Ask MAKE: Kid’s first toolbox


Ask MAKE is a weekly column where we answer reader questions, like yours. Write them in to becky@makezine.com or drop us a line on Twitter. We can’t wait to tackle your conundrums!

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This week’s question comes to us via CRAFT contributor Rachel Hobson. Her friend Kari is mother to a “true maker in the making.” Kari writes:

Sam’s birthday is a week from Sunday and I’m thinking of putting together a toolkit/box o’ gadgets for him. Things to help him take stuff apart, things that he can do little experiments with, stuff like that. I’m thinking of a tiny screwdriver, electrical tape, maybe a hammer. He already has a tape measure. I don’t know what else would be cool and fun and good for a seven-year-old. I want this to be the “big” item for him, a big toolbox with a bunch of wrapped things inside.

We passed this question around on the Make: Online Editors mailing list, and got a lot of neat suggestions. I’m sure these won’t all fit for Sam’s birthday, but at least its a jumping-off point!

  • third hand tool with magnifying glass (for holding and inspecting stuff)
  • small flashlight or head-mounted light
  • needle-nose pliers
  • gaffers tape (not as messy as duct tape)
  • safety goggles
  • wire cutters
  • ruler or square
  • multimeter
  • Maker’s Notebook (we’ll toss that one in for free, happy birthday, Sam!)
  • zip ties
  • some junk to take apart (CD drive, old radio, etc.)
  • wire nuts
  • battery tester
  • battery clips
  • battery tester
  • tire pressure gauge

If you have any suggestions for a seven year-old’s first toolbox, please post them in the comments below!

Above image is cc-by-nc-sa by Flickr user Austin ampersand Zak.

24 thoughts on “Ask MAKE: Kid’s first toolbox

  1. It’s great to get kids to take things apart for learning, but just be aware that some electronics have capacitors in them, which can still carry a potentially lethal electric charge. TVs, Computer monitors, as well as other electrical gadgets have them. Make sure you have someone qualified to release the charge first before a kid tinkers with them. Other than that, and some good eye protection, they’re bound to learn a ton by doing that.

    have fun!

  2. I’ll second the safety goggles. And throw in gloves, an apron and a tool belt. When you’re a kid it’s fun to dress the part and no reason not to get them started on safety and protection early.

    At a recent family make-thing the kids under 18 all went straight for the goggles and gloves. It was us idiot adults using chainsaws on boards we were standing on and using nail guns right next to our unshielded eyes.

    And a small first aid kit.

    And completely unrelated: Various magnets. Because they are awesome in uncountable ways.

    His own scissors. Yeah, you’ve got scissors, but it’s something he’ll use a lot and gain a respect for taking care of things when they go dull from trying to cut lumber with them.

    Paper fasteners. The ones that kind of look like push pins with two tabs you spread apart. I built so much stuff with cardboard and paper fasteners when I was a kid…

    Sharpie. No tool box should be without one. (Or a dry-erase marker, etc if you’re worried about lasting marks.)

    Wire stripper.

  3. Hi,

    Of course, it all depends on what kind of maker he’s becoming, but if he likes electronic gadgets:

    I remember I got an electronics set when I was just a little older than him (basically some components in tiny plastic boxes with pins and a large breadbord to put them in). I loved to make LEDs shine, make some sounds, etc.

    So, my piece of advice is to put some breadboards and components into the box. You can get those really cheap on eBay.

  4. In the third grade, I was given a real leatherman pst multitool. My uncle gave it to me as a Christmas or birthday present. Initially, due to the blade, it was kept by my father until I needed it. Eventually as I learned about knife safety, I was able to keep (and occasionally loose) the tool. I initially used it to take apart various toys to see how they worked and for other things like making a marshmallow stick while camping. Twelve years later, I still use that leatherman just about everyday. I still take apart toys sometimes to see how they work, but I have also been able to use it for making robots and fixing things around the house. I even use this thing for work. I would most definitely skip the toolbox and invest in a leatherman. He can get some tools later. Leatherman are perfect for taking things apart as a kid, and making things as an adult. They’ll last long enough too!

    1. A few years ago I got a Warranty Voider from the Maker Shed. It lives on my key chain, and I use it pretty much every day to strip wires, remove/tighten screws, open boxes, etc. It is small and incredibly useful. Keep it safe until he has respect for how to use it.

      If you are going for the breadboard, you should toss in a copy of: 33 in 1 Electronic Exploration Lab and/or Mr. Circuit – Discovering Electronics. Both of these books use the breadboard to show a quick way to make and test a circuit. They both have an introductory section on how to identify and use each of the common electronics components.

      1. When I was around that age I got my first knife. I think a multi tool is better but I think it is important to teach that certain tool can really hurt you. And he will cut himself. It teaches you fast. So a simple first aid kit is a must also.

        If you do go with a small knife it absolutely must lock open, spend at least 15$ on a common brand.
        I have also had good luck with Gerber multitools, but it seems they’re slipping in the classic ‘supplying to walmart’ fashion.

  5. My first memorable present was a toolbox. Live-bladed saws and snips at a young age, but with proper supervision I only ever got the odd nick, enough to learn from!

    Get this right and it’ll be brilliant.

    For electrical fun:

    I have to second the range of batteries, and LOTS of LEDs and 1.5v lightbulbs – they were how I learned that it was a bad idea (but fun) to use 9v batteries for everything. Don’t give him all of those at once, mind you – ration them!

    Reel each of thin red & black connecting wire, and crimp fasteners. Insulating/electrical tape. Maybe heat-shrink tubing, it’s fun but someone will need to help out.

    Rheostats, to dim the lightbulbs, and see how far you can turn it before 9v batteries burn out 1.5v LEDs.

    Set of miniature screwdrivers. Couple of regular screwdrivers – PZ1, PZ2, and a couple of straight heads.

    Needle nose pliers.
    Surgical forceps – couple of different jaw patterns, they look shiny and they’re useful. Important that things are shiny.

    Linesman pliers.

    For more nuts-n-bolts makes:

    Small hammer – not enough to crush his thumb unless he really hurls it.
    Panel pins – enough for making small boxes.

    I second the paper fasteners, along with reasonably thick, preferably brightly coloured cardboard.

    Sheets and sticks of balsa wood.

    Rare earth magnets – not too expensive, so much better than regular magnets and don’t shatter into an annoying dust that sticks to everything in the toolbox for forever.

    Oh, also, multitools are awesome. Some come without a blade (Leatherman Fuse comes to mind) so may be suitable, if he can open them! I bit my nails as a kid, penknives were a constant source of frustration.
    However, I prefer the toolkit idea – he gets “more” things, learns what each bit does, learns to keep tools tidy, and they can be individually replaced more cheaply if one bit gets broken, lost or worn.

    Also, if presented in a good toolbox, at least that part could end up with him for life. My first toolbox was bought as part of the set and no use without those specific tools, but my second was an ordinary cheap sheetmetal thing – the sort with the cantilever top shelves – and it’s been with me for over 15 years now.
    My first penknife, though, I can’t even remember – so many snapped & blunted blades & worn pivots over the years.

  6. There are lots of good suggestions above. Some of the tools, in my opinion, are a bit too adult. Not that having good tools to keep is bad, but the appeal/usefulness myght not fit the age.

    But I would recommend also getting some “materials”. I would suggest some foam-core, card stock, cardboard, balsa wood, and small nails, pins, tacks, glue for assembly.

  7. Sam is one lucky kid!

    Lots of good ideas already listed. Here are a few other thoughts.

    A couple of saws are always useful. A coping saw, a keyhole saw, and a hacksaw are all fairly safe options.

    Clamps are handy too. C-clamps and spring clamps. Locking pliers.

    Several #2 pencils.

    Happy B-day, Sam!

  8. Get him some nice sharp knives and a soldering iron. He’ll only cut/burn himself once…

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Becky Stern is a Content Creator at Autodesk/Instructables, and part time faculty at New York’s School of Visual Arts Products of Design grad program. Making and sharing are her two biggest passions, and she's created hundreds of free online DIY tutorials and videos, mostly about technology and its intersection with crafts. Find her @bekathwia on YouTube/Twitter/Instagram.

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