How To: (Maybe) Teach a Kid to Saw

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Blog entry by WhiskeyWaters posted 02-10-2011 06:48 AM 1076 reads 1 time favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch

How To: Teach Sawing to a Young Student off “the other blog”....

I have a perfect record in the woodshop. No fatalities.

I have had two injuries though this year (I average about one a quarter or semester). Both happened due to good sawing habits gone bad.

This picture shows my basic hand-saw set up when I teach how-to cut a board to size. I’m right-handed and for south-pawed students, I mirror the set up.I would saw about an inch from the edge of the table. Notice I use a bench hook to keep slips/movement to a minimum and pinch my thumb in so I don’t catch it on a saw (though I’m lazy with that index finger!). I have the kids put their weight into their left hand to steady the workpiece. I generally build the workbenches 30”-32” high to accommodate younger statures. I’ve never had a student cut themselves after setting themselves up like this, righty or lefty.

Trouble is, sometimes that’s not the most accessible way to hand-saw a board. Small pieces for example, or a face-vise set-up in the left side of a bench like this necessitate a different technique:

Now pretend you’re a student. You go to make this cut (a rip down the pencil mark) and the board naturally wiggles. Remember how I teach to use the left hand to steady the work? Well, my student’s see my “good” habits and this is their solution:

And so, midway through the cut, this happens:

And there goes the finger! Nurse! Nurse! We got a bleeder!

Both finger injuries have happened in this manner – a cut at the end of wood when the lumber is chucked/clamped down on the student’s strong-hand side. I researched a bit and I’ve seen two ways to avoid this from happening. One hand behind the back,

or the two-handed approach.

The one-handed technique is great for students to gain a “feel” for cutting the wood correctly. A saw should glide through the wood with minimal downward pressure for the user – the saw does the work. Long strokes produce cleaner and faster cuts than short strokes. Move your body so your arm swings in a straight line in the direction of the cut (similar to a proper stroke of a pool cue actually). I will (once I re-teach the safe way to saw during this cut!) ask the kids to try a one-handed approach to reinforce proper technique. Then the students will switch to a two-handed approach to gain speed. Also, remember to teach how to re-adjust the placing of wood in the vise to minimize board movement, the original reason the second hand got involved in the first place.

So, a few things to remember when teaching woodworking to young students:

  • Different cuts, different set-ups must be taught as separate units. Young people don’t gain adult-like abstraction skills until fifteen or so. Young people’s brains haven’t developed those brain cells yet. If you change the pattern, you must re-teach the technique.
  • Watch yourself first because monkey see, monkey do. In this case, my habits in one environment (and the habits I ingrained in my students) did not translate to a successful skill when the situation changed. Look at your habits and think about how those habits might affect the students’ thought patterns.
  • Re-evaluate and research your own skills – this is why I blog here, why I’m working on a Master’s in Ed, why I play in the woodshop on the weekends. I can’t expect my students to be satisfied with the projects and level of production I see now. I must plan for the future and improve my teaching toolkit.

Two sites which enlightened me on my quest to solve the sawed finger mystery: & Doug Stowe’s Wisdom of the Hands. If Any lumberjocks have any more tips for how to teach a kid to saw, drop a line, I’d like to improve my technique here.

-- make it safe & keep the rubber side down.

5 comments so far

View swirt's profile


2107 posts in 2394 days

#1 posted 02-10-2011 07:15 AM

All sounds like good advice and I like both of those blogs.

A hold down toggle clamp or two on that bench hook can go even farther toward keeping little fingers out of harms way. The biggest risks for child or adult is using one hand to hold the wood while the other holds the tool. Saw, chisel, putty knife, screwdriver….

I like the hand behind the back method for my own use too. Keeps me safe and puts me in a less aggressive state of mind.

-- Galootish log blog,

View WhiskeyWaters's profile


213 posts in 3227 days

#2 posted 02-10-2011 08:29 AM

Thanks for the vote of approval – I wish I had the luxury of hold-downs. I don’t even have a roof on my shop. Instead of hold downs, I use butt-clamps for really big cuts. As in, one student uses the bench hook and another sits on work piece. I enjoy 1) the look on a seven-yr-olds face when you say he’s going to be a butt-clamp and 2) the fact the students need to work together. It’s surprising how if a younger or nervous kid sits on the work they get to feel like they did something and then all of a sudden, I say switch! and they are sawing away.

I’ll see how the one handed technique goes over the next few weeks.

-- make it safe & keep the rubber side down.

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 3582 days

#3 posted 02-10-2011 01:25 PM

a good blog. The “switch” technique is brilliant as well :)

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View nikko18's profile


15 posts in 2113 days

#4 posted 02-10-2011 07:13 PM

Thanks for the links, my younger one likes to work in the shop with me, safety safety safety!
But let’s still make it fun ;)

-- Time flys like an arrow, fruit flies like a bannana

View Roz's profile


1693 posts in 3208 days

#5 posted 02-17-2011 04:52 AM

It’s good stuff you are doing! Showing kids the workings of the wider world. Thanks

-- Terry Roswell, L.A. (Lower Alabama) "Life is what happens to you when you are making other plans."

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