I'll probably regret this when they take apart the dishwasher.
November 6, 2010 5:07 PM   Subscribe

What should I put in a kit of tools for my young daughters, and at what age can I give it to them?

Although my twin daughters are only a bit more than a year old, I've begun fantasizing about putting together tool kits for each of them. Obviously this will be a while from now, but what tools would be okay at what ages?

I'll start simple: a combo screwdriver, pliers, small hammer. Maybe an adjustable wrench. Safety glasses!

But what about soldering? A handsaw? I'm old enough that I can't remember when I was allowed to use this stuff (with supervision).

So, assume the suitable parental guidance on my part and tell me what tools and when.
posted by werkzeuger to Grab Bag (31 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Tape measure! It's fun to measure stuff. And as an adult, I use one ALL. THE. TIME.
posted by AlisonM at 5:10 PM on November 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

If you find out if they will wear glasses, a set of jeweler's screwdrivers would be helpful for making small repairs and adjustments. Bubble levels are cheap, useful and kinda fun to play with. They'll eventually need a drill but I can't imagine buying that until you need it since they are only getting cheaper and more powerful as time passes.
posted by mmascolino at 5:11 PM on November 6, 2010

When I was a kid one of my favorite things that came with my first tool set was a gigantic log and a big box of nails and the grabber kind of screws. That thing got covered in nails in no short time and it was fun to put the screws in it too.
posted by msbutah at 5:15 PM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was soldering as an 11 year old boy. In addition to some minor electronic experimentation, I used to drop big gobs of lead into cold water, which created a thin, intricately shaped foil.
posted by phrontist at 5:23 PM on November 6, 2010

This isn't really what you're looking for but when they're getting started with tools, the Home Depot kids' workshops are great. They provide kits of pre-cut wood and supplies for crafts like bird houses and they're fun and free and everything. That's where I learned to hammer a nail and screw a screw for the first time :). I believe Lowe's has something similar too :).

I think something like this is a good guide to basic, neccessary tools (even if you choose to assemble a kit yourself), and be sure to add consumables like nails, screws, wood, and sandpaper.
posted by R a c h e l at 5:31 PM on November 6, 2010

I teach woodworking at a girls school in NYC and have taught woodworking at other elementary schools in the city for a total of about 15 years so I feel qualified to offer an opinion on this topic.... :)

Safety Glasses
Coping Saw
Phillips Head Screwdriver
Small Cross Cut Saw
Two C-Clamps
Claw Hammer
Small hand drill - the Stanley 03-105 is ideal, but hard to obtain. Look for used ones.
1 1/2" common nails and 6x1 1/2 wood screws
3/4" number two pine - lots of it.
And most importantly - a suitable work surface!

At the school where I taught the longest, we had children start at 5 years old with woodworking. They take woodworking through 5th grade and afterwards by elective. You'd be very surprised by what young kids can do with wood!

I HIGHLY recommend this book as an introduction to woodworking for young children: http://www.amazon.com/Bruno-Carpenter-Lars-Klinting/dp/0805045015 It culminates with a project plan that is perfect for the target age range of this book, and well within the ability of a 5 year old who's had a little practice.

Feel free to send me a message if you need more info!
posted by blaneyphoto at 5:31 PM on November 6, 2010 [12 favorites]

They make kids tool kits, I had one and I saw one at Lowes a while ago. Mine was a little wooden chest with a tiny saw, small hammer, nails, screwdrivers, chisels, tape measure, level, clamps, pencil, box cutter etc. We had an endless supply of scrap wood which we mostly used to build wooden boats (that all sank) and birdhouses that I doubt a bird every spent a night in. Great fun was had by all.
posted by fshgrl at 5:32 PM on November 6, 2010

Best answer: I got a toolbox from my dad when I was maybe six or seven. It was a solid adult-sized Craftsman toolbox and he put an engraved tag on it with my name and address. It was the best damned present ever and I still have it. Tools that I think would be good.

- I'd go for a real screwdriver set in addition to the combo deal. Five screwdrivers, assorted sizes
- might also consider one of those jewelry/eyeglass screwdriver sets. More and more things have itty bitty pieces that could use them.
- vise grips
- maybe a socket wrench set, when they get bikes
- epoxy and superglue
- regular and needle-nosed pliers, maybe later holidays get them a leatherman or multitools
- level, metal tape measure, one of those fold-y rulers
- drafter's pencils like you get at Home Depot

I'd stay away from handsaws at first. They don't solve a problem most kids have and they're just ... big and require a lot of arm strength kids might not have. Maybe a good utility knife and/or exacto knife. I got a soldering set and I literally never used it and then learned to weld instead. You can also get them things they can attach like different types of nails and screws. When we were kids we'd just hammer nails into 2x4s and call it fun.
posted by jessamyn at 5:32 PM on November 6, 2010

My brother and I first got to use a handsaw when we were 6 and 5, respectively. Neither of us ever hurt ourselves with it. Soldering iron was later. About 10, I think.

I haven't yet trusted my 3 year old with real tools, other than small screwdrivers, and those too with the adult supervision that you have already said you will be providing.

With the pliers, I'd wait a little longer, just because so many of them have the sharp wire stripping parts.

A small hammer, they could start on relatively soon (perhaps a rubber mallet to begin with?).

And the handsaw we were using at 6 and 5 was part of a basic toolkit. So at that point, we were using all but the soldering iron.

Some of this will vary depending on how quickly their dexterity develops, which is partly a function of individual developmental processes, and partly a question of practice...
posted by bardophile at 5:35 PM on November 6, 2010

Hmn... things I had fun with as a kid:

- Hammer
- Pliers (As I got older, needle-nose pliers, but I was getting into wires and the like.)
- Screwdrivers (I have fond memories of raiding the tool box for my various constructions)
- Sandpaper
- Measuring tape
- Balsa wood
- Saw/exacto (when I got older. I don't remember supervision...!)
- Soldering iron (more to burn patterns into wood. I was artsy)
- Table clamp (though this isn't an individual gift, I remember using this to bend things to my will!)
posted by jlunar at 5:35 PM on November 6, 2010

Forgot - 60 and 100 grit sandpaper.

Also, I'm going to completely disagree with jessamyn's assumption about kids and saws. The average 5 year old is completely capable of using a coping saw or small cross cut saw. This is an excellent choice: http://tinyurl.com/stanleysaw
posted by blaneyphoto at 5:37 PM on November 6, 2010

Best answer: My girly-girl was showing interest in hammers & screwdrivers at 2. She's 3 1/2 now & just drove 2 two nails into the wall last week while no one was looking & proudly displayed the "hooks" she'd installed. The precise use of a screwdriver is still mostly eluding her, but if I put a screw through a cardboard box & leave her alone, she's happy as a clam trying to figure it out. Even hacksaws have been tried under Mama's eagle eye, with satisfying results. My point being: If they have the manual dexterity and show an interest, you can let them mess around with tools fairly young. Under close supervision. (Unsupervised, I'd say no tools until they're smart enough not to run around with them in their mouths.) Seeing you and/or Mommie doing interesting things with tools on a regular basis is guaranteed to pique their interest. My top picks for "safe" tools would definitely be pliers, hammer, and maaaybe a very short screwdriver, with glasses, if they like to dress up in glasses. A studfinder can also be good clean fun, once they get a little older.
posted by Ys at 5:42 PM on November 6, 2010

This is so cool!

I think the basics have already been covered and this is probably obvious, but do make sure your kids know the names of all the tools and their proper use.

Last spring, a neighbor knocked on my apartment door and asked to borrow a wrench. I knew we had a toolbox, and I knew a wrench was a tool, but beyond that, I was totally ignorant. "Sure!" I said, in a bright and neighborly tone. A pregnant pause ensued while I slowly realized I was about to make an ass of myself. "What's a wrench?" I asked in the same bright and neighborly fashion, motioning to my brimming toolbox full of handy stuff I couldn't identify. I felt like a total toolbox, let me tell you.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 5:52 PM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Perhaps pick some specific projects by age, and give a toolkit + project materials at that age. Eg at 5 or 6, a pre-fab dolls-house requiring assembly. That will need sanding (to get parts to fit), glue, screws, wallpaper, etc. I was doing some very basic wiring at that age, so tools and parts for electric lights in the dollshouse, etc.

Joinery at a dolls house size matches their own statue, so you could show them how those same skills that they're doing are used to make and repair big-people things too.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:55 PM on November 6, 2010

Best answer: Yeah, I reckon you should give them a toolBOX when they are young, with some age appropriate tools (measuring tape, etc to start with), and add to it - maybe with a new tool each birthday - over the years.

My brother had a hammer and saw which he was only allowed to use on polystyrene from the age of three.

Other useful tools are those used to maintain a bicycle, which they should be given as soon as they get their first bike!
posted by lollusc at 6:01 PM on November 6, 2010

Starting when I was about 12, a socket set was the most useful thing I owned - it was essential for skateboard repair. I wasn't into bikes at all, but I'm sure it'd be useful for that too. Something to consider for an older age child, I suppose.
posted by blaneyphoto at 6:08 PM on November 6, 2010

You might find this thread helpful.

Steer clear of "ladies tools". The pink or floral handles may make your daughters "Squee!" (or not), but they tend to be poorly balanced and generally of crappy quality. Look for smaller, lighter tools within a good quality mainstream brand.
posted by embrangled at 6:14 PM on November 6, 2010

It doesn't matter what you get them. If they actually use tools they will be stealing yours.

Nthing "socket set," however. The center of any good tool kit.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:14 PM on November 6, 2010

It's a little weird and specific, but when my parents were building their house, my dad had all these pliers that were specific to different things (so electrical, so on) - just these pliers that had all these teeth and cutting edges and whatever. I'd play with those (and gave them nicknames of course - the TYRANNOSAURUS REX PLIERS!! RAWR!!!) -- cut wires, strip wires, just screw around and figure out what they did.

So really, I guess I'm saying 1) yard sales might have some strange, unusual things like these pliers I so fondly remember and 2) possibly does not need saying but don't limit her to "her" tools - I probably learned more about investigation and trial and error with those pliers than I did at any other time.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:15 PM on November 6, 2010

Best answer: Tools I use very regularly (I am a landlord, I fix things.):

#2 philips, medium flat screwdrivers. I do not care for the little swappable bits. For smaller kids, the real screwdrivers are not a choking hazard. So, y'know. Buy real screwdrivers. A very large flat screwdriver-for-prying might also be nice.

Small crescent wrench, big crescent wrench. 1 pair large Channel Locks. Pair pliers/wirecutters, normal, with rubberized handle. Also small pair needlenose pliers. Simple "hot or not" electric tester that lights up when there's power is v. helpful for teaching electric safety.

Seat wrench for faucets, basin wrench for sink work if you're going to do any amount of plumbing repairs.

Hammer, small prybar (the flat kind, about 12" long, for pulling nails and prying things apart), putty knife.

As for ages...

My cousin's daughter is 4. She is not allowed any power tools but can help in the kitchen with measuring and stirring and so forth on the cooking front. She is not allowed to use knives yet but I think that's a mistake on the part of the parent. She is big enough to do "cutting egg noodles" or "slicing mushrooms for soup" with a grownup watching -- these are things that are easy to cut and do not require a super-sharp knife or very much force. Knife SKILLS could be taught at this age. She does use kid-scissors for kindergarten, too.

My brother's son is 9 and he is allowed to operate the power screwdriver/drill WITH ADULT SUPERVISION. Other power tools (reciprocating saw, circular saw, table saw) will come online later. He is allowed to use sharp (hacksaw, bow saw, etc.) hand tools with his own hands, no parent hands "guiding" him. Parent is still supervising closely (in same room, helping measure, mark, go over steps of project, correcting safety violations).

My friend's son is 12 and is allowed to hunt (With a real gun and live ammunition. He kills deer, field dresses them, skins them, helps cut them up into meat.) with an adult accompanying him and to drive farm vehicles over flat ground (eg. running the tractor and round baler in the lower field) with limited supervision. He is allowed to operate a splitting maul, a splitting axe, a hydraulic log splitter, a lawnmower, a four wheeler (atv), knives, all non-powered tools, etc. He isn't allowed to run a chainsaw yet, but by the time he's fifteen or so he will be allowed to work on already-downed trees with a chainsaw. (Felling trees comes later.) Not sure if he's allowed power tools or not -- they don't do a lot with power tools.

Here are some skills that smallish (under twelve) kids can learn to do and/or help productively with:

Replace a broken (real) window, the putty and points kind, old school.

Fix a dripping faucet (both old-style brass seat and rubber washer or new-style plastic stem and springs and rubber washers). Hell "How Faucets Work" is a wonderful skillset for anyone of any age.

Repair leaky drain trap under sink. Discuss merits of PVC vs. white metal that rusts.

Can learn to *help* set a toilet -- they're heavy and unwieldy, probably something your daughters won't be able to lift for another fifteen or so years. (Before anyone goes on about how women cannot reasonably be expected to set toilets, note that I am a woman and I regularly set toilets in my line of work.) Certainly can manage "help line up the bolts" and "scrape up the old wax ring and put the yuck in the box that the new wax ring came out of" and so forth. Can help tighten nuts onto bolts, assemble tank onto bowl, reconnect water supply line, etc.

Snaking a drain (with handheld snake), snaking a toilet with a toilet snake. V. Helpful for "No, Darling, Teletubbies CANNOT ride the swirly into the sewer system" teaching moments. You might also wind up pulling the toilet to remove said teletubby, see previous learning opportunity. Kitchens have grease clogs, bathrooms have hair-n-conditioner clogs. Liquid Fire (tm) is not something kids should use unsupervised,though.

Replace broken outlet that child stuck screwdriver into while attempting to determine "where the electrics come from, Mommy". Also a good time to explain about Turn Off The Fuses First.

Rekey a door when the constable comes to put the tenants out during possession of the property. (Er. Maybe that was only a common repair opportunity in my childhood...)

Change fuel filter on an oil furnace, bleed line and restart furnace afterward.

Change nozzle on oil furnace, also basic oil furnace troubleshooting skills. (Assuming there is a competent adult.)

Help replace an electric water heater (fun plumbing plus also The Hose Game where you empty out the old water heater before trying to move it AND electrics that are so simple a child can manage them).

Also, not that you asked, but when Driving Age rolls around, run a couple of seminars on How To Change A Tire. Do this even if your daughters live in civilization where AAA will come save them and will be running reasonably new cars with good rubber. Make sure that they can Change A Tire on their driving vehicle, by themselves, properly, following all the steps in the correct order. Do this for each vehicle that they are allowed to drive while they are under your care. Jumper cables, use thereof, is also a wonderful skill to share with your new drivers.

Do not overlook opportunities to teach your kids to do things, even things that may not strike you as particularly girl-like. Skillsets are durable, easy to transport, look good on any gender, and cannot be taken away by the government.
posted by which_chick at 6:18 PM on November 6, 2010 [8 favorites]

All great stuff so far. Something from my first tool kit; hand crank drill. Like this one But mine was made by Sears. Don't forget a set of bits. I also was fascinated by my dads Push Drill (also called a Yankee drill) but it seems no one makes them anymore. Defiantly get a full 5 piece set of screwdrivers.
posted by token-ring at 6:26 PM on November 6, 2010

I still have the toolbox my parents gave me when I was four, and remember doing woodworking in preschool. I liked my hammer, and also liked pulling bent nails out of the wood using my pliers (which I also still have).

One popular activity at my daughter's preschool: hammering nails into pumpkins. It's amazingly satisfying.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:42 PM on November 6, 2010

Since they'll be cutting wood by hand for the first few years, they'll probably get a lot of use out of a miter box.

Also, allen wrenches! Hex-head screws are common on bicycles, and in Ikea-style kit built furniture, which are both things an 8 or 9 year old should be able to confidently assemble/disassemble with minimal oversight. Either of those projects would also probably make a good tutorial in how to read a basic technical drawing and follow assembly/maintenance instructions.

This is an awesome question and you are an awesome person for asking it.
posted by Commander Rachek at 8:31 PM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

It looks like most things here have been well covered, but re: handsaws: if you have any reason to be using them, fairly young children can generally work them well enough with a bit of help. My daughter turned eight a couple of days ago, and has been using a handsaw in the backyard to cut downed branches into burnable chunks for...well, since the end of last summer, anyhow, so when she was about seven?

She also gets a kick out of using my sawzall. (Again, with assistance, and only on small branches--maybe a few inches around.)
posted by MeghanC at 2:16 AM on November 7, 2010

Glue gun, for crafty projects and toy repairs

Jack knife, and teach them to whittle, how to sharpen the knife and all the usual knife safety skills
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:09 AM on November 7, 2010

Best answer: This is a truly awesome thing you're doing, and I only have one thing to add for sometime in the future. My dad gave me a fairly adult toolbox with classic hand tools when I was a wee kid (he and my stepmother disagreed on this, but he believed girls were just as handy with tools as boys were). I had a great time with my little projects for years. I left the toolbox behind when I left for college, and some years passed without me giving it a single thought. Then, when I moved for graduate school, I received a heavy package from my dad that I couldn't even begin to guess at. Yes, it was my trusty childhood toolbox, completed with a few new tools. It was one of the sweetest things my Dad did for me, and still makes me tear up to think about. I still have the toolbox. I still miss my dad.
posted by vers at 7:14 AM on November 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

A small spirit level - endless fun!

(Also voting for this as a really great idea, my father did something similar for me because I'm the lone female in a sea of brothers and male cousins)
posted by ceri richard at 11:13 AM on November 7, 2010

When I was 6, I got a Swiss Army knife in my stocking at Christmas and to this day I have never been more excited about a gift. I used it all the time for years and years until it broke. One thing that I especially loved to do was cut up fruit with it while out hiking, or using it to cook dinner over a small Sterno stove they gave me when I was 9.

Also around the same time, my parents would give me scrap wood and help me make simple things like stilts, which pretty much just involved sawing and hammering. (Actually, when I was VERY young, I loved just pounding nails in to wood for no reason whatsoever, so they got me a small hammer and let me do that.) I used to help them clear trails in Maine, which involved using a huge 2-person saw (which is actually pretty hard to hurt yourself with, really). I remember being very fond of a wood burning iron to make decorated signs for various imaginary kingdoms. I helped build treehouses, which again pretty much involved a hammer, screwdriver and saw. I once whittled a (very crude) duck for my dad.

You are going to be the best judge of when your daughters are ready for various tools. I was an extremely careful little girl. I climbed trees and ran around constantly, but I was never reckless or out of control, even as a tiny toddler (in fact I apparently waited until 18 months to begin walking, but never fell down once I got started, and my parents say that as a 4-year-old learning to play piano I would stop and announce that I "lost control" if I played wrong notes!) I remember having great reverence for sharp knives, flames, and the possibility of slipping while using tools under pressure even when I was very young. It's possible that my cautiousness made it more appropriate for me to use tools as a young child - but in general, I think children are often more capable than they're given credit for.

I think the idea of making a toolbox and adding appropriate tools as your daughters grow up is an AWESOME one. I would have been thrilled to have such a thing as a little girl. Giving a gift that has lasting value and usefulness to a child is rarely done and very, very appreciated.
posted by Cygnet at 11:26 AM on November 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

as a small child who received her very own special toolbox, i would like to add that i was delighted by this gift! great idea! unfortunately, I can't remember exactly how old I was but i do recall that it included a real child-sized saw. i was definitely 3rd grade or younger. i would also add that while i was delighted in general, i didn't end up using it all that often and i think that was partly because it was a "child-sized" set. it had a really complete selection of tools, different sizes and different kinds of wrenches, all that good stuff that was reasoably well constructed and functional, just at a small scale. probably screwed with the balance of things. so, anyway, go for the normal sized tools, they will use them for their whole life!!
posted by dahliachewswell at 4:58 PM on November 7, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks so much everyone! I'd like to mark each of these as "best answer!"

I worried after posting this that it was a dumb question. But I think I may have struck a chord. It's gratifying to hear eveyone's story of their first toolbox and how much it meant to them.
posted by werkzeuger at 5:51 PM on November 7, 2010

Dad taught me to change a tire, change the oil in a car, do basic woodworking, and know my way around a toolbox. I'm so so glad for all this knowledge. I didn't get my own toolbox until I moved into my first apartment (thanks for that too, Dad!). I think it's kind of awesome you're planning on doing this sooner.

In addition to the above, I also like having a set of allen wrenches (although TSA nabbed one of mine, I'm still not sure what they thought i was going to do with it..), and a torx-driver.
posted by nat at 1:47 AM on November 11, 2010

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