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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.”

So true.

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.

Used, Via Amazon [What’s This?]


7 Responses to If I Had A Hammer, Circa 1974

  1. Devil in the Drain says:

    So, what do you think is the appropriate age for this book? Or what does the author say?

  2. PutnamEco says:

    Seems to me they left out at least one essential tool, the chisel. Maybe their target audience was a bit young for edge tools, but the addition of a wood chisel wood have increased the scope of work that could have been covered immensely IMHO.

    If I was putting together a toolbox for a youngster, I would pass on the surform and instead put in a 4-in-hand and a block plane. A couple screwdrivers, both a flat and phillips head, would also seem to me to be a necessity.

    As a kid, I got a lot of enjoyment out of a coping saw, and gathered some skills that came in handy later in life, learning about economy of time and motion in cutting out intricate shapes, which pays off to this day with power tools.

    It is not easy to find projects that grabs kids attention these days, it seems like most of the woodworking books for kids that are out today have projects that seem to be more at home in the 1950s rather than today. Where are the video game/DVD racks and iPod stands and the like? Kids seem to be a lot more drawn into the “Makers” movement.

  3. browndog77 says:

    My addition to the list would be the screwdriver. I can’t think of any tool that teaches manual dexterity and patience quite as well. A good footnote would be the proper sizing and use of pilot holes when working w/ wood (or metal, for that matter!)

  4. Mac says:

    Great post Chuck.

    Depending on the age, I’d have to agree with the screwdriver, especially since the drill is already there.

    First on the list must be safety gear though. Hope that’s in the book too!

  5. Kris says:

    +1 on the screwdriver, maybe one of those multi-bit ones. Also a starter set of drill bits and a toolbox to put them all in.

    This is good for woodworking, but some general purpose tools to add would be pump pliers, needlenose and dikes, and a small flashlight.

    Don’t agree with the block plane vs. Surform though – with a hand plane the user has to be taught to tune it and sharpen the blade. Same thing applies to chisels. Maybe the plane and chisels along with sharpening stones goes into the intermediate kit?

  6. West of the Potomac says:

    In the mid-1950s I didn’t have access to a book like this, but my pa’s basement workshop provided endless hours of opportunity, a good measure of frustration and probably a few tears. I’m thankful for the whole package. We tried to provide similar opportunities for our daughter and son, not as easy a task in a small suburban townhouse; but I’m confident the lessons were passed along.

    I agree with adding screwdrivers to the list. We didn’t have a Surform plane, but I still have the well worn rasp I used to “custom fit” my crude cuts and other blunders. Until I grew tall enough to comfortably reach the workbench, I also appreciated the old stump we kept in the basement. It graciously accepted abuse of all manner and served as my work surface for a good long while.

  7. PutnamEco says:

    Kris says:
    Don’t agree with the block plane vs. Surform though
    I recommended replacing the surform with a four-in-hand AND a block plane

    A block plane and a chisel would both increase the scope of work that could be done and teach the importance of having sharp tools, a good lesson to learn early.
    One of the most frustrating things I’ve seen with kids is cutting something just a little off and having no easy way to remove that little bit of excess, a plane is a lot easier to do a reasonable job of removing this than a rasp or surform.

    I usually add quite a bit more to any toolbox I fill for both for kids and first time home owners.
    along with the above mentioned pliers I would pass on the diagonal cutters and include a linesmans pliers and end nippers, wire strippers, a combo wrench set and an adjustable wrench, 3/8″ socket set, allen wrench set, small pipe wrench, utility knife, speed square rather than tri-square, torpedo level, 5 in 1 painters tool, 1″ flexible putty knife, 3″ flexible putty knife, wonder bar, nailset, awl, one of those jab saws that uses recip saw blades along with a few blades (sheetrock, wood, metal), jewelers screwdriver set, Multi-bit screwdriver with some nut driver bits

    Makes a great wedding or house warming gift (IMHO better than another blender or toaster oven despite the weird looks some people will give), and I’ve seen a couple kids grow up and go to college and get there first houses with them.

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