We’re betting you probably brought home a crooked birdhouse or two in your day, considering that when we were growing up, wood shop classes were a standard feature in most schools. But since budget cuts and shifting priorities all but eliminated school-based programs, there have been fewer and fewer places where kids can learn basic hands-on skills, not to mention the problem solving, dexterity and patience that are central to the craft. Thankfully, The Butterfly Joint just opened it’s doors in San Francisco with a mission to “Bring Back the Wood Shop” and teach kids as young as 18 months the benefits of building and making things with their own two hands.
From Teacher to Woodworker
The Butterfly Joint was founded by Danny Montoya, a local teacher who, during his 15 years in the classroom, became known for his hands-on style—from teaching his entire class of kindergartners to ride bikes sans training wheels to arming them with screw drivers, hammers and nails. So when he decided to start his own thing, he wanted to focus on teaching kids the types of skills he deemed most important. “The benefits of learning woodworking go so far beyond just being able to build a proper box or hang a shelf,” says Montoya. “Simply handling the tools and using them on a regular basis does wonders for dexterity and fine motor skills. Designing and assembling the items requires three-dimensional thinking, which is especially important in our screen-filled world. But what I love most about the whole experience is how it teaches values like patience—sanding is not a quick process!—problem-solving and attention to detail.”
No Maker Too Young—or Too Old
Montoya studied early childhood education and spent more than a decade teaching kindergarten and first grade, and he believes young kids are often capable of far more than we give them credit for. That’s why he offers classes and workshops for kids as young as 18 months old. “My own daughter was properly using a screwdriver and mallet before she turned two,” says Montoya.
He emphasizes teaching kids the proper and safe way to use tools from the start, and fostering a love of making that will hopefully stay with them for life. Currently The Butterfly Joint is holding summer camps during the week through August (there are still a few open spaces), and offering a handful of drop-in classes on weekends and select weekdays. “We are just getting started, but within a couple months we will have classes for everyone—toddlers on up through adults.”
Build With Friends
The Butterfly Joint officially opened its doors in mid June with a Father’s Day class, where 15 pairs of dads and kids worked together to create a modern sunglass-and-key holder for their homes. The format proved so popular that Montoya decided to make it a monthly occurrence. On the third Sunday of each month, The Butterfly Joint offers a 1.5-hour parent-and-child workshop. They also host birthday parties, private events and home-schooling classes. Starting in September, once summer camps are over, classes will be offered six days a week.
Don’t Forget to Punch the Clock
The spacious studio is located in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District, and has been designed to look and feel like a mini factory for kids. When students arrive, they clock in on a vintage punch clock with their own time cards, put on their custom, kid-sized aprons and know it’s time to start work when they hear the authentic steam whistle.
Everything from work gloves to sanding blocks to protective glasses have been sized specifically for little makers, but otherwise, the kids are using real tools, from hand saws to planes to hand drills. Instead of power tools and nails and screws, the focus is on traditional joinery techniques, so kids master dowels, dovetails, chisels and glue (and yep, eventually butterfly joints, of course). There is a fully functioning wood shop in the rear of the space replete with all the power tools and mega saws imaginable, but it is blocked off by a custom sliding glass door, so kids can safely observe.
Centrally located in the Mission District, the shop is hard to miss thanks to a colorful custom mural by two local artists, Sam Flores and Ronnie Buders. The location also features a retail space that offers tools, aprons, books and, coming soon, take-home projects. You can sign up for classes through their website. To be the first to hear about new classes as they are released, sign up for their newsletter, which in addition to updates, often includes helpful tips on encouraging creative kids.
2640 Mission St.
San Francisco, Ca
Would your kid love to get their hands dirty in a wood working class? Tell us in the comments below!
All photos by Molly DeCoudreaux