Woodworking With Kids – Update on the Amazing Waggoner’s

Woodworking with kids can be fun, especially with four! Jaida, Jordan, Janae and Jalen.

Woodworking with kids can be fun, especially with four! Jaida, Jordan, Janae and Jalen.

I caught up this week with Jeff Waggoner of Frankfort, Indiana – father of (count ‘em) four young woodworkers. You may remember the post on our blog from April 2012, which told the amazing story behind the Blacker House Chair that one of Jeff’s kids, Jalen, was then completing. Well, a little over a year later, the story keeps getting more impressive.

Jalen's recently completed low-back chair, Sam Maloof style.

Jalen’s recently completed low-back chair, Sam Maloof style.

Jalen has recently completed another stunningly beautiful and complicated chair – a Maloof-inspired low-back – and entered it in an international competition. It seems that Jalen is really taking off with this craft. I want to do another post in the near future about the techniques and tips that he is learning with each of his projects. I think he has something to teach all of us, regardless of age!

But since this is the week before Father’s Day, I wanted to focus for this post on how woodworking has brought the Waggoner family closer together. You might find some ideas for your own family in this story!

One thing that surprised me in talking with Jeff was that when he began woodworking with his kids about five years ago, he was pretty rusty. In fact, he had been more or less an armchair woodworker for many years. But being an armchair woodworker wasn’t all bad. When the kids were very small, the Waggoner’s watched woodworking videos together and started generating the common language that they would use once they started the real work. So the takeaway from this is, if you’re wondering where to start with your kids, just start somewhere! Put in a good woodworking DVD and sit down with them. Or pick up an instructional book.

Woodworking projects for kids are better when tailored to interests! Jaida and her Ferris Wheel.

Woodworking projects for kids are better when tailored to interests! Jaida and her Ferris Wheel.

The next thing that impresses me about Jeff’s approach is that he tailors it to each child. And he clearly allows the kids to decide what they are making. Jalen’s brother Jordan is into writing as much as woodworking. He has built some great tools for his writing work, including a Triple Opening Writing Box for the desktop. The daughters, Janae and Jaida, have equally diverse interests and projects. Janae likes graphic arts and explores fairly complex joinery in her work. Jaida, the youngest, is very playful with her work and has completed a Ferris wheel of her own design! So I think the key with this is to create some structure, but allow the kids to be as creative as they want. That’s how to maintain interest.

Christopher Schwarz and Jalen. Inspiration for young woodworkers!

Christopher Schwarz and Jalen. Inspiration for young woodworkers!

What about Jeff’s own goals? Here again, there’s something to learn. Jeff does not seem to get too pushy about his children’s aspirations. After all, he has his own! He is starting to build a larger community of woodworkers who are interested in supporting the efforts of kids in the shop. Jeff believes (as do I) in the value of critical opinions from accomplished craftspeople. He can envision a day when there are more competitions for young woodworkers, including chances for having their work judged by top furniture makers. Building out this idea is Jeff’s current passion and project.

Do you have input for Jeff in this larger project? Please write to him: jeff [at] planeoldwood [dot] com.

Dan Farnbach

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Dan Farnbach

About Dan Farnbach

Dan apprenticed and worked in two professional shops during the years after college. But sweeping shop floors only goes so far toward learning woodworking. These days Dan is online editor for Popular Woodworking, and is learning new skills every day. He divides his time between Boston and Maine.

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