One Hundred Toys recently asked if we would test out a pile of fabulous-looking, kid-sized real woodwork tools from HABA. The kids and I love woodwork. We’ve had woodwork fun out in the woods, at forest school, and at home with a bit of softwood. So we were more than happy to oblige!
Read on to find out why we recommend real tools instead of pretend ones every time.
Why Use Real Tools With Kids?
If you’re thinking of getting your child some toy woodworking tools, consider instead these kid-sized real tools from HABA. Using real tools (heavy, sharp and pointed as they may be) facilitates new skills. It enables children to accomplish real tasks, helping build their self-esteem and confidence.
Woodworking also requires, by definition, natural materials, which provide a sensory experience for the kids. This helps build their understanding of the world around them in a way that just isn’t possible through pretend play.
Still not convinced? Think about it like this.
When a child pretend-cuts something with a toy saw, they are mimicking the motions they have seen grown-ups do.
But they don’t feel how heavy wood can be; or experience how the colours, weight and textures of different woods can vary. How freshly cut wood smells.
They don’t feel the resistance of the grain, or see, smell or feel the sawdust that their action produced. Or find out how one piece of wood might splinter and crack, while another cut smoothly.
In pretend play, children won’t feel that sense of achievement when real wood is changed by their actions. Even if, to an adult, it is just cutting a branch in two, or drilling holes in an off-cut. Or maybe hammering in a few nails.
Keeping it real – and safe
As parents many of us are understandably concerned about the safety aspect of using real tools. It can go against your every instinct to give your child something designed to be sharp or pointy or heavy. Never mind the benefits.
And, of course, these tools do need to be handled with care and under supervision.
So what makes these HABA tools so great is that they are most definitely real tools – able to cut and drill and gouge. But they are also sized just right for little hands. This means these real tools are not too big or heavy for kids to handle. And that means they can handle them more safely.
Bow Saw and Folding Pocket Saw
Among the tools sent to us by One Hundred Toys were two saws. There was a bow saw and a folding pocket saw.
These two simple tools were firm favourites with all the kids who tried them out for me. And the benefits of using them are far greater than it might seem.
For example, the activity of sawing requires hand strength, concentration and co-ordination. The angle you are sawing at must be maintained, and the saw will occasionally snag and have to be repositioned. Also, just the right amount of pressure will need to be applied. And that will vary for each piece of wood being cut.
These are skills and understanding that children only gain through hands-on experience.
The kids found the folding saw the easiest to handle. It also required very little instruction for them to get the hang of using it effectively.
The bow saw demands a little more concentration and precision. It is harder to get into a rhythm with as they saw, as it snags on the wood if angle or pressure aren’t right. However I don’t think that this added challenge is a bad thing. When used properly, it works fine. So for the kids, getting better at using a more difficult tool really increased their sense of accomplishment.
Both my kids and the friend-extras I drafted in really responded to the challege of this woodwork activity. It was clear how excited and proud they were to be trusted with the responsibility of these tools!
Gimlet and Hand Brace
With the two drills we received, it was much the same – the gimet was easy while the hand brace took practice.
The gimlet is a small hand-held drill bit that you push and turn into the wood to make a pilot hole. This was easy enough for the kids to grasp, and they were soon peppering their scraps of wood with holes.
The hand brace was a little more complex to use. You have to turn the U-shaped central crank/handle to operate it.
This motion takes a few goes to get right. But once the kids found the rhythm, they found it a fun and very satisfying tool to use. It ended up being much more popular than the gimlet!
Smaller sized tools, smaller projects.
The smaller size of these Haba woodwork tools makes them easier for kids to use. But the downside for cutting tools, like the bow saw and folding saw, is that their size makes them unsuitable for cutting anything particularly thick.
We found they worked well with branches and sticks around a couple of centimetres thick. But any thicker than this and the kids (aged between three and nine) got too tired to finish the job.
This might seem to make them a bit pointless if you have particular activities in mind. The kids will struggle to cut large wood slices from a thick trunk or branch, for example.
However there are still plenty of possible applications and projects you can use them for. And helpfully all the tools come with little booklets full of ideas.
We’ve taken them along with us on outings to the woods and local orchard, where we were able to use them to cut branches to size when making wands and building dens, as just two examples.
That portability is the flip side benefit of them being small. It’s a big plus, especially with the folding saw, the penknife, and the gimlet. These can all be slipped easily into a pocket to take out with you on these kinds of trips.
We felt spoilt for choice with all our new tools, so it took a few goes to use them all. The penknife finally came into its own on our recent Gypsy Caravan holiday to Farrs Meadow, in Dorset.
Marshmallows were required for toasting over the campfire each evening, which meant finding and sharpening toasting sticks.
Both children adored this activity and became dab hands at sharpening the ends of their sticks.
The bow saw is sold as an individual item. While the folding saw and the penknife can both be bought either separately or as part of a carving set. This set also includes four gouges, sharpening stones, a tool roll to store everything in, and spoon blanks and lime wood carving blocks to start the kids off on some projects.
We received this set as part of the bundle One Hundred Toys sent us. I have to say it’s a really lovely set that would make an impressive present.
The set comes in a large and beautiful box (once you get the outer sleeve off!). Inside the tools are presented in three separate layers, and the contents just seem to go on and on!
Using the gouges
I restricted use of the gouges mostly to the older kids (seven and above). Personally, I felt less comfortable with the younger ones managing the task of holding the wood safely and directing the cutting edge.
As a hobbyist lino-cutter, I’ve cut myself with gouges many times, so I know how tricky this is to master. But this probably says more about my nerves and skill than the ability of the kids!
I will definitely have a go at some point with my youngest when the moment feels right. We may use softer lino, rather than wood though, at least to start with. And we will definitely wear gloves on the hand that is holding the wood or lino.
Practicing on balsa
The older kids loved using these gouges. I started them off by practicing on some balsa wood. Their first task was simply to carve lines using the tools. You can pick Balsa up cheaply very easily in craft stores and even online. It is so soft, you can dent it just with a pencil, and it’s really easy to cut.
I let them try this out for a while. Then we talked about how they could vary the depth and the patterns by varying the angle. Looking at the tools, they could see the gouges had different shapes too, so they tried them out to see what kind of grooves each one carved.
As a little tip, when surface carving (for woodblock printing, for example), it’s easier to easier to see what you’ve carved when the top layer of wood is a distinctly different colour. So the boys coloured the blocks with pencils and crayons, then experimented gouging spots and patterns to reveal the uncoloured wood beneath.
The gouges can cut clean lines but as they are fairly large V and U shapes, they aren’t great at detail work when used for print block making. However they were a good size for the kids to hold, and worked well at shaping the soft wood.
In fact, they made great whittling tools (which, to be fair, is how they are marketed!) and were good starter tools for children to try out block printing.
It was also an unexpected bonus to find they came with three grades of sharpening stones to keep them sharp. It might seem illogical, but a sharp tool that cuts smoothly and easily is much safer than a blunt tool that takes force to use.
Storage and safety guards
The tools also come with excellent safety guards for protection against sharp edges and points in storage and when transported.
The bow saw, for example, has a wrap-around Velcro guard for the blade, made out of tough neoprene fabric thick enough to completely cushion it even when I pressed my finger hard against the cutting edge (yes, I was that kind of child). It also has a snap hook for storing and transporting safely.
The tool roll for the gouges is made of the same stuff and keeps their pointy ends safely tucked away. The blade of the folding saw tucks safely away into its handle (just like the penknife), while the gimlet drill has a thick plastic cap for the point.
The Beauty of Real Tools
One of the many things I love about these tools is that they look so gorgeous and are solidly made out of quality materials. These definitely look and feel ‘real’.
This comes back to one of reasons why educators often recommend non-plastic items for kids. The beauty of these items gives them a prestige that is apparent even to children, and to be able to own, hold and use beautiful tools adds to their own sense of and self-worth.
It’s an idea that underpins educational approaches like Montessori and Reggio Emilia. And it’s one of the reasons educational establishments using those methods place such importance on non-plastic materials and ‘real’ tools in their learning environments.
And yes, safety has to be a consideration when you are using real tools with young children, but it shouldn’t be a discouragement either.
I have been so impressed with the maturity all the kids have shown when given the chance to use these tools, and I think that my son put it best when he said the reason he enjoys using them so much is that, in his words, it’s more fun doing the real thing rather than just pretend.
These HABA tools make it that little bit easier and safer for them to master these skills, and I can see them providing years of enjoyment – and usefulness too!
More on woodwork and real tools for kids
If you’d like to read more about the whys and hows of introducing woodwork and real tools to young children, I highly recommend reading the in-depth article by Peter Moorehouse – Woodwork in Early Years.
Peter is an Early Years practitioner and an artist, who specialises in woodwork with children. Though his piece is written primarily for teachers and teaching environments, there’s a wealth of ideas and information that’s just as useful for us parents.
We were very grateful to receive these tools from One Hundred Toys for the purpose of this review. All opinions in the review are our own. If you’re looking to buy HABA tools like the ones reviewed here, check out One Hundred Toys ‘Outdoor Toys’ selection, or find them under ‘Haba’ for everything by that brand.
One Hundred Toys is an online toyshop, based in the UK. Their ethos is to provide a carefully curated collection of the one hundred essential toys, games and DIY things-to-do that will engage and delight your child. The website also includes lots of free activity ideas and a great blog, so check them out at www.onehundredtoys.com.
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