Canadian Woodworking

Lessons learned: a 13-year-old in the shop

Author: Rob Brown
Japanese Saws

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the time my daughter and I spent in the shop building a model of a mosque for her school project.

She asked some good questions while we worked, so when it was over I asked her what she had learned. She listed a number of things which surprised me, because when I ask her what she learned at school she always replies “nothing” every single time. (Other than those six Mondays she had sex education class. Dinner conversation was interesting on those nights.)

Back to learning about woodworking.

I asked my daughter if she wanted to write about what she learned in one of my weekly columns, and she agreed; here are her thoughts:

I learned a lot of things while working with my dad in his shop. All are good to know and some are more important than others.

I learned that the difference between western saws and Japanese saws is that the western saw cuts on the push stroke and the Japanese saw cuts on the pull stroke. Western saw blades need to be thicker so they don’t break, but Japanese blades are in tension and they can be thinner. I find Japanese saws work a bit easier than western saws.

I learned that plywood is a type of board made from thin layers of overlapping wood. The grain of each layer goes in a different direction. You can use plywood to make a stable part because solid wood sometimes cracks along its grain. Because there are so many layers and the layers go different ways, this tends to keep the part from cracking.

I learned glue sometimes sinks into wood. While I was making a model of a mosque with my dad, we started to glue it together. To me it looked like my dad was putting too much glue on and just rubbing it around. It looked like it was useless and a waste of glue. But when I asked him about this, he explained to me that sometimes glue sinks into wood and it’s not sticky once it sinks in. You sometimes have to add glue in layers so the final layer doesn’t sink in and it actually sticks. This is especially true on end grain and the edges of plywood.

The assembly of a project can be tricky. We had to think about how to assemble my mosque; even my dad wasn’t sure how to assemble it at first. If you’re making a cube or a simpler shape, then it will be easy to assemble, but what we were making wasn’t a normal shape. Eventually we figured it out but we both had to work together to get it done.

You need lots of clamps. We used a ton of clamps to assemble the mosque. My dad has so many different shapes and sizes of clamps. Some are better suited to specific tasks, and we had to choose the right ones for my project.

Sawdust can make you sneeze a ton. I sneezed so much it was actually pretty funny. My dad usually wears a dust mask in the shop. We only spent a bit of time in the shop so I didn’t wear one, but if I were to spend more time in the shop I should wear one.

Sometimes the tools you make are better than the tools you buy. I noticed that my dad has a bunch of tools he made himself and it was cool to see. He used a push stick he made quite often.

I don’t feel the need to learn about machines. My dad asked me if I wanted to know about or use a bunch of machines and I just didn’t feel the need to. He told me that some people don’t like machines. They would rather work on things with their hands.

Japanese Saws
My daughter liked using the Japanese saws I have. They remove less wood and can be easier to control than western saws.

Japanese Saws

Gobs of Glue
Well maybe not gobs, but using ample glue is important. This is especially true when dealing with end grain or the edges of plywood that will be glued together.

Gobs of Glue

Tricky Times
The assembly of this school project was surprisingly difficult, but we got through it with a good plan and teamwork. Assembly is often a tense time.

Tricky Times

Add a Bit More Adhesive
After the glue was dry from the initial assembly, we flipped it over and added a bit of CA adhesive to the joints from below for good measure. This model wasn’t falling apart on my watch.

Add a Bit More Adhesive

Clamps Are Key
Clamps of all sorts make assembly easier. In our case, assembling the end gables to the V-shaped roof sections was tricky, as the clamps wanted to slide towards the ends when we applied some pressure.

Clamps Are Key

Monster Machinery
Machines are loud and aggressive. My daughter was more than happy to watch me do that bit of machining that was needed, though I made sure to tell her exactly what I was doing.

Monster Machinery

Music to Her Ears
A hand plane is every woodworker’s favourite tool, and my daughter was no exception. She eased all the edges with a sharp hand plane.

Music to Her Ears

Hand Tools Are Good
She liked using hand tools in the shop. They’re quieter and less likely to take your hand off.

Hand Tools Are Good
Last modified: July 13, 2023

Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.


  1. This is absolutely fantastic! The entire thing…from your daughter being with you in the workshop, to her lessons learned, and very good job articulating her experience in this process.

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