DIY | Setting Up A Classroom Sawing Station

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Overview

Using real tools helps kids feel trusted, powerful, and capable. It also helps them develop useful skills, improve small and large muscle strength and control, hone self-regulation skills, and more.

This post walks you though the basics of setting up a sawing station and takes a look at keeping things safe.

Supplies

You’ll need:

  • A sturdy work surface
  • A hand saw (we recommend this one)
  • A clamp (or two) (These are handy)
  • Scarp wood (we recommend pine boards 1/2 inch to 1 inch thick and 1-3 inches wide )
  • A speed square ( like this)
  • A pencil (any pencil will do, but these carpenter pencils are cool because they won’t roll away)

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Process

The process is pretty straightforward: mark the board, clamp the board, and saw the board. We’ll break it down in a bit more detail below and then take a look at tips for keeping things safe.

Mark It

We’ve found kids are more successful at sawing if they have a path to follow, so start by using a speed square and pencil to make one a few inches from the end of the board. This line serves two major purposes. First, it serves as a literal path for them to follow with the saw. Second, it helps them visualize their progress as they watch the saw ‘eat’ that line with each stroke of the saw.

Clamp It

The next step is to secure the board to a sturdy surface. This is really important for younger and inexperienced saw users because they are generally not strong or coordinated enough to stabilize the board and saw through it at the same time. Clamping is also for safety–saw mishaps are less likely when the work piece is secured to the surface.

There are lots of clamping options. The best clamps to use are the ones you already have. Below are some shots of sawing setups with different clamps and here is a post about selecting clamps if you don’t have any on hand.

Just clamp the piece of wood securely with the line you made a couple inches beyond the edge of the work surface. The setup below is for a right handed saw user. If the child is left handed, it would be best to flip things and hang the board off the other side of the work surface.

Saw It

Now, it’s time to saw. The non-saw hand helps hold the work piece. The other hand has some more challenging work to do. Start the cut by placing the saw teeth near the handle on the line and draw the saw back to start the cut. Do a few of these short back strokes. Then, with the saw at about a 45 degree angle, saw away. Resist the temptation to bear down and apply a lot of pressure. The saw will tend to bind up if you try to force it.

Safety

Let’s talk safety.

Kids tend to be pain-adverse. Most kids–most of the time–would prefer not to be hurt than to be hurt. The same goes for hurting others–it’s just not something that’s top of mind for most kids. It is highly unlikely little Katrina will go on a saw rampage slicing at herself and her playmates. If a saw injury happens, it’s unlikely to be intentional.

As the adult in the room, our job becomes managing the environment to reduce the likelihood of unintentional injury. Our experience is that most unintentional injuries occur due to distraction (for example, Tim, holding a saw, is distracted by nearby rough and tumble play and accidentally slides the blade across his knee) or lack of body control (For example, Becca, using a hammer, pounds her thumb instead of the nearby nail because she lacks hand-eye coordination).

Here are some tips for abating unintentional saw injuries:

  • Reduce distractions. For example, arrange your sawing station to reduce visual stimulation and help keep the saw-user focused.
  • Practice what we’ll call smart saw hygiene. Build habits of sensible saw management–things like laying the saw in the middle of the work surface when it is not in use, limiting the number of people in the saw station, and not running across the room while waving the saw like a light saber. You don’t need a lot of rules–just some common sense guidelines that’ll reduce the chances of accidental bites from those sharp saw teeth.
  • Use appropriate safety gear. You’ll find a post on selecting safety gear here.
  • Get comfortable with the tools. Kids will sense any discomfort you feel around tools. Your discomfort will radiate through the room and contaminate them. One of the biggest things you can do to keep everyone safe is to get comfortable with the saw. If you don’t have much saw experience, you need to do some reps–practice marking, clamping, and sawing until you get comfortable.
Facing your sawing station toward a wall helps reduce distractions and keeps the saw-user focused.

Conclusion

It’s really satisfying to see a three-year-old slice though their first board after 20 minutes of work. We hope you give it a try and are here to offer any additional support. We’d love to see you questions, experiences, and saw station photos in the comments section.

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Jeff is an early learning speaker, toymaker, podcaster, content creator, author, and founder of Playvolution HQ who is really bad at getting his picture taken.

After nearly 30 years working in early learning programs, Tasha now devotes her time to making Explorations Early Learning and Playvolution HQ work, quilting, and taking care of her pet duck, Tape.

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