Humble, Strange Beginnings

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Project by Scott Key posted 07-02-2007 06:07 AM 2064 views 0 times favorited 14 comments Add to Favorites Watch

After I graduated from high school in 2005, I headed off to Nigeria for a good chunk of my summer. The expressed purpose was building onto a hospital in Egbe, fixing a water filtration plant for that same hospital, fixing some generators and electrical switches, and evangelizing in the bush. Well while I was their I had some free time and asked for something small but practical to keep me occupied. The missionaries that lived their asked if I could build them a new table. The current one was under 3 foot and when you have to make your own bread, it was tiring to bend over that far to kneed. So, having absolutely no knowledge (I didn’t even know what a router was or did) or experience set out to build a taller table.

In Nigeria, the throw away wood in Mahogany (not the best wood for a beginner I learned). So I started out by gathering wood. They don’t kiln dry their wood in Nigeria, actually they don’t really dry it at all. The wood that you would buy from a lumber yard was probably in tree form the day before. Luckily, the missionary, Chuck, kept a stack of wood that he dried himself on hand.

I came up with a rough design and started cutting. My tools were a circular saw, a pitiful cordless drill that lost power every 15 minutes, a router with steel bits, and a jointer with a very dull blade.

The basic design was nothing to brag about. Four legs made of 4×4’s, a “rail road” shelf (that’s what I call it anyway), and a plywood top with some trim around the edges coated with throw away Wilson-Art plastic laminate that they ship off to third world countries (after first sanding their name of the back, making it even thinner and more brittle). To set a screw in the wood, you had to first predrill then coat the screw in oil. With a crappy drill, that makes for a long process.

Anyway, I made a lot of mistakes. Got a lot of sawdust in my eyes. Ruined several router bits and countless Philips head bits. Developed a hatred for nearly every woman on the trip who seemed to have an opinion of what I should do and what I was doing wrong. And gained a lot of useful knowledge, an appreciation for good quality tools, and more importantly a love for woodworking.

-- -- a bad day woodworking is better than a good day at work --

14 comments so far

View Dan'um Style's profile

Dan'um Style

14172 posts in 3978 days

#1 posted 07-02-2007 06:10 AM

too cool ! love the story …

-- keeping myself entertained ... Humor and fun lubricate the brain

View Bob Babcock's profile

Bob Babcock

1804 posts in 4081 days

#2 posted 07-02-2007 06:51 AM

Good looking table for all you had to work around…..great story! Oh…and get used to women giving you their opinion…(Sorry Ladies, I couldn’t resist).

-- Bob, Carver Massachusetts, Sawdust Maker

View woodspar's profile


710 posts in 4095 days

#3 posted 07-02-2007 06:55 AM

You got it done with the tools you had, and it works.

-- John

View Napaman's profile


5526 posts in 4072 days

#4 posted 07-02-2007 09:47 AM

great story…

-- Matt--Proud LJ since 2007

View oscorner's profile


4563 posts in 4306 days

#5 posted 07-02-2007 02:37 PM

It looks like you did a great job. It was usable and looks pretty good to boot.

-- Jesus is Lord!

View Karson's profile


35120 posts in 4396 days

#6 posted 07-02-2007 02:54 PM

Great Story. And the love for finer Tools. I gave some bandsaw blades for a missionary in Africa. The local blades were the metal strapping off of shipping crates that someone hand files some teeth so that they would cut wood. He said that tears came to the workers eyes when the got the blades.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware soon moving to Virginia †

View mot's profile


4911 posts in 4032 days

#7 posted 07-02-2007 03:20 PM

Great story! Throw away wood?! Man. I’d rather have that throw away wood than ours…spruce.

-- You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. (Plato)

View Dano's profile


222 posts in 4027 days

#8 posted 07-02-2007 11:07 PM

Great story, one you remember for ever I’m sure. One of the gentlemen I work with does a mission trip each January, year before last he went to Africa. Seems the group he was with (building schools) messed up their only circular saw blade. They had to have one sent in because they couldn’t find one anywhere in the country. I get anxious when I don’t have something I need and it is on 20 minutes to the store…

-- Dan in Central Oklahoma, Able to turn good wood into saw dust in the blink of an eye!

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 4309 days

#9 posted 07-03-2007 02:53 AM

The things we take for granted…I think I must have around 12 working cordless drills…it being cheaper to buy a new drill than two new batteries.
What a great story! Good for you!

View Don's profile


2603 posts in 4172 days

#10 posted 07-03-2007 04:42 AM

Ten Lessons learned:

1. Don’t be too eager for something to do when you have free time – accept it as a gift.
2. Be more specific when you describe your skill-set.
3. Get shorter people to kneed the bread-dough.
4. If you are going to butcher wood, start with the best – it brings tears to the eyes of those that hear your story.
5. Only use the best, air-dried timber; it only takes a few years to dry out in a humid climate.
6. Use crude, unsharpened tools; it’s more challenging that way.
7. Cover exotic wood with crappy plastic laminate; it makes a stunning contrast.
8. Don’t wear safety glasses, they make it difficult to rub your eyes to remove sawdust.
9. Use poor quality router bits; they are inexpensive to replace.
10. Nagging is usually spoken at a decibel that is easy to block out and ignore.

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!"

View Karson's profile


35120 posts in 4396 days

#11 posted 07-03-2007 05:09 AM

Very good Don: That list should be on the home page of LJ for all newbees to review.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware soon moving to Virginia †

View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 4322 days

#12 posted 07-03-2007 05:47 AM

Totally impressed #1 with the tools you actually had at your disposal, and your resourcefulness to get the job done, and #2, with how you chose to spend your summer between Highschool and College. Bravo.

I have a friend who went to university in South Africa for a year or two – he tells of days when his computer wouldn’t turn on due to the heat. Being able to get anything done on days like that is impressive.

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4156 days

#13 posted 07-03-2007 03:29 PM

ok… now, if you want my opinion…......

first of all, I really like the table. I love your “rail road” shelf!!
Your story was beautiful—and beautifully told.
Your perseverance is an inspiration and an honorable quality.
and finally: suggestions and directions are just “free options” for you to listen to and discard/use as you choose.

“Thank you for your input. I’ll be looking forward to seeing your version of the table when I am done using the tools!” :)

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View Shawn's profile


225 posts in 4148 days

#14 posted 07-05-2007 01:25 AM

great story man, and think of how many people are now blessed to eat the bread kneaded on that table you made

-- Cheers

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