I’m lucky that when I was a child, my parents introduced me to tools — and reading. And this weekend when I was organizing a room to convert it into a library/guest room, I came across a book that brings the two together perfectly: If I Had a Hammer by Robert Lasson. It’s a great, simple introduction for kids to what hand tools are and how to use them. In my Father’s Day post, I mentioned that my father put together a small toolkit for me, and as I re-read through Hammer, I can see how he selected tools for it.
In the front of the book, Lasson offers some advice to parents:
“There’s an important rule for buying tools,” he writes, “get the most expensive tool you can afford. You can, however, cut some corners. For example, you don’t have to spend $4.00 for a try square. Cheaper squares are available and will be adequate.” Note that he’s writing some 30+ years ago, so the pricing doesn’t quite jive with today. But the sentiment remains spot on. He points out that readers may own an electric drill “which means you may not wish to buy a hand drill.” But “electric drills should be operated only by adults until the beginning woodworker has had a chance to develop familiarity with power-driven equipment–and a great deal of respect for it.” Good advice then and now.
His best advice is in the last paragraph:
“Practice–lots of practice—is needed before anyone can use tools adeptly. Your role should be helpful and supporting, while always allowing the young woodworker to move ahead at his or her own speed. The human hand is itself a magnificent tool, but sometimes two aren’t enough. If your child needs help–that is, if he/she asks for assistance–give it. This book is predicated on child-to-child or child-to-adult collaboration.”
For those wondering, here’s the list of tools he recommends in the book:
- The Hammer
- The Try Square
- The Saw
- The C-Clamp
- The Tape Measure
- The Drill
- The Surform Plane
Each tool receives a chapter describing proper use, including helpful photos. Lasson also includes a chapter titled “Some Tips on Lumber” in which he explains a lot of ins-and-outs that even most adults you’ll run into in the grocery store don’t know, things like the fact that lumber is actually smaller than its official measurements and that knots are ok in pine, but you want to choose hard knots instead of soft ones that’ll pop out. Next comes “How to Assemble Two Pieces of Wood,” which offers the same tips and tricks for nailing, glueing — essentially everything you need to know to put things together with the tools in the book. There’s also a chapter on wood finishing. Finally, readers get six projects, all very simple and designed more to inspire other projects than to serve.
My copy is hardbound, and is the original 1974 printing. Sadly, it looks like the book is out of print now, but I found quite a few copies available via Amazon’s used section, many of which list for under $2. I’d recommend this as an awesome investment for anyone, for your child’s (or your) enjoyment.
PS: The specs of tar you see all over the photo of my copy above came from the 1979 tornado that destroyed our family house in Wichita Falls, TX. We found many books still in the shelves, but with roofing tar between every single page. The mind boggles as to how these particles were inserted in the pages with the book in place.