Canadian Woodworking

Kids’ birthday parties in the shop

Author: Robert Zaakarian
Photos: Robert Zaakarian
Published: August September 2017
kids in the shop
kids in the shop

Instead of hiring a clown and scaring all the kids, a birthday party in your shop is a great option for kids who are mature enough to act appropriately.

A little bit of planning goes a long way to ensuring the party is safe, fun and productive.

My wife and I planned a birthday party for our kids, Alex and Matthew. Instead of feeding them sugar-laden foods and having nothing to show for it once the party was over, we opted for something different. We decided to introduce the kids to the wood shop, and assist them as they created their own take home project – a gumball machine.

Organization is key

Special consideration was taken with regards to the number of kids who would be invited to the party. The last thing you want is too many kids your shop, as even the most mild-tempered kids start to get wild. My shop is large enough to accommodate at most six kids. Their age should also be taken into account, as the younger they are, the shorter their attention span. These kids ranged from ages 10 to 11 years old.

I needed to find a project that was simple enough to do yet fun. The internet is full of great ideas. I found plans for a gumball machine that I knew the kids would love. Something simple enough to complete, yet fun enough to use afterwards is a great option for kids. Once you’ve decided on the project, there are some preparations to do. You need to decide on and acquire the materials you’ll use for the project. In my case the plans called for pine solid, glue and mason jars. All of these items were available at the local hardware store.

Organization is Important – So the kids had a clear view of the different steps involved, Zakarian laid out all the parts in the order they would be used.

Adjust for the kids

Having read the plans, I decided to make the gumball machine with some scrap pieces I had in the shop. This dry run enabled me to make modifications and adjustments to the plans, and to learn where kids may go wrong during the party. The plan called for 1L Mason jars, but I opted for 500ml Mason jars instead, as I found the 1L jars to be top heavy. I also incorporated the lids of the jars into the project, which was not part of the original plan. I simply tacked the lids into the opening where the gum is dispensed. I found screwing the jar into the base will be secure and it would prevent tip-over accidents. If you’re dealing with young kids you have to realize that they have fewer small motor skills, so age needs to be taken into account when selecting the project.

Make it Festive – Shops can seem cold and uninviting. Some decorations lend a party atmosphere


When planning something like this you need to take time into consideration. In order to save a lot of time I precut all necessary parts that required the use of complicated machines. This also reduced the chance of someone getting hurt during the party. I then laid them out on the work table in the shop. I placed sand paper, glue and pencils on the bench, as these would be the tools the kids would require to complete their project.

A shop with machines may be intimidating to kids, so to offset that I hung a few balloons around the shop and a placed a decorative birthday cover on the work bench, in keeping with the birthday theme.

Once the shop was prepared, I took a trip down to my local hardware store to pick up six pairs of safety glasses. I was also very fortunate that my local hardware store was able to donate six shop aprons, which, in my opinion, made the kids feel proud when they put them on.

Get Building! – Most of the kids needed help along the way, but overall the project was fun and easy for them to accomplish.

The day of the party

We started the party outdoors with the kids playing around with water balloons in the pool. We informed them that we were going to do a special project inside. At first the kids were a bit disinterested, but their faces lit up when they learned they would be making their own gumball machines in a real wood shop.

I took about five minutes quickly going over some of the uses of woodworking machines, then spoke to the kids about shop safety and the importance of shop glasses. We then started putting the gumball machine together. I had my own gumball machine to assemble so I could demonstrate each step before the kids worked on their machines.

Once their machine was assembled, the kids were able to fill up their machine with gumballs I provided. Needless to say, when it was all said and done, the looks on their faces was priceless. The whole project took about 1-1/2 hours to complete and the cost of each machine was about $15.

To this day when my son’s friends come over they ask if they can come into my shop and work on a project, rather than play video games. This experience with kids in the shop was very rewarding, both for the kids and for me.

Proud Kids – Rather than a typical loot bag, the kids got to head home with a project they could be proud of. The kids were likely pleased they didn’t leave without any candy though.

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