Wheelchair Woodworking #4: Woman's Work

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Blog entry by Jamie Speirs posted 11-23-2010 06:38 AM 1740 reads 0 times favorited 19 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 3: Time to further move on Part 4 of Wheelchair Woodworking series Part 5: Helping Hands a two way street »

This was a story that I was unsure about sharing as it is a fairly complicated situation.
I have just come back from a short Retreat and while I was there I got speaking to a friend who is a cello player.
She told me the story of how she had worked with a young woman also with Cerebral Palsy. They created a dance routine with music.
So I decided to write about it.
One of the most prolific woodturner’s that I ever had the pleasure of teaching was a young woman
She has Cerebral Palsy along with a few other problems.
I was approached by a group who deal with adults that have a learning disability. Which I can assure you was not the case with her. However it is common to put people into this category, mainly due to lack of communication.
When I met her at first I was very doubtful that she would manage. However she was persuasive and along with Gordon’s vote I decided to give her a try at the lathe.
I phoned her Dad to get some more details and he asked if I would mind not letting her bring “The Rubbish” she makes home with her. To say I was shocked would be an understatement. He explained that over the years she had been doing many crafts and the items she had made were of a bad quality. She had even went on a jewellery making course costing a few thousand pounds only to return with necklaces made with string and macaroni painted.
It was turning with three hands Gordon supplying the third from behind the lathe.
The first day she came with a list of people she wanted to make Christmas presents for. She was a lot more confident than I was. So we began going through her list and even helped her wrap the presents.
Well she made all the presents on her list. Not the most complex projects but all well finished. The star present was a baton for her Dad to use when he went fishing.
So Christmas day I got a phone call from her Dad. He could not stop apologising for his previous statement. All I said to him was that the apology should be for his wonderful daughter. Don’t misunderstand; this was a wonderful man who had to take early retirement from the Police to care for his wife and daughter. Both being in wheelchairs.
She came every Wednesday morning for over a year. She went on to another project that I would find out about later.
We got an invitation to be guests of honour at her open day. When we got there we were amazed to see two tables of the turned items that she had made.
The surprise for us on the day was the reading of some of her poetry. This had been her latest project. It was read out by her with some help from her carer. It was wonderful.
The one other condition that she had that no one had told us about was that she was registered as being blind. She could only see about a foot in front of her. Which was why she sat so close to the lathe and was doing a lot by touch and that had been the main reason for needing a third hand. 
She now has her own house, which is like a supported accommodation with her own carers 24/7. It is in the same village that I live in. She keeps in touch and tells us of her other projects. I have to say that I learned a lot from her. She had so much guts and never let things get her down nor did she ever complain. She also has a wonderful big smile. I love my job.
One other thing, I like to make sure that what anyone makes is of a good quality. I don’t want people saying something is nice out of sympathy. If some thing goes wrong, it goes into the fire and we start again with a fresh piece and the secrets are just ash. I’ve a couple of list of woodturning projects and offer the list like a menu, so that the person can choose from items that are within their capabilities. Over the years though many students have surpassed me, which is the extra bonus you get for sharing.

I hope this all makes sense and that I’ve not missed anything.

Yours Jamie
4:30am in a dark and crisp Scotland

-- Who is the happiest of men? He who values the merits of others, and in their pleasure takes joy, even as though 'twere his own. --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

19 comments so far

View Broglea's profile


685 posts in 3086 days

#1 posted 11-23-2010 07:05 AM

Jamie – you inspire me with your heart for helping others. Thanks so much for sharing these.

View lanwater's profile


3111 posts in 2930 days

#2 posted 11-23-2010 07:45 AM

Jamie, I trully believe that if given sometimes and the right environment, everyone can produce outstanding results. It looks like you are providing that.

-- Abbas, Castro Valley, CA

View JimArnoldChess's profile


208 posts in 2990 days

#3 posted 11-23-2010 01:16 PM

What a great story!

Just goes to show that we’re all the same no matter what our ‘apparent’ differences. Cheers to you, I teach a bit and it is truly amazing what you get back, not only in terms of students making ME being a better carver (which it has), but in sharing and watching the personal and artistic growth and confidence of people through woodworking.

Best to you,



View Schwieb's profile


1857 posts in 3457 days

#4 posted 11-23-2010 01:34 PM

Jamie, The stories you share about real experiences with special people are really great. I have a handicapped younger brother, Tony. Thinking back now on how hard it was when he was growing up. The doctors back then suggested he be institutionalized but my Mother refused. What a joy he has been over the years. He later held a janitorial job at a hospital and became a very popular staff member for more than 20 years.

-- Dr. Ken, Florida - Durch harte arbeit werden Träume wahr.

View ellen35's profile


2738 posts in 3428 days

#5 posted 11-23-2010 01:39 PM

Your stories are so wonderful. They not only speak of talented and hard working students but of a teacher who is patient and kind. We need more like you in this world.

-- "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." Voltaire

View Jamie Speirs's profile

Jamie Speirs

4168 posts in 2852 days

#6 posted 11-23-2010 02:12 PM

Thank you all,
I’m not sure how you respond to comments on a Blog.
I hope that they show that we all have potential.
With support and kindness the human flower blooms for all to share.
In my short time on LJ’s I’ve found that spirit of kindness from you all.


-- Who is the happiest of men? He who values the merits of others, and in their pleasure takes joy, even as though 'twere his own. --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

View patron's profile


13603 posts in 3337 days

#7 posted 11-23-2010 02:13 PM

it’s the teachers job
to bring out
the best in the student

the student
that brings out
the best in the teacher

is joy to behold

well done

to the two
of you

-- david - only thru kindness can this world be whole . If we don't succeed we run the risk of failure. Dan Quayle

View Bluepine38's profile


3379 posts in 3081 days

#8 posted 11-23-2010 05:20 PM

I do not think that even a 4:00 am it could be dark anyplace that you are. Thank you for sharing your life
and its rewards with us. Just one question, have you tried a compound slide rest for lathe work. I have
arthritis and can no longer handle the rough work of removing the bulk of the wood, so I use some homemade
cutting tools and rough the wood into shape, while sitting on a stool. I then only have to stand for a much
shorter time to finish the piece. Continue to light up our lives.

-- As ever, Gus-the 79 yr young apprentice carpenter

View Jamie Speirs's profile

Jamie Speirs

4168 posts in 2852 days

#9 posted 11-23-2010 05:38 PM

Gus that sounds great,
I’ve done adaptations for one armed wood-turners.
It would be great if you could post a picture. Rand is also putting together a Blog on adaptations and I’m sure he would also be keen to add this

David, thanks. I’ve had some Super Stars over the years.

Dr Ken your Mother is a very wise woman. Lots of parents listen to the experts and it is not always for the best. The compassion in the heart knows better.

Jim Yes the return far outweighs the outlay. Just one smile is a reward.

Ellen I think there are many caring and giving folk on LJ’s. You offer your ideas to all.

MsDebbie’s latest post shows Martins inner heart.

-- Who is the happiest of men? He who values the merits of others, and in their pleasure takes joy, even as though 'twere his own. --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

View rivergirl's profile


3201 posts in 2834 days

#10 posted 11-23-2010 05:56 PM

Jamie- you are such a heart warmer. :)

-- Homer : "Oh, and how is education supposed to make me feel smarter? Besides, every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain."

View swirt's profile


2733 posts in 2967 days

#11 posted 11-23-2010 05:59 PM

Another amazing story. Thank you for doing, and thank you for sharing.

-- Galootish log blog,

View helluvawreck's profile


31044 posts in 2862 days

#12 posted 11-23-2010 06:00 PM

This is a wonderful story told by a wonderful man. God Bless.

You asked about my people once and just did notice it only the other day. They mostly come from Ireland and Scotland many, many years ago. We lost track and no longer know from which specific parts. I’m Irish American from my fathers side and on my mothers side I’m Scotch-Irish-American. My great grandfather come strait from Ireland. We have some English in us but we’re mostly Scotch-Irish leaning a little more so to the Irish. I love the culture of both Ireland and Scotland. Everyone of us in my family have always been as stubborn as mules.:) I always enjoy reading your posts. Take care, Jamie.

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3111 days

#13 posted 11-23-2010 06:19 PM

ceep let them come Jamie they are so inspiring to read
they realy make the words you can do what you want and be what ever you want
comes to life in the real world
thank you for sharing


View PurpLev's profile


8535 posts in 3644 days

#14 posted 11-23-2010 06:26 PM

quite amazing Jamie, thanks for writing it out.

I think woodworking (turning in this case) is so much different than any other craft, as the material is alive, warm and unique. wood can talk to you, and will react to what you are doing with it which also makes it so much more gratifying to finish projects with it as there is a story behind each of those.

sounds like you 2 were on quite an adventure there.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View John Gray's profile

John Gray

2370 posts in 3881 days

#15 posted 11-23-2010 07:50 PM

Wonderful!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thanks for the post.

-- Only the Shadow knows....................

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