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 Γƒ?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. Robert Winkler

    A good list of tools and some interesting and valuable comments. I would add one other item, or several….Pencil sharpener (the type one inserts a pencil into and twists to sharpen), notebook for sketches, and a package of band-aids…just in case.

  2. Walt

    Well, starting a child off with a nice set of tools is great, but in addition to the face shield mentioned, you should also start him out learning the hazards of wood dust! Get him a dust mask and make sure he uses it!

    One for yourself would be a good plan so that he can see you using it!

  3. Paul Olsen

    I got my first tool set at 6, because I kept taking tools from Dad’s workbench for my own purposes. I think that set consisted of a hammer and some nails, a set of pliers, a not-so-sharp saw, and a couple dull layout tools. I think there was an egg-beater in there too.

    Anyway, all those tools eventually got left outside or otherwise broken or lost through misuse and neglect. If this were MY six year old, I think I’d buy a complete set of cheap tools and plan on replacing them once the kid establishes an interest in woodworking.

    As for me, Mom and Dad never did buy me more tools. I moved on to other things until I was 30. But by then, I could afford my own tools, and man do I love them!

  4. Adrian

    I showed my daughter the gimlets when she was about 4, I think. She loved to use them to drill holes in things. However, it’s hard work, especially as the holes get bigger. She needs a much larger handle (dowel passed through the loop) to get enough leverage to drill with the largest gimlet in basswood even now at age 6.

    I recently got a brace (for myself) and my 6 year old loves it. She can make much bigger holes than she could with the gimlets due to the larger leverage. I was making a stool for her and had her screw in some of the screws using a bitholding attachment on the brace. (She’s not strong enough to get them all the way in with a screw driver, even predrilled. With the brace she can actually put in a screw without predrilling.)

    I find that she can do a little sawing with a fine toothed Japanese pull saw, but anything else is too difficult. The ryoba has bigger teeth and is just too hard to pull. The push saw I have in a mitre box is too hard. (I haven’t given her the coping saw and I don’t have a Zona. My experience with the "hardware store" type saws is that they cut so poorly that you’d exhaust the 6 year old’s alleged 15 minute attention span trying to cut one piece of wood. I think that if you want to give a child tools they should be ones that work.)

    I got my daughter the small hong kong trim plane from Lee Valley (item 07P12.10, I think) and she likes to use it to chamfer the edges of boards. It’s nice that it has the handle.

    I haven’t had much success in getting her involved in actually making anything, so far. (I’m not exactly overflowing with project ideas, though.) I figure if she has fun making holes and cutting chamfers, that’s OK. It gives her something to do if she’s hanging out in the shop with me. She did make some books for her dolls (3/4" rectangles sawed out of a scrap of 6mm baltic birch plywood, the several plys give them a book-like look) and now says the dolls need a car. (Oh, and by the way, it has to seat all 8 dolls. The right design isn’t immediately obvious. πŸ™‚

  5. Bob DeViney

    I’m reminded of an old saying: to a kid with a hammer, the world is a nail. I’ve been buying tools for my son and son-in-law for years, not because I’m a nice guy but so they won’t borrow mine.

    Thinking back to my childhood, I’m glad no one bought me tools when I was six years old, as they would have been lost in the woods in short order.

    I had two great grandfathers, both of whom always seemed genuinely pleased that I wanted to hang around as they worked. They’d explain what they were doing, which tools to use for a particular task, how things came apart or went together, etc. I realize now that they could have gotten things done a lot faster working by themselves, but they had the patience to slow down and give me some attention while my interest was aroused.

    I guess that’s why the list of tools and discussion of western vs eastern saws left me cold. The most important gift an uncle can give a nephew or niece is their time. Unhurried time. Time with twice as much listening as telling.

    There’s a battered old Stanley 220 block plane on top of the book shelf by my computer. It was owned by a man orphaned at six, who never went to school and could barely sign his own name, never owned a home or a car, and worked to the day he died at 78. Sometimes I need to just hold that cheap little #220 with my eyes closed; the sharp edges and crude casting burnished silky smooth from decades of hard work in calloused hands. The soundtrack to my memory is silent now, but in my mind’s eye I’m still looking up into his watery blue eyes that look down at me from under huge expressive eyebrows, in a place that smells of wood and steel – a place that is filled with love, and always will be.

  6. Patrick

    I really like the dual toolbox idea. I’m also throwing a little cold water on the tool list – your nephew, at 6, prolly can’t even grasp the concept of a project that lasts more than 15min. Truly. If it can’t be cut, glued and painted within 15min, it’s not a project he wants to do. Much less own tools for.

    That being said. A few tools (block plane, coping saw, and a tape measure) and the knowledge that Uncle Awesome has a toolbox full of projects and toys for him? That’s called more visits than you can shake a stick at. Which I think is the main point here. Of course, if his father is a woodworker, then Dad can take over the other toolbox.

    So, all in all – I recommend a few small tools, some ready made, easy-made projects and some good old caring adult time.

    And some projects that work with 6 year olds, check here: I throw that in there cause teaching 6 yr olds woodworking used to be my job. Now I teach their older brothers the same thing.

    Speaking off – I love that learn-to-watch thing. I’m guilty of it with the kids (but they are NOT touching my circ saw, I’m not a union teacher) and it reminds me why I can’t work on cars. My brother always got Dad’s attention, not me. And I built stuff out of wood with the old man, not him.

  7. Will

    You should get a cheeper lathe ($100+/-) He’ll be hooked into woodworking and want to keep going with it. That, and an old Stanley block plane of my Father, is the tool that hooked me into woodworking when I was around that age.

  8. LizPf

    A lot of my suggestions have been mentioned already. But, as mom of an 8 year old boy, I have a slightly different perspective.

    First, though I might buy a lot of these tools for a small boy, I would not *give* them to him. Instead, help him make two tool boxes: one for the tools he can keep and use at any time, and another for the tools he can only use with you.

    I’m assuming Nephew’s parents are not woodworkers. Your nephew will get far, far more out of any tools if he has a friendly guide to work with him β€” and that’s you. You work with him, and teach him to use his tools safely, gradually transferring tools from your box to his as he proves he can use them. If you do this, your tool list is a good one.

    Second, 6 year olds have an attention span of around 15 minutes. Nephew is going to hate woodworking if you have him spend lots of time learning to use a combo square, make 8" crosscuts, or try to glue, clamp and nail complex joints. Nailed boxes are a better starting point β€” provided you cur the pieces first. Then he can sand the pieces (with help from you, or he’ll be bored before he hits 150 grit paper), clamp and nail the corners, nail on a bottom, and sand some more.

    The best gift you can give a young woodworker is lots of time puttering around with an old(er) woodworker. Tools, no matter what quality, can never replace this.

    (captcha failure count: 1)

  9. David

    James – Couple of other thoughts. I’d leave out the combination square and provide your little woodworker with a couple of shop-made wooden squares. They’ll be sturdier, and a combination square has little parts that can be lost (and the screw can be stripped).

    Also, instead of the egg-beater drill, you might consider a set of gimlets. These can be bought inexpensively from Lee Valley and/or Garret Wade, and their operation might be considerably easier for young hands.

  10. David

    James – Leave out the wood glue. Most 6 year olds are not going to have the skill to make a joint tight enough to be gluable, and a 6 year old could easily get in major trouble with a big bottle of Elmer’s or Tite-bond. Make things with nails – there are tons of projects, and the joinery doesn’t have to be accurate to make something neat.

    As for a saw, I would recommend a Zona – they’re inexpensive (about $12 with a small miter box!), made in the USA, cut on the pull stroke, and if he kinks/trashes the blade, another one is cheap. The handle’s small, so it’ll hoepfully fit a 6 year-old’s hand.

    Leave out the surform rasp. Another tool that can cause a lot of damage to his parent’s house, and some coarse, medium, and fine sandpaper and perhaps a small, fine-tooth cabinetmaker’s rasp (or better yet, a couple of carving rifflers – they’ll fit his hand much better). If you go the rasp route, make sure you buy and fit a handle – they’re really dangerous without one.

    Buy some inexpensive cabinetmaker’s clamps in the small size. has some "Miro-Moose" traditional clamps as small as 3" – perfect for 6 year old.

    Leave off the brace and auger bits. They’re difficult to use for a little guy (perhaps impossible), and an egg-beater drill (perhaps a flea-market Millers Falls) with a set of small bits will be more than enough. Big holes can be cut with an inexpensive coping saw, or Dad can drill one out with a forstner bit.

    In regards to hammers, buy a Warrington pattern. They come in just about every weight – most carpenter’s hammers are a bit too heavy.

    And, most importantly of all, buy about 10 board feet of Eastern White Pine, and re-saw it into 1/2" thickness, plane it, and include it with the tools. Nothing stinks as bad as getting a birthday present without any "batteries"

  11. Jared Simms

    One of the gifts my brother and I spent the most time with when we were little was a set of stumps, two hammers, and a box of roofing nails. It wasn’t fancy, but we had a great time pounding away, hitting our thumbs, and occasionally making patterns.

    – Jared

  12. Samson

    Hey, Rick. That’s a great idea. I LOVE Watson’s book. I bought it many years ago when I first got into woodworking, but had a very small space, and therefore, needed to learn the handtool methods rather than acquire large machines. I still enjoy looking at the book. It’s so practical and down to earth with such no nonsense and useful advice.

  13. Rick Yochim


    Chris mentions "possibly a few books". Books are good. I’ve read a few and recommend them.

    Seriously, if you can get a copy of Aldren Watson’s "Hand Tools-Their Ways and Workings" you and your nephew could go through the book together and you can use the the superbly drawn illustrations to help him learn how to hold and use the tools. I think the drawings in particular are very well done and not so overly complex in their composition that you couldn’t keep his interest while helping help and (hopefully) building his excitement. The problem, of course, is finding the book. I think it’s out of print, but I’m not sure.

    Hope this helps, and good luck!

    Rick Yochim

  14. Ethan

    Lots of people have chimed in with lots of good advice already.

    The only additional thing I would offer is this:
    Replace the wood glue with Elmer’s white glue. It works just as well, has a longer open time, and is much less expensive.

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