Woodworking for New Parents
So, you’re a hobbyist woodworker and new mum or dad and wondering “how the hell am I going to pursue my hobby now I have this precious little creature that depends on me?”
I think most other parents can agree that being a parent is one of the biggest challenges you will ever face and somehow around all the tears, tiredness and mess, it can be one of the most amazing and joyful experiences you will ever have (unless you’ve used a Festool of course).
Obviously, your life changes and you no longer have the free time, space or perhaps the money you used to have.
The most important thing in your life should be your children but that doesn’t mean you have to give up your own dreams and hobbies. And there is in fact no reason why with some careful balance they can’t successfully complement each other.
Later on, you can also try to get them involved in the hobby as well and there is nothing more satisfying then sharing a hobby with somebody you love.
For now however, we’re going to assume that you are dealing with a baby or very young toddler that isn’t quite ready yet. That said, you would be surprised how early you can get them started and maybe I’ll write a future blog on this.
This article will try and offer some advice from a hobbyist woodworker who has been there! It’s aimed at the new parent so if you’re on your second child, you may not find it as useful but still may be worth a read as it might contain some stuff you’ve not considered.
You could also apply some of the ideas here to other things such as metalworking or pottery but these are not topics I know enough about to offer specific advice. I’m also talking about woodworking as a hobby as opposed to professional work or decorating a nursery.
There is nothing more important in this world than your children, so it should be no surprise that safety is top of this list. This is perhaps the most boring topic but also the most critical.
Most of everything you can do is common sense but it’s amazing how much common sense you have when you’ve had 2 hours sleep in 2 days. With that in mind, you need to weigh up risks of how tired you are versus how risky a thing you are about to do.
Gluing two pieces of wood together is fairly safe compared to operating big power tools. The worst you can do (unless you’re really stupid or unlucky) with glue is stick yourself to something while those power tools can give you some nasty scars or worse.
If you are so tired that you are unsure if what you are doing is safe, then stop. As a new parent, unless you’re incredibly lucky, you will be tired, so you should risk assess everything you do.
Just remember, injuring yourself is no longer a simple plaster or quick trip to A&E.
If you’re incapacitated, then you are no longer a functional parent! A small human and possibly partner is relying on you to be there and this is even more serious if you’re a single parent.
Those who know about proper health and safety will know that personal protection equipment (PPE) is actually low down the list normally but as you are so utterly important, you need to make sure you have some.
Goggles are a must!
It’s scary what things can fly during what you planned to be something simple. “I’ll just” can often result in sparks, splinters or parts flying at your face if you’re not careful. Ignoring the obvious permanent damage you might do to yourself, a blinded person with tools in their hand can also be a fairly big risk to a child too!
Reading the manuals for any tools you use so you’re familiar with their functions and using the intended safety features such as guards is also a must. Let’s be honest, we all skip reading the instructions on things keen to get going but you can’t afford to do this now.
There are also other items of PPE that are important such as hearing protection or dust masks, but you will need to judge for yourselves what you need. Just remember these are the sorts of PPE that don’t necessarily protect you against a one-off incident, but using them will help you live a long life and maybe you will get to see your children grow up.
If you’re using power tools, dust extraction is also pretty important looking beyond yourself. If your children are going to be in the same space where you are generating dust and shavings, this really needs to be looked at seriously and you should consider investing in some proper extraction equipment.
You can buy a shop vac that can be attached to multiple power tools really cheap, and these can typically filter particles down to around .5 microns.
Wood itself is dangerous and can shred and clog up your lungs, but add all the chemicals that can be found in most wood along with any chemicals you might be using, then it becomes even more dangerous. Shrugging wood off as a natural substance is inexcusable as there is nothing natural about generating saw dust.
You wouldn’t want all those nasty tiny particles clogging up and harming your own lungs and your children’s, which are far more sensitive and easier to damage.
Once mobile and even crawling, you need to take extra special care of where you leave anything that could be dangerous. Children will grab whatever they can and often put the craziest of things in their mouth as that’s how they start to explore the world.
If you do have a separate workshop area, keep it locked and keep all your most dangerous tools out of the way, lest they find themselves in grabby hands. The thought of a toddler wielding a power tool should scare the willies out of you as much as it does me.
You might be lucky enough like myself to have a space you can call a workshop. Whether that be a massive purpose-built building, converted garage or garden shed, but if you don’t, this shouldn’t stop you. Some of the most talented woodworkers I know have only a tiny space and they make it work.
A corner of a room with a workbench set up is what I consider a minimum to do some enjoyable quality woodworking, but even without this there is still stuff you can do.
Wherever you set up, it’s obviously important that tools can’t be grabbed by little hands, and any dust or noise is limited. But take a look at the other parts of this article for more advice on that.
A decent toolbox that can be closed and stored away somewhere safe is all that’s really needed, but you will obviously have to limit the projects you can do with the selection of tools you have.
Never underestimate hand tools and never be that person who says “I can’t do this because I don’t have this tool.” With time and skill, there is very little that can’t be done with a good selection of hand tools that power tools can’t do. Though admittedly, power tools will make things much faster.
There are however, people out there that can make amazing stuff using just a knife and some wood, so don’t put limits on yourself that don’t exist.
Waking a sleeping baby can result in injuries nearly as severe as any power tool if your partner has just spent hours getting them to sleep.
Power tools obviously create the most noises, so you need to invoke some common sense when using them and realise some are noisier than others. My scroll saw, for example has a nice little purr that probably can’t even be heard in the room next door, while my planer can be heard down the road.
Hand tools are typically much quieter, but you do need to consider speed. For example, 2 minutes of sawing some thick timber is obviously quieter than a mitre saw, but that mitre saw could cut that piece of timber in 2 seconds and that’s all the noise done.
As there is little that can’t be done using hand tools, I would recommend for those with the space and money to invest in a good set of hand tools as a backup for every power tool you have.
A brace and bit or an egg beater style drill can easily replace a drill press.
A hand plane can, with some skill and effort, do everything a planer or thicknesser can do, plus more. Use a block plane and you can add a radius to your work that might have otherwise needed a router.
Hand saws can replace any table saw or mitre saw.
A coping saw can replace a scroll saw or jigsaw for detail work.
Hand tools have another big advantage in that they are normally a lot smaller than their powered equivalents, so perfect if you don’t have a big working space. Plus, the extra effort they require to use can help you get back into shape – who needs the gym eh?
It should be worth noting that children become accustomed to noises and are better at dealing with them or sleeping through them. I’ve found a new unfamiliar noise can be scary and wake a baby, while something they are used to such as some quiet power tool noises at a reasonable distance won’t bother them at all. I’m not saying you should set a table saw up in the nursery, but certainly don’t be terrified of every possible noise you might make!
Crossed out as you mentioned this very early on.
You won’t have much, so make it matter!
Preparation is key as planning goes out of the window. (contradiction? But I don’t think this is needed as you say it well below) It’s a lovely idea to set aside a specific night for your hobby and try to make that work, but I promise you, your offspring will have no respect for this and will aim to throw a spanner (or just throw up) on your plans.
More likely, you will find at least in the early days, you get a spare five minutes here and there and it’s for this you need to be ready.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve suddenly got some unexpected free time and sat in my workshop wasting it pondering what to work on next.
Have a plan of exactly what you want to do and how you want to do, including what tools and materials you will need. Consider also what noisy or messy operations are needed and try to work out when the most sensible time to do them is. Perhaps you can’t do some milling of lumber of your table saw because it’s 10:30pm but you have a spare 30 minutes? Maybe instead, you could be painting that other project you are working on so it’s dry for the next day?
Children are expensive!
I’ve not met a parent yet who couldn’t do with some extra cash, and the bank of Mum and Dad is constantly having to pay out for things. If anybody tells you “it’s only for 18 years”, that’s also a lie as I know full well from sponging off my own that that bank stays open until the day you die.
You need to start weighing up purchases and start thinking stuff like “do I need this new tool?”
Some will say things like how they couldn’t live without a specific tool which is of course mostly nonsense and often cheaper alternatives will be able to help you make exactly the same thing. However, perhaps slower.
Wood can be obtained cheap from local recycling centres and there are always fallen trees, skip finds and scrap pallets. Pallet wood carries a set of risks to be aware of, and you should always take some care.
It really also pays to become friends with a local tree surgeon!
If money is tight, you might also want to consider making some stuff you can sell. You might not be able to get the time to have a table at a craft show, but maybe you could start a small Etsy store, or even just make a few things for Christmas presents so you don’t have to buy them.
What you’re making should have some value, or you might as well not bother! This may sound harsh, but note that value doesn’t have to have to be quantifiable. Obviously, something you physically need, such as building a cot bed or toys is a clearly an item of value, but something you make can have a huge intangible value to it.
Something you have made with your own two hands will always be special compared to some cheap mass manufactured version you’ve just gone out and bought. Even with something that hasn’t taken much time or skill. there will be this intangible sense of pride imbued in whatever you’ve just made and this might be felt beyond yourself and by others in your family. Maybe even your children one day.
If you manage to make a “heirloom piece”, this is what I consider the pinnacle of woodworking and long after you’re gone. People could be admiring your work and maybe even remembering you for it.
Aside from the final product. there is of course value in its creation. I can tell you that I get a massive stress relief from working with wood and while I am spending time, not with my family when I’m in my workshop, I am de-stressing and calming down, which hopefully ends up in me being a happier and mentally healthier person. And therefore a better dad.
This should as always be balanced against that time that you are not spending with your children or supporting your partner of course!
Woodworking is something any new parent can still do if you take some care and balance it against your new responsibilities. I’m not going to lie, it will take more work than it did before you had a child and you’re not going to become Norm Abram any time soon. Or probably be able to quit your day job.
You will however, experience profound pleasure in making stuff, especially if it’s for your children and someday might delight in being able to share this hobby with them.
Key points to remember:
- Do not neglect your own personal safety
- Plan ahead
- You don’t need huge amounts of space
- Consider a projects value before starting it.
- Invest in hand tools
- Consider selling stuff
- Make friends with a tree surgeon
- Continue to read my blog for more helpful advice in the future. Subscribe and you will never miss a post! 😉
You can do this! Good luck and if you have any advice of your own or feedback on this article please let me know in the comments.