. I can’t even use my drill press, which is the quietest thing in my house that has a motor.

    A good idea for keeping projects interesting is to build things he is interested in. Work with him to build toys that he is interested in. If he likes toy cars, build ramps and roads. If he likes action figures, build a base or some buildings to knock around.

    Make sure to help him learn how to use the tools. Anybody can pick up a power drill and screw some boards together, but it’s difficult to figure out how to cut a dovetail joint by hand, or how to accurately smooth an edge with a hand plane. If you teach him the proper techniques and respect for the tools, he will learn how to use them safely.

    He may not appreciate the significance of the gift right now, but he will remember it and grow to appreciate it.

  11. Mattias in Durham, NC

    This is so nice of you to do this for your nephew. But having been around some 6-year olds, I think it is going to take 100% supervision. 10-12 or older (depending on the child) is probably closer to going off and doing some tinkering unsupervised. You might think of this as a longer term project. But 4 years or so is really not that long time.

    About the tool list: I’d be inclined to turn it around. Instead of trying to make a complete list of tools for "any" project, you might think of a specific project this 6-year old might be interested in, and make a list of tools that will be needed. You might consider making pre-cut parts and drill out any bigger holes that would be needed (e.g. bird house).

    That whole kit of tools might be a bit intimidating and even a bit abstract. Then maybe the next project will require more tools (or maybe not). That’s at least how I end up with pretty much any tool that I have (and how I learn!).

    As to safe tools, try sandpaper. But safety is relative. You might watch this TED talk:

    Also, check this out:

    Craig Stevens has a book about woodworking with kids at that website. It’s spiral bound (to sit flat):

  12. James Watriss

    Hi James,

    The reason I think the pull saw would be more dangerous is simply that, im my experience, they’re made better, and they’re MUCH sharper. For starters, they’re thinner, which helps them cut through wood as easily as they do. The teeth are shaped more like knives than the saw teeth I grew up with on push saws, and they have, at times, literally sliced through parts of my fingers. I’m not questioning your brother’s ability to handle the proper introduction of tools, just pointing out that in this case, a duller western-style saw, with all the force and fury of a 6 year old behind it, is less likely to do damage. It might hurt if he does run over his own arm with it, but it’s not going to CUT. All that said, I think that the coping saw is probably more appropriate for his size, and his arm length.

    You’re right, pull saws are a little easier to handle, and you can certainly reverse the blade in a coping saw. And once he’s a little bigger, and he’s had enough nicks and scrapes to have some common sense around tools, I think a dozuki (one-sided) saw would be great.

    And really, I think the coping saw will be fine for most projects that I’d think a 6 year old would do.

  13. Shannon Brown

    I’m old enough to remember when they made child tool sets.

    As for any tools, that’s hard, because I keep changing my mind on my own tool kit. Also, call me overly cautious, I think 6 is a little young to start woodworking. But here’s my list anyways:

    A miter box saw, for strait crosscuts.

    combination square

    3′ tape measure

    Hand Drill, for pilot holes

    Hammer, for simple nail joinery

    Sanding block for finishing

    A standard size philips head screw driver.

    I know that’s a pretty sparse list; but I’m thinking most small children would not have the physical cordination for big "grown-up" projects, so I’m thinking simple projects like spice racks or letter holders at first. Later on I would say add a block plane, brace and bits, a sharp tooth saw, coping saw, 3/4" chisel, and maybe a jack plane (high maybe). As for brand, new or used, that’s up to whoever to decide. That’s a can of worms I defiently don’t want to open.

    "Men At Work" huh? I can’t rip to bad on ya, when I was young, I had Micheal Jackson and Culture club albums and 45’s. Then I discovered heavy metal and it’s been musical bliss ever since.

  14. Charles Davis

    Given how technically inclined kids are these days maybe a cnc router?

    Seriously, I’d add a decent rasp and card scraper to the list… these are tools that I often grab for immediate gratification which is the M.O. of most kids I know and best of all they are cheap, unless it has "Auriou" branded on it (rasps that cut perfectly and worth every penny IMHO).

  15. James Carpenter

    Handle sizes are also something I’m worried about. Living in a loft in downtown Houston, I don’t really have the ability to mill custom handles when appropriate.

    To this end, if you know of a particular make/model for a given tool which solves the handle size/ergonomic issues please let me know.

  16. James Carpenter

    All great advice. Please keep it coming.

    I choose the Japanese pull saw because another site suggested it is much easier for kids to handle a pull than a push saw. I expect this is an anatomy thing. If not a Japanese pull saw, then what sort of western saw (how long, teeth count, etc.)? Have a make/model and/or style to recommend?

    Stupid question: Why would a pull saw be any more dangerous than a western saw? Is it the thinner blade’s ability to place greater pressure on a smaller area? Is there such a thing as a safer duller saw? I wanted to avoid a double edged pull saw to help minimize the risk. Are there less effective (safer) thicker pull saws available?

    In building bird houses, rubber band guns, etc. won’t it be a problem to make big enough holes at times? I recognize my brother can always step in with power tools when required, but as mentioned above that sort of ruins the fun a bit.

    I do expect my brother will have to carefully introduce the more dangerous tools (saw, bit brace), with some requiring supervision when used. I’m just not sure how one can do anything without at least a saw of some sort.

  17. CatX

    Might want to do a western saw rather than the easy-to-kink japanese saws.

    Beyond that, I think it really depends on the 6 year old. I’d very likely have been fine with a set like that, but the same certainly wouldn’t have been true for many.

  18. samson

    Yeah, I think a lot of items on this list would be appropriate for a 12 year old, but not a 6 year old. My daughter’s 7. I’ve seen a lot of kids this age up close. They need tons of supervision to use even the most basic tools.

  19. James Watriss

    I like the general direction of the gift, but I think that, unless this 6 year old is unlike most of the 6 year olds I’ve met, many of these tools will get either neglected, lost, or broken. I do think it’s a list that will keep on giving, if young neff (short for neff-you) proves to be both talented and interested in the craft.

    I’d start with a hammer and some nails, a short work table, a decent vise, a coping saw, and a surform tool. And maybe an eggbeater drill. At 34 I’d love if someone gave me a really nice ryoba, but I’ve cut myself pretty deeply with the ones I have, and well made ones are pretty sharp, and that might pose a hazard, as would some drill bits.

    6 year old attentions being what they are, I think it would be too easy to wander from tool to tool, and not be able to see the work anymore. Most 6-8 year olds I know can always name their favorite toy. Most grown-ups, on the other hand, have a hard time narrowing down the category, let alone the choice. Fewer tools means more attention to pay to the fun of doing the work, and learning to make things at an early age.

    One other thing to keep in mind… many of these tools are really, really cool, and my guess is that Mom and Dad and uncle James will want to play, too, and show him how all the tools work. That’s great, if they’re showing him their tools. But (and I’ve heard this directly from teachers) one of the biggest problems with having parents int eh shop class is the instinct they all have to jump in and show their kids how the thing is supposed to be done, and the end result is that the child learns to watch, instead of learning both how to work with the tools, and becoming familiar with how his own appendages work… I was still wiping out on the playground at 8 years old, let alone 6. Simpler, safer tools will be less likely to get adult juices flowing, and young Neff will, I’m guessing, have a much better time actually using them.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a wonderful list. I just think that many of the things on it would be less appreciated and used by the 6 year old than the crayons he’ll obviously need to make and color in the bat-symbol on his new wooden bat-fish-plane that shoots lava at the bad guys.

Comments are closed.