Introduction: Toddlers Tools

About: Practicalist, not a perfectionist. Enjoyer of Mountain Biking. Jack of all trades, master of none.

My son joined me in the shed the other day and seemed very interested in the woodworking I was doing. He was asking lots of questions and wanted to help, but it didn't seem right to hand a chisel to a 2 year old. So I decided to make him his own tools!

Tools I made for him so far are:

  1. Mallet
  2. Pliers

These were all made from scrap wood I had lying around the shed. Specifically the materials I used were:

  1. 6mm dowel approx 300mm long
  2. Solid Pine Offcut, 50mm x 100mm x 100mm long (mine was longer but this is the minimum).
  3. 12mm plywood, approx 400mm long and 50mm wide
  4. 1 x 6mm bolt x 30mm long, with nyloc nut and 4 x washers.
  5. Wood glue (aquadhere)
  6. Varnish if desired.

Because my workspace is small I tend to use hand-tools. To make these items I used:

  1. Drill
  2. Chisel
  3. Hand-plane
  4. Pull saw
  5. Coping Saw
  6. Sandpaper (80 grit to 1200 grit)

Step 1: The Mallet

To make the mallet is fairly straightforward.

To make the head, cut the piece of solid pine down until you have a 50 x 50 x 100mm long piece of wood. In my case this involved making 2 cuts at right angles to each other, to get the length and width right.

Then, mark out to find the centre of the piece of wood on one side. The easiest way to do this is to draw a line diagonally across the piece from corner to corner. Do this twice, and where the lines meet is the centre.

Next, find a drill bit that is the same size as the piece of dowel (in this case, 6mm). Wrap a piece of tape around your drill bit approx 40mm from the end. This will help stop you drilling all the way through the head.

Drill a hole into the head, making sure you don't go all the way through, and that you keep it perpendicular.

Push the dowel into the hole and give it a few taps to make sure it's seated all the way. Then pull it out, put a little glue in the hole, then push the dowel back in. Wipe away any excess with a cloth.

Check your dowel handle for length. I found the easiest way to do this was to give it to my son and get him to hit something (the bench in this case). Look at where they hold the handle, then cut it just beyond this point. Toddlers tend to naturally hold things at the right point, so this makes it easy.

Then varnish and it's finished!

If your kids need something to hammer, get a few shorter tack nails, an old piece of cork (in this case a coaster I accidentally burnt), and some scrap wood. 15 minutes peace and quiet at least (except for the banging).

Step 2: Pliers - Marking Out

The pliers are a little more complicated than the mallet, but not really.

First, cut the 400mm length of plywood in half, giving you 2 identical pieces. This gives you an idea of the size of the finished piece.

The next step is to mark out your design onto one of the pieces of wood.

  1. Mark a line down the centre of the piece. This helps to visualize where your jaws will finish.
  2. Mark a point about 1/3rd the way down the centreline. This is where the pivot point will be, and gives you a 'long' end (the 2/3rds) and a 'short' end (the 1/3rd)
  3. Mark in the outline of the jaws on the 'short' end, making sure that the 'teeth' portion is on the centreline you marked in earlier. The actual 'teeth' portion should take up about the end third of this piece. The curve will take up another third, leaving about third for the thickness of the pliers at the pivot point.
  4. Now mark in your handles on the 'long' end. These should curve towards the diagonally opposite corner of the wood, and can go all the way to the edge if you so desire. Remember to bear in mind your toddlers grip when doing this.
  5. Check that there's enough room for you to drill the hole for your pivot screw in the handle! In hindsight mine was a little tight, but worked well enough.

I'd started cutting before I realised this would be a good instructable so I don't have any photos of the marked out pieces, but you get the general idea. Also I drew this freehand and just made it up as I went, so feel free to experiment and improve on this basic guide.

Step 3: Pliers - Cutting & Shaping

With the design marked out, it's now time to cut out the two halves.

Carefully align the two pieces of wood and clamp them together, and to a workbench.

Use the coping saw to cut out the profile you've marked out, being careful not to stray over the lines. If needed you can work in sections, but I found it handy and just as easy to follow the curves with the coping saw.

Cutting two sections together ensures that they will mirror nicely once finished, but you need to make sure you keep your saw blade perpendicular to the timber.

Once you've got them cut out, keep the two halves clamped together and work off the rough edges with sandpaper. I found it easy to clamp the pieces in a vice and work in stages. Keeping them clamped makes sure the shape stays consistent between the two halves. When doing the 'teeth' use a piece of metal or flat wood to keep the edge straight, and don't round off the edges. This will help when your toddler is trying to pick up really small things off a flat surface with the pliers.

Separate the two halves and flip one over. Align them so that the 'teeth' match up nicely, and mark both pieces where they crossover. This should give you an approximate 'rhombus' shape on each piece. Draw in the diagonals on one piece to find the centre. This defines where you need to drill the pivot hole.

Flip the piece back and align the two halves again, making sure you can access the pivot hole location. Clamp the pieces and drill the hole.

Step 4: Trial Assembly & Matching

Now you should have the two halves of the pliers cut out, with a hole drilled through both of them.

Now take the bolt and trial fit it through the pliers. Place a washer under the head, two in the middle, and another under the nut. This will make sure that the pliers can rotate freely.

The 'teeth' of the pliers should now be parallel and meeting nicely. If not, get some sandpaper and adjust them to suit.

Of course, the only problem is that the 'teeth' are offset from each other, thanks to the thickness of the wood.

To fix this, take the two scrap pieces and trace out another section, using the pliers as a template. Cut them out and glue to the first pieces, as pictured above. Be sure to glue on the internal side, so that the 'teeth' mate correctly.

Step 5: Sand, Shape and Repeat

With the two halves glued up, it's now time to make the pliers look pretty!

Get some coarse sandpaper and shape the head and handles. Smooth off the hard edges on the handles. Work the head to a symmetrical shape. Take your time and just do it by eye, this is what will determine the quality of the final product.

Once you're happy with the main shape, switch to some finer sandpaper and smooth it further. Again, take your time, then move to the finest sandpaper you have (1200 grit) and give the whole thing a final smooth.

Step 6: Varnish and Finish

With the two halves sanded and smoothed, apply your varnish of choice to the whole thing. Use multiple thin coats rather than few thick coats, this will give a better finish and fewer drips.

Once the varnishing is done give it a gentle polish with a buffing cloth, then assemble and it's ready to go!

If it is a little hard for your toddler to use, try a few drops of general purpose oil between the two middle washers.

Thanks for reading and please vote in the trash-to-treasure contest!

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