The Host Of ‘This Old House’ On Nail Guns, Chop Saws, And Building Stuff With Your Kid

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Teach your kids some basic carpentry skills, and they’ll grow into adults with the confidence to tackle all sorts of challenges and appreciate the pride in a job well done. Also, they won’t come crying to you every time they move out of an apartment and realize their deposit is at risk.

“To me, those are just 2 huge, difficult things to get these days, when everything is structured and organized,” says Kevin O’Connor, host of TV’s This Old House (he’s talking about the confidence and the job-well-done stuff — but that apartment deposit thing is totally legit). “That’s not a knock, just a reality. Kids today go from one structured activity to another.”


That’s why he doesn’t leave the Emmy-winning DIY genius to his day job. He spends weekends creating the coolest backyard in the neighborhood with the help of his 10-year-old son and 6-year-old twins, who have helped him measure, lug lumber, and fire nail guns since they were in first grade. You read that right.

If you want to raise your own kids to not just repair their apartments but build treehouses in them, read on.

Plan To Build Something That Involves Movement

The thought of some new end tables might send your heart aflutter, but your kid is probably has slightly more exciting things in mind. The planning stage is where you capture their imagination and get them emotionally invested, so let their ideas run wild. Invariably, O’Connor says, the things his kids get excited about have a common theme: “They love movement. And by that I mean either the thing you’re making moves … or it allows them to move.”

O’Connor worked movement into his tree house project by adding a zipline, a climbing wall, and strategizing the best ladder positioning “to defend from the enemy or whatever creature they have in their imagination these days.” He also built a homemade PVC-pipe blowgun with paper arrows to attack these enemies, but the guy has his own DIY show, so of course he did.

It’s A Project, Not A Chore
“Projects go over much better than chores,” he says. “As soon as they smell it as a chore — something Daddy’s got to do and ‘won’t you come help him work?’ — they lose interest very quickly.” Fortunately, you can follow O’Connor’s advice with 3-step blueprint so simple, even a guy who doesn’t know the difference between a phillips and a flat head screwdriver can follow it:

  • Encourage but don’t require your kid to participate
  • Let your kid be as unproductive or productive as they want
  • Let your kid stop whenever they please

These can apply to you, too, but probably not if you want to ever finish the thing. Speaking of which …

Take Your Time And Then Some
If you want to build something to get it done, lose the K-I-D. If you want to build something to create quality time and teach a skill, take your sweet time and only do it when your kid’s attention is piqued. “Things I could have finished in a weekend or 2 … I deliberately let these things drag on for 3 or 4 months so there will be more opportunities for the kids to come back and be involved,” he says.

It’s not often that “Because I’m an involved father” answers the question “Why is all your shit still sitting in the yard?” so enjoy it.

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Let Them Touch The Blade On The Chop Saw
“Tools really got my kids into the treehouse project,” O’Connor says, pointing out the near-universal truth that kids are fascinated with things that go buzz, bang, or blam-o. But, for reasons that probably explain why your kid crawled head-first into the ocean as a toddler, children have a profound desire to touch the sharpest edges and most dangerous surfaces in a workshop. Satisfy that curiosity when the blade can’t move: “I always unplug or take the battery out of the thing and say, ‘OK, go touch it. Do whatever you want to do.’ because those little fingers can’t help themselves,” he says.

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Because O’Connor is willing to let them play with all those things, he’s adamant about drilling into his kids’ brains where the off switch is so they don’t actually drill anything into their brains. A child’s instinct is to drop a tool whenever things get scary, so reprogramming them to shut things down instead should come before they ever turn something on.

While You’re At It, Let Them Use The Nail Gun
Everyone knows the coolest tools are the ones Jason Vorhees might have used on somebody, which explains why your kid is fascinated by the dodgy ones. But, O’Connor doesn’t just embrace their curiosity rather than ban it, he empowers his kids to act on it. “I have no problem with my kids shooting a big ol’ framing nail,” he says. “Kids like danger, and I say let them taste a little bit. Just give them supervision.”

If you’re wondering how young is too young, O’Connor doesn’t claim to be an expert on the topic but does claim to have been pretty aggressive about it: “A toddler is too young. Once they’re in grade school, it’s supervised, and there are a couple of things I let my 10-year-old do all by himself.” He’s not totally nuts, though — O’Connor won’t let the 10-year-old use the chop saw unless he’s with him.

All the standard safety rules apply to them, of course: goggles and ear protection at all times, and don’t even look at the thing if you’re alone. But let them pull the trigger a few times — you said you wanted to raise a kid who loves to build things, right?

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