Brain Development That Happens When Young People Take Up Woodworking

brain development that happens when young people take up woodworking

These days education seems so literal and focused on results…

The cycle goes something like this:

  1. Get introduced to a new topic
  2. Memorize it
  3. Study for test
  4. Take test
  5. Get a grade
  6. Repeat

This can sound productive but it removes ‘learning’ and replaces it with ‘remembering’. There is a place for remembering in schools, but it isn’t all the time on a constant loop

So how do your kids (and adults alike) actually learn stuff that will make them more effective and efficient employees and citizens?

Through mediums like woodworking.

Here are 10 examples of how woodworking develop cognitive (thinking) skills

1. Spatial Reasoning

Spatial reasoning is a fancy term for being able to use your mind’s eye to manipulate 3D objects (or even 2D ones). Remember Tetris, it’s a good example of using spatial reasoning

It is thought that spatial reasoning helps students in subjects like math and science visualize the particular problem in their head better (which makes it easier to solve.)


When kids first begin woodworking, using tools forces them to use their spatial reasoning.

Learning how to hold the tool, and how they need to use it on their work.

Joining pieces of wood together is also a common instance of using this spatial reasoning. Kids need to think about how the different pieces fit together.

Woodworking can be the first time students are working with 3D objects as opposed to 2D objects in their exercise books (which they would have done in maths.)

2. Spatial Awareness

Spatial awareness extends spacial reasoning by putting yourself in the space with things around you. Driving your car in traffic or passing the ball in a team sport is a good example outside of woodwork.

Spatial awareness helps build perspective in people and can get students thinking more about the context of a situation, which can be important in a range of subjects and life.


Thinking about how to set up a task (i.e. cutting) is the most common way spatial awareness gets used in woodworking.

It gets young people thinking about:

  • How they are going to hold a particular tool?
  • Where they will put the wood?
  • Where does their feet need to be?
  • Which angle will they use the tool from?
  • How their arms will move when working on wood?
  • How can they might be able to make the job easier?

3. Math

There’s plenty of math in woodworking. You can do basic algebra with wood (if you need something to be in the middle of something else you will have one size, but not the other sizes)

Here are some of the branches of mathematics that get used in woodworking:

  1. Geometry –
  2. Algebra –
  3. Fractions –
  4. Measurement –
  5. Angles –


Woodworking teaches maths in a more kinesthetic (learning by touch and feel) than your typical maths class (mostly visual and some auditory).

Kinesthetic learning can help students who are struggling in math give them another pathway to understanding what is happening in class.

And for everyone else, this is another way to enforce the skills that young people need to learn. To help them build stronger neural pathways in the brain.

4. Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor skills are used when you are using your hands, fingers and basically doing precise work (like writing). Your brain needs to practice these fine movements to build the smaller muscles in your hands, and learn to be better at using them.


Measuring and using tools is how woodworking develops fine motor skills.

Because working with wood provides such clear and instant feedback, it allows young people to auto-correct by themselves.

The repetitiveness of certain tasks (like sawing) can help build fine motor skills quite quickly

5. Creative Thinking

Creative thinking is found to be an important skill in business. (Source 1, 2 and 3).

CEO’s see it as important the ability to come up with new ideas, and think outside the box to get the edge on their competition.

They also see it as a way to navigate ‘unexpected future challenges, whatever they might be’.


My old woodworking teacher once told me ‘everyone makes mistakes, it’s how you fix them that determines how good of a cabinetmaker you are’. This is one way that woodworking flexes the creative thinking muscle in young people.

Another is by engaging their imagination.

Wood also has set properties (which work like rules) that are simple to understand. This way, young people can work with these ‘rules’ to get a particular desired result.

6. Critical thinking

To put it simply, critical thinking is being able to effectively narrow down choices and select the best one.

In this way, critical thinking is involved in deciding on what won’t work, what is the best course of action, and identifying when something is finished.


This happens in woodwork when young people are forced to start thinking about what they want/need to do.

For example a student might need to remove some wood. He or she might work through their critical thinking by asking themselves

  • Is it best done with the saw, chisel or both?
  • In what order should I do the job?
  • Which is the best way for me to clamp the work to the table and still have access to the job?

7. Self Management (and Task Management)

Self-management is about managing your time, your effort and your goals. In this way, it is a precursor to Project Management.

Learning to prioritize, recognize and act on feedback, as well as developing self-confidence all fall under this one large skillset.


Woodwork is a project-based discipline. Unlike more traditional subjects, it starts with the goal of completing a particular project and spends the class time working towards that completion.

This puts students in control and gives young people the experience needed to manage their resources.

Working in a project based environment also allows exposes students to different scenarios based on their actions. (I.e. if they don’t make a relief cut far enough down on their wood, the chisel, which is the next step, might break their project.)

8. Selective Attention

Selective attention is the ability to choose what you pay attention to. To be able to put distractions to the side and focus.

This can seem quite basic at first glance, but because of the high volume information society we live in, it’s something young people need to learn.

Especially because of the exposure they have. We adults had some relief from all of the input when we were growing up, but young people today don’t get that.


When you are working with wood, you need to watch what you are doing.

It sounds ridiculously simple. However, I catch students all the time not watching and focusing on what they are doing.

Here’s an example:

I caught a girl the other day cutting a piece of wood while looking what her friend was doing. I stopped her and showed her that she had put a lot of marks on her work that weren’t supposed to be there.

She corrected (it can help if it gets pointed out in a kind way) and carried on

If she didn’t correct, the piece of wood would have been ruined and needed to be done again. I’ve found the redoing of work will drive the point home and almost force students to use their selective attention.

9. Logic and Reasoning Skills

These skills help us draw conclusions, find relationships between things (such as objects, images, symbols), conceive rules to help give us answers and make sense of the things around us.

They also help us reason, and form a basis in reason which we can then use to understand what has happened and what is likely to happen in the future (or move forward)

What a mouthful.

To make it a little easier to understand, a non-woodworking example is those math puzzles where there are a series of numbers and you are asked to find the pattern

In this example, seemingly random numbers have some sort of connection. And finding the right connection and making sense of the ‘input’ is what logic and reasoning skills is all about


In woodworking, there are solid reasons behind why things are done, and why particular tools are used.

Another old woodwork teacher told me ‘there is many different ways to do something, but there is always the best way’

For young people, being able to think about something as simple as using a saw, chisel, drill, and other tools gives a basis for creating and strengthening these logic and reasoning skills. They can start to predict what tool should be used when and what is the best course of action for the next step.

In other words, a student can think logically about what process they can use to get their desired result.

10. Problem Sensitivity

This was a new one to me before I started researching this article but I am glad to have found it

According to this source, problem sensitivity is ‘the ability to tell if something is wrong or likely to go wrong.’

It isn’t about solving the problem but simply identifying it.

Although it seems like stopping here gives this cognitive ability little value, being able to identify problems early can save a lot of time, energy and money in business and other post-school pursuits.


Because woodworking is a project based discipline, working step-by-step forces students to not only identify, but work through problems (challenges is the word I like to use in the classroom) as they appear.

Project based learning gives students experience in identifying when something ‘isn’t right’, which is a core way of teaching this cognitive ability. Then let’s them use their creative and critical thinking skills to try and solve it.

In Summary…

Getting started with woodwork can seem daunting, intimidating, old fashioned or even ‘only for certain people’. But if you are even a little bit curious I recommend you check out my courses on getting started.

The truth is anyone can do woodworking, and as it helps develop the brain in so many ways, it’s beneficial for everyone.