Woodworking for Beginners

Hannah found a great woodworking how-to book entitled as above to add to our library. My initial thumbing through the pages made me wonder whether this was a book for adults or for children. On the one hand the projects seem more than beginner-level projects and then the only image of a person in the book is a child that looks around 8-10 years old.

As a child I did what appears in the book. I made wheeled efforts from old chests and children’s pram wheels. In those days high coach built prams had chromed, spoked wheels and real rubber tyres. The axle was a 1/2″ square bar turned down either end to receive the wheel hub. you could screw through the axle to attach it to anything you wanted.

This book was reprinted as a revised edition in 1946 so originally it was a mid 1940s book. What were the expectations of the author and the publisher in that time? Was this realistically targeted or perhaps more aspirational? It seems intended for home use rather than schools. Schools didn’t start woodworking until around 12-13 years and it was boys only in schools for the main part until 1970s???

The book made me think seriously about woodworking for children today as I really don’t ever hear of parents teaching any practical skills like woodworking to their children and I rarely meet any adult males under 30 who have any serious hand skills taught to them through schools. I am never sure if if this is a good thing or a bad thing these days as the assumption now is that being a teacher of academics somehow automatically qualifies you to teach any subject without access to real life itself.

I looked at these projects and felt they were too high demand for young children without the oversight of a skilled teacher and by that I mean skilled woodworker.

I did enjoy reading the practical lessons in this how-to. It was down to earth.


  1. This is wonderful to see. I collect these Picture Puffin Books. Of the 120 that were made I have 112, I think. The last 8 are worth more than the 112 combined!- so even if I could find them I don’t think I would buy them.

    Anyways yes, this one contains lots of great projects for a beginner of any age – I’m a 52-year-old beginner and was only recently thumbing through it for ideas. I think I might make a copy of the ‘How to make useful things’ page and frame it for my woodworking space.

  2. I’m 51 and I was lucky to have had parents who were both taught practical skills as children, and who went passed some of this on to me, just by making and mending in front of me. My carpentry skills are pretty good; I can handle most DIY tasks (although I leave electricity and plumbing to the experts!); I can cook for myself; I can iron clothes and I even know my way around a sewing machine (well-enough to repair clothes and even make the odd simple thing).

    There was a documentary on BBC4 a while back (can’t remember what it was called and can’t find it through an Internet search) that looked at the Boy’s Own paper and how young boys were just expected to do stuff, make thinks and even carry out scientific experiments. All manner of dangerous chemicals were available at the local pharmacist and you were instructed to buy these chemicals for what ever purpose the task in the paper required. And you were told to behave properly when handling such chemicals and use common sense.

    Yes, these papers would be seen as sexist by today’s standards, but it would be great to get some of that practical ‘I can do/make anything’ spirit back into both girls and boys.

  3. Probably intended for both father and son(s). Father to do most of it but son(s) to help, learn and be inspired. I remember my father taking woodworking evening classes when I was young. He used to make simple toys for us: tanks, guns, swords, shields, bows and arrows – all quite normal and acceptable back then; we thought it was great. People who make things continue to impress me.

  4. I am an anthropologist/archaeologist as well as a beginning woodworker. I think the book reflects the mindset of the period of World War II and the early post-war years. The war took a lot of the craftsmen away to fight and it was expected that others would step up to fill the void. A lot of times this meant doing things that would be seen as above and beyond the expectations of the pre-war eras.

    1. I agree – the author or authors knew that after WW2 there would be an enormous need for reestablishing country and society – it was also expected that high-end tools and materials would be expensive and difficult to get – perhaps even impossible. The book then gives examples of things to build from the most fantastic material in the world: Wood! Grows without human interference, strong, cheep and recyclable. You only need a few simple tools, then you’re woodworking. The techniques are pretty simple to learn – I guess the author told every adult, it’s so easy that even a 12 year old boy can do it, so naturally you can do it as well. Just go ahead!

      Our world and our lives have now reached a level no one would have expected in the 1940’es – but luckily we still have access to that wonderful material. Thank you for the wood!

    2. I, too, think it was a product of the times; but I see it a bit differently. I think that most fathers were off sustaining the war effort and the book was to inspire children and perhaps get them to engage with their grandfathers on projects. What I could see of the projects definitely puts them beyond the skills of boys below 10 without assistance.

      For myself, my dad was born in the late 19th Century. His father was a carpenter/cabinet maker of the late 19th Century, but he died when my dad was only 4; so they had no opportunity to pass on and learn those skills. That didn’t stop my dad who made rather sophisticated boats in our basement from plans in his minds eye and occasional patterns made of poster board to get fairing right. He raised 6 sons and 3 daughters and even found time in his 50s to deal with teaching me basic skills at woodworking and household maintenance tasks.

      I had “shop” classes at 13-14 in the mid ’50s; but they were a set of survey lessons that included woodworking with hand and power tools, metalworking, foundry and even print shop and dark room photography. I was intrigued but persuaded by parents and teachers to pursue an academic curriculum in preparation for university. I regret to this day that I did not apprentice to a carpenter and builder. The few projects of this type that I’ve accomplished were the most satisfying of my life, despite university, advanced degrees and a career in management.

      1. Dear Sir, your experience is very similar to mine, except that I live in the United States. My grandfather was a cabinet maker and I recall seeing him turning a spindle on a foot operated lathe. Unfortunately I was too young to be able to communicate with him before he passed on and the only artifacts that I have are a brace and a tendon saw. Nonetheless, I developed a love for woodworking and at age 83 I still engage in making small projects. As a youngster I never found any books of projects, but by age 15 I built my first boat in my parents basement.

        I lament the fact that wood shop and machine shop are no longer offered in our junior and senior high schools. I must say that the hands on experience contributed to a better understanding of how things work subsequently leading to my career as an aerospace engineer.
        WWII for us children was a time of collecting tin, paper, anything that might contribute to the war effort. Buying war bonds was an obligation that we had. But back to woodworking.

        Without the many power tools I had, I’m now enjoying making Items with hand saw and plane thanks to Paul Seller’s series of videos. Here’s to more sawdust.

  5. One of the finest woodworking books I’ve read / referenced is the Australian publication ‘Woodworking in Theory and Practice’ by John A. Walton (first published in 1947) which appears to have been adopted by an education board in the UK, and was certainly used in Leicestershire schools in the 60’s (so Paul may already be familiar with it). There is a strong emphasis on hand tools / skills, and is complimented by excellent hand drawn illustration… admittedly some of the data may now be out of date, but there’s still a wealth of knowledge within.

  6. Quite lovely well done Helen
    ….I went on line and found two by book sellers at £5 each plus pp. decided not to buy
    As Tone says and I agree …..possibly a father son/daughter idea.

    I’ve just repaired a neighbours wardrobes this morning……when there she said “would you like these magazines…..I can’t throw them away”. They were her husbands from 1961 “Hobbies Annual”. Packed full of stuff for my grandson and I to talk about……quite amazing, I think, when Paul talks of Helens find this morning.
    So much to do …..so little time……it’s great to be retired
    Regards John

    1. True,when you are retired and have a million low cost or free projects running through your brain. Where is the time ? If you own and maintain your home generally. That is most likely PRIORITY ONE. Then your spouse has needs on your time for those things the man of the house should do or she’ll can some outfit that gonna want to retire on things she wants done.
      I know I should have arrained my time better when I was younger to allow me to learn a lot of the NEAT handcrafted things that I admired so much but told mysrlf over and over you’ll have time for the playpurties and your personal like projects when you retire.
      YEAH RIGHT, pf course I’m not taking my health and well being into account, so before I could legally retire according to Law of the Land, age 65 etc. I came down with jeart medical issues and after many months of keeping me on the payroll, I was given a serious severnence pay and my walking papers. what now, I ama fee years short of this country’s legal retitement age I am 61 with 4 years left before I can draw on the monies I have with the government, till I realize in a few months when I turn 62. I can take a hefty penalty and file legally for retirement at 62., thats the day I learned that as a retiree, theres never gonna be enough time for your wanted pet projects ! So, I then decided I rearrange my priorities and work an interesting part time job. So after several maturing years of raising a family and working in feilds that liked and felt comfortable with, I am a widower at 70 spend about 1/3 of my awake time tending to my health issues, another chunk of time managing income and outgo, keep the property decent, walk the dog, or is it me he walks ? And a little at a time I getting my tools together for my WANTS’ project and actually starting to good on some of dreams hoping to a 100 year old and working on WANTS’ finally believe I am in the right place at the right time, Thank you for allowing me a soapbox and sharing my feelings on RETIREMENT !

      1. I could have done more than passably well on that test as an 8th grader. I’m 76 yo and was taught in an era when teachers were dedicated to their profession and pushed their students to excel. I was further supported by a dad who delighted in teaching and watching his kids learn. He mostly followed our interests and challenged us, but he also taught us many practical things such as woods craft, etc. When I was 6 he taught me how to clean a fireplace, lay a fire and tend it throughout the day. Parents might be reported to authorities if they did such a thing today. Our house was heated only with fireplaces; so it was a practical survival skill he taught.

  7. A delightful book I discovered on woodworking for children is John Gay; Or Work for Boys. It’s from the Victorian era in the United States (hence the “Boys” in the title), but gives really good advice on how a young person can build woodworking skills. It can be downloaded for free. I think I found it on Google Books. As I recall, there are three books.

  8. Thanks for sharing Paul. I was brought up on a small farm with an appreciation of working with a variety of tools, making go-carts with pram wheels etc from a young age.

    My career took me down the A-Level, Degree, Masters route and a variety of mostly desk-bound jobs in the city has followed.

    I have dabbled a little with making things in the past but have started re-teaching myself woodwork, in large part thanks to your videos, now that I have a house with a garage and I have just recently turned 40. My day job is in high-tech so the balance of low tech woodworking in the evenings and weekends is really quite therapeutic.

    When my three boys (4,6,8) come into the garage now to have a look, I happily let them saw or plane some scrap wood.

    Once the bench is good to go I hope to have them work on some small projects to get started.

    A new book such as this for them would be a tonic and a counterpoint to the learn to code, Youtube, Netflix world.

  9. I could have done with this book when I was of junior school age! My parents were both quite practical (most had to be back then), and one Christmas they gave me a junior carpentry set which came in a wooden case and which contained a saw, a couple of chisels, a block plane, spirit level, hammers etc. Although more toy like than than an adult would use, they were still sharp and useable. I think that’s where I first got a taste for woodwork. The wooden case sadly has long gone, but I still have a few of the tools.

    1. Ah, memories….

      When I was 6 or 7 I was given a woodworking toy toolset/toolbox by my grandparents. Over the course of 40 years most of the ‘tools’ have disappeared, but I still have the box itself (that I converted a few years ago to a box to store my chisels in) and the fretsaw. I’m using this ‘toy’ fretsaw to this very day, as it’s actually pretty good.

      When I think back to my younger years…. I recall my dad teaching me in the kitchen how to solder when I was 6, giving me my first own soldering iron when I was 7 (a Weller even – definitely not a toy). When I was 8-9 he was building a workshop. I was helping him after school and in the weekends. Transporting bricks, stacking bricks, operating the construction lift/crane, mixing mortar, carrying buckets of mortar up on high scaffolding, assisting with the water-level (garden hose filled with water – who needs a LASER anyway?!). My task was also to clean up all the utensils at the end of the day, wash the mortar off and clean the cement mixer and occasionally grease the cogs. When the bricklaying was done it was time to make the windows and doors (he made them all himself). Then it was my task to assist at the outfeed-end of the tablesaw, thickness-planer, etc. An extra pair of hands, even if not very strong child’s hands, made his life much easier. I have fond memories of those days.

      However, do that nowaday and you’ll have the police, ‘child protection’ service and labour inspection over the floor in no time. But back in 1980, nobody batted an eye and considered it normal. And I picked up a LOT of knowledge and skills that way. Pity so many kids don’t know what they’re missing.

      In those days, I also had taken apart an old record player and used the 220V motor in my LEGO projects. Bare live connections with 220V on them, but I was careful with it. Not sure if I’d trust an 8-9 year old with such things myself, but it’s what I did. My parents didn’t bat an eye, just warned me to be careful and not touch any live wires when it was running.

  10. I don’t know Mr. Sellers. An 1800s high school admissions test had questions such as:
    New York is nearly 75 degrees west of London. When it is noon at the former, what time is it at the latter?
    What event do you connect with 1565, 1607, 1620, 1664, 1775?
    An 8th grade exam question:
    Define verse, stanza, and paragraph.
    What is punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of punctuation.
    Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton, Bell, Lincoln, Penn, and Howe?
    And finally could an 8th grader you know answer:
    Define the following forms of government: Democracy, Limited Monarchy, Absolute Monarchy, Republic. Give examples of each.

    I know many, many college grads, CEOs and such who would never be able to answer these questions. I would doubt any modern high school student could with very few exceptions. So maybe that book wouldn’t be out of reach for a child of the 1940s.

  11. Thank you Paul.
    I have my 7 year old twins coming shortly for a week long visit. Both Boy and Girl will enjoy learning how to measure, saw, and drill with a brace & bit.

    I have projects in mind and will have an apron for both properly kitted out.

    We will have a fun time.

    A tool tote? Bird house? Packing box? The planning will be fun for me.

  12. Thank you for sharing that. I home schooled my two children. Daughter and son. 15 years ago I found a book to teach them basic skills with hand tools. They were maybe ….12 years old and 9yrs We made a large plywood, very basic workbench, stilts, tool boxes, bench hooks, and miter boxes. All are still used, except for the stilts. I prefer to keep my bones intact. I am not sure if the skills stuck with them much because life happened, but we did have fun and have many pictures of them working and building. Our book was much more simple than the one from 1946.

  13. I could have done more than passably well on that test as an 8th grader. I’m 76 yo and was taught in an era when teachers were dedicated to their profession and pushed their students to excel. I was further supported by a dad who delighted in teaching and watching his kids learn. He mostly followed our interests and challenged us, but he also taught us many practical things such as woods craft, etc. When I was 6 he taught me how to clean a fireplace, lay a fire and tend it throughout the day. Parents might be reported to authorities if they did such a thing today. Our house was heated only with fireplaces; so it was a practical survival skill he taught.

  14. I’ve been finding opportunities over the last few years to make sure my kids are learning practical skills. They may or may not develop the love for woodworking that I have, but at the very least I want to make sure that they don’t always have to hire someone to do things around the house as they grow older. I’ve done projects with my daughter (now 11) including making a picture frame (decorated with shells) for a school project. Right now my son (now 14) and I are working on a custom built desk with a thick white oak top for his gaming setup. I took his love for video games and desire to have a great setup, started by working together to build a custom PC from parts, and now I’m teaching him skills to build the desk.

  15. Paul,
    I would love to hear more of your thoughts on this topic. How do we get more kids woodworking? I think it starts with converting the adults. I teach children’s woodworking classes and it is often difficult competing with sports and music lessons. Those endeavours definitely have their virtues, but I think the value of hand craft, fixing things, and building not buying is being lost on our youth.

    If you are interested in another great children’s book regarding hand tools check out Tool Crib: A woodworking primer for young folks by Matthew J. Lepper .

    1. Where i live parents tend to push their kids to play sports that either they played as a kid, and/or ones where you can get a college scholarship. Especially as kids get older, middle school and high school, the pressure builds to get a college scholarship somehow. Baseball, basketball, soccer(football UK), football, volleyball, dance, track etc. Heck i even have a friend whose kid got a full scholarship to a prestigious university for water polo. No scholarships for woodworking that I know of.

      1. I hear you Steve. I was born here in Alabama, probably die here. That said, the day of my funeral my pallbearers will consist of elderly women as the men will be watching some sort of sport. My son doesn’t get to excited about the working of wood. He pays attention, but isn’t bothering with it. That’s fine by me, as long as he pays attention. What he does love is martial arts. He takes a battering from his classmates due to the fact he doesn’t play “sports.” Martial arts are not considered a sport in Alabama by many. He is 12 and has his black belt in Taekwondo and is now moved into boxing/kickboxing. He doesn’t care for the UFC, MMA or any other acronym. He just likes the the functions for the lack of a better word. Around here they’re giving away scholarships for golf and….fishing! Fishing, If I could only be in high school again.

  16. When my oldest daughter was ten or eleven years old she took a woodworking class in what was called “middle school” here in the US. She made a candle sconce and a letter holder, and I had hopes she would become interested in wood working. I found a book entitled “Junior Woodworker” by Charles H. Hayward for her, hoping her interest would blossom. Unfortunately that was not to be, but I still have the book; which is quite inclusive. If you are starting a library that would be an excellent addition. I believe it is available from Amazon.

    1. Yes, I have the book, James. Sorry your daughter didn’t continue. I think it often has something to do with being with others of like age and even gender doing it together that makes a huge difference.

  17. My wife recently picked me up a book published by Collins (for 25p!) also entitled ‘Wood Working for Beginners’. I must say it is very comprehensive and I am currently enjoying flicking through it. It focuses primarily on hand tools and techniques which coincides nicely with what I learn from Pauls videos and the WWM and CM sites. It’s a great reference for the fundamentals of wood working.

  18. Hello Paul,

    Seeing this set me thinking. I believe John Dumayne published an earlier book which was almost identical called ‘Woodworking for Children’ which I’m pretty sure I had in the 1960’s. Perhaps it was re-titled for the same reasons. Seems to be rare these days .

  19. When my 3 girls were young in the early 80’s I got a copy of Richard Starr’s Woodworking with Kids (Taunton Press, 1982). It has a sections on safety, tool selection, etc. It has chapters on simple projects – box, chest, table, etc. – then photos of kids next to what they built. Fantastic and highly recommended. Using it for grandkids now.

  20. Paul, I have been a fan of yours over the past three years as I’ve re-awakened my love of woodworking. And I’ve been lucky enough to pass on to one of my two twin boys a love of doing things with your hands. In fact, he graduated from Texas A&M in Health Sciences and then decided to go into welding. He’s making a great living one year into his experience and loving every minute of it. But he’s such an exception to the rule. It’s just amazing to me that there are thousands and thousands of jobs in America today that pay well to use your hands…and your head. When your book was published in 1946, many more men used their hands to make a living than those that sat behind a desk. Now, our economy and lives are dominated by pushing papers instead of a plane. I’m fearful that knowing the love of wood (or metal, stone, clay or brush), the feel of wood, the smell of wood and the joy of wood is slowly dying. Bless you for doing all you do to keep it alive on the World Wide Web!

    1. Amazingly the very technology that is destroying so much is enabling me to reach an audience that is so wide it would be impossible to reach in any other way. Equally amazing is that it is enabling me to counter the very culture that so damages the not only the use of our hands but too the ability to relate to one another in three-dimensionality. I respect your son’s choice here. I know that he will always be in demand. You’ve heard the saying jack of all trades and master of none but it is more true that when you learn any craft at a young age you can take forays into many others and be equally skilled in the ones you find any innate aptitude for. I am at home in other crafts and skills equally and should have spent some years in three or four. For example his welding skills will enable him to include other metalworking crafts like blacksmithing and two or three others in metal-working realms. There should be nothing to stop him for instance making cabinet handles as in the craftsman styles in copper and brass. Custom work like this is very valuable to someone like me and I would gladly spend £200 on two door handles for a cabinet if they were fashioned by hand. He should spend some of his young life working in wood as this will only enhance his vision for crossing borders. The saying mentioned is usually proffered by jealous tradespeople who feel you should stay within your craft. So the saying really is very silly! Often there are people you meet who were never self disciplined and botch up all kinds of trades but master none. These are the ones the saying is for.

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