Handtool Woodworking with a disability

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Forum topic by Texchappy posted 05-08-2012 12:28 PM 2805 views 0 times favorited 14 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Texchappy's profile


252 posts in 2247 days

05-08-2012 12:28 PM

I’m being medically retired from the Army soon with a very bad back, fibromyalgia, and PTSD. I’ve started to collect the tools to do woodworking in a traditional way. I have an underlying question to everything I plan to do:

What steps can I do to help me woodwork with low energy, inability to stand for long periods, and numbness/weakness in my land hand?

I’m thinking about workbench design, tool choice, and everything else I haven’t thought of.

Thanks in advance,

-- Wood is not velveeta

14 replies so far

View miles125's profile


2180 posts in 4032 days

#1 posted 05-08-2012 12:44 PM

The good news is that you can do woodwork in a lazy boy recliner if need be and at any pace you desire. But if you have a spouse, count on her complaining about sawdust in the chair. :)

-- "The way to make a small fortune in woodworking- start with a large one"

View Dallas's profile


3599 posts in 2514 days

#2 posted 05-08-2012 12:45 PM

I had my pelvis crushed a few years back and have trouble standing, sitting or even laying down for long periods of time. I also can’t lift as well as I use to or for prolonged periods.

For me, extensive wood working with hand tools is out of the question, although I still do it until I can’t. Then I drink beer and play on the computer, LOL.

My table saw is a Ryobi BT3100that sits at 38” tall when on it OEM base. At first I thought it would be too high for me to use so I built a torsion box base for it to bring it down to 35”. I found that this caused me to bend at the waist in a position I couldn’t hold.
I ended up putting the factory base back under it and even raised it up more to a total of 41”. This works well for me.

I built a short assembly table, (32” tall) that I use with a chair so I can sit and work with hand tools, then I have an assembly table that is at 36” so I can stand and pound with a hammer or do glueups or use a hand plane.

My planer use to sit on a workmate, but it was a bit short so I built a dedicated stand for it that raised the feed tables to @36”

My benchtop drill press sits on the short assembly table and is just about the right height for me.

Right now I’m building a tool cabinet that will either hang on a wall with french cleats or sit on a folding table, I haven’t decided yet. As soon as it’s finished and the shop is cleaned up from the mess made two weeks ago when my wife and the boss’s wife had a yard sale and stole my tables where the tools were stored, I’ll post some pictures.

These ideas may work for you or may not, I think you’ll need to experiment to find what works best for you.

-- Improvise.... Adapt...... Overcome!

View Texchappy's profile


252 posts in 2247 days

#3 posted 05-08-2012 12:54 PM

Thanks guys. Dallas, yes that was helpful. I was thinking I might need two workbenches (or at least two levels) so I could do things either sitting or standing.

-- Wood is not velveeta

View Charlie's profile


1100 posts in 2313 days

#4 posted 05-08-2012 03:50 PM


I’ve broken my back 3 times, had my neck fused, and in 2001 got killed in a head-on wreck that also shattered my right leg from the knee down just to make my life interesting in case I came back to life….. which…. my wife is happy I did.

Anyways….. needless to say I’ve had to confront a few challenges. You’ll find you spend far more time than the average woodworker, trying to find the best HEIGHT and ANGLE for different things. My hand-working tables and/or benches are a little higher than what most would use. Keeps me fro being in that “kinda bent over” position. I need to keep my upper body more erect and let my legs act as height adjusters :). For wood carving I sit, partially reclined at a carving station that angles up at the far side. Almost like a drafting table. And I have to plan ahead to handle larger pieces without straining or getting in any kind of twisted position while lifting. Just gotta plan ahead more, I guess. But the good news is, you can definitely still do woodworking. You just have to think a lot about the ergonomics of what you’re planning to do.

My wife once said, “You spend an awful lot of time planning how you’re going to do something.”

She’s right (as usual) but I’m still here. I still have all my fingers and as long as I’m careful to avoid hurting myself, I can enjoy making stuff…. after I’ve planned it to death of course.

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

4949 posts in 3987 days

#5 posted 05-08-2012 04:26 PM

Dang Charlie! What the he!! did you do to achieve (HAH!) that kinda life? We need to know so we can mimic your lifestyle.

Tex, you just have to figure a work process. That means SLOWING DOWN while ya work in the shop. I have had to develop that work style, and I find that I now do better work. You’re not gonna do production crafting. Working slowly and carefully will yield better results.
I break every 15 minutes or so to rest all the body parts, but still seem to accomplish all I want.
Remember that the wwing shows can finish a home in 30 minutes or less.
Though I don’t deal with PTSD, I’ll bet that some sounds can be distracting. Get some good hearing protection if using power tools. I warn EVERYONE about coming into the shop while I’m involved with any concentrated work. Spook me and I’ll hurt ya.


View Charlie's profile


1100 posts in 2313 days

#6 posted 05-08-2012 04:54 PM

Bill White,
What part did you want to mimic? I can’t imagine anyone wanting to mimic the injuries. :)
My wife pushed my crippled butt around in a wheelchair for a whole year and between her the kids they draged me out to the pool and got me in there so I could learn to walk again. Took several months to graduate to a cane, but the doc says that pool and the wife massaging my injured leg (carefully) made an almost miraculous difference in my recovery. 10 years and 4 surgeries later and I can walk without pain finally. Can’t run any more, but at 60….. not like I gotta get anywhere in a hurry anyways…

wait….. I get it….. you want my WIFE! .....

nah… I’m keepin’ her. :)

View Dallas's profile


3599 posts in 2514 days

#7 posted 05-08-2012 05:27 PM

Charlie…. in case I came back to life….. which…. my wife is happy I did. She didn’t have enough insurance on you? (Sorry, I couldn’t resist)!

PTSD is strange stuff for those of you that don’t know. I’m only 57 yo and my time in country was limited to the last couple of years because of my age then. Anytime I hear a low flying jet aircraft, the wife will find me under the bed or the car or the lawn tractor even. I’m not afraid of them, but I did spend too much time in 74-75 with MiG15’s and MiG17’s running with free rein.
One year we were at Red River Valley RV park in June in West Fargo, ND. Across the street was the Red River Valley Fair Grounds and race track.
It so happened that the year we were there so was the international fireworks mfg’s convention. They were suppose to quit at 10PM, but for a week they went until 04:00 with fireworks that would give the willies to a deaf rock.
Some of that stuff sounded like mortars and rockets and artillery and the detonations would compress the interior walls of the camper we had by 3-4”.

Please never dismiss PTSD as an assumed malady. I was told by my V.A. doctors that there was no such thing. They never woke up with night sweats, or had violent episodes or didn’t recognize friend from foe, or, or, or.
I haven’t been back to the VA since.

When I got back to the World, Landing in SFX, the first thing that happened when I got off the plane was that a little hippy girl spat on me and called me a baby killer. I broke her jaw and was put in the brig. No one ever asked why. There wasn’t even a real article 32 hearing. Just a couple of years in a place with steel doors.
BTW, 4 days before my embarking that aircraft, there was a firefight and when all was said and done, the deceased participants of SE Asian persuasion were all under 16 years old.

Now, Ft. Hood is going to have a ‘Welcome Home’ ceremony for the Vietnam Vets. May 21’st. They all get to stand out on the field and be recognized for their service. For me it’s a little late and not nearly enough.
God Bless all our soldiers and sailors! From any theatre!

-- Improvise.... Adapt...... Overcome!

View dhazelton's profile


2771 posts in 2323 days

#8 posted 05-08-2012 05:42 PM

I’ve always wondered if things like Earth shoes or these chairs were hype or actually worked:

If one of these types of chairs works you could build a workbench to a height comfortable for you while at it. I built one bench/shelf at a high 42 or so inches just to go over a craftsman tool chest, but when you went to take something apart or look at something closely it’s the first place I go because you don’t have to bend at all. I’d also invest in a gel pad, like they sell for chefs, so there’s less pressure on your feet and back.

View Mosquito's profile


9355 posts in 2319 days

#9 posted 05-08-2012 05:57 PM


After 66 years, my Grandfather finally got the welcome home he deserved after serving in WWII. He got to go on the Honor Flight this past summer. I saw him cry for the first time in my 24 year life when he saw his daughter and her 3 children (me, my brother, and my sister) standing in the crowd waving American flags, and chanting USA. It is never too late to be thanked.

Anyway, back on topic…

Tony, I think you’ll get it figured out eventually. Just figure out how you’re comfortable, and try to adapt your working environment to that. I believe I have seen a few wheel-chair friendly tables, and working stations around on LJ’s. Something like that could similarly be used with a regular chair just fine, I would imagine, if standing and/or bending isn’t a good option for too long. If it’s what you want, I’m sure you’ll figure out a way to make it work the way it needs to :-)

-- Mos - Twin Cities, MN - -

View Texchappy's profile


252 posts in 2247 days

#10 posted 05-08-2012 06:02 PM

My current workbench (which I got for working on things in my garage and not woodworking) is a taller gladiator garage works model. I’m wondering if I found a comfortable stool with good support if I couldn’t have the best of both worlds (i.e. standing at a traditional height workbench and sitting at it when I need to)? Does someone know of such a stool? I know that my current stool (a bar stool salvaged out of my parents motorhome with no back) is not good at all for sitting even for healthy people.

Dallas, thanks for you service. I didn’t ever know that my Dad had PTSD until I was diagnosed and he began to share (though it wasn’t diagnosed for several years).

-- Wood is not velveeta

View dbray45's profile


3320 posts in 2803 days

#11 posted 05-08-2012 06:23 PM

I have very limited space so all of my projects are planned extensively. I have all plywood stock cut down to manageable sizes before leaving the store and all solid stock is 8 feet or shorter. This also keeps things smaller.

Another thing to watch for is assembled size and weight. Since I have to carry everythingup the steps to get is out of the shop, and around a tight corner – to make it interesing, planning is required. SOme pieces are made in two or three pieces and assembled/fit later.

The material you use can play a big role if you have a bad back. Oak and cherry can be very heavy where other woods can be very light. Composites like MDF are very heavy and have no strength.

-- David in Damascus, MD

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3142 days

#12 posted 05-08-2012 06:38 PM

search here on lj there is several blogs about how our Lj freinds has overcome dificultiies
with being disabled one way or another
some users of wheelchairs , one with only one arm , a blog about a blind man still woodworking
with maschenry´s , etc,etc I think you can find all types here
one thing I cuold think of you maybee shuold try now we talk handtools is to try a japanese
plane VS. a vestern style , a japanese saw VS. a western saw
most of japanese tools work the oppesit as the traditionel western handtools
they work on the pull stroke instead of on the pushstroke

there is one blog that showed how a man build a high adjustble workbench
one made a workbench that cuold flip sidewaysfrom 0- 90 degree

just my 2 cent of one thing to consider = don´t be locked but be very openmoinded about finding
solutions for yourself …. but please share your solution with the rest of us
as we wuold like to give better advices in the future

looking forward to see what you come up with
but remember safty first :-)


View ShipWreck's profile


557 posts in 3779 days

#13 posted 05-08-2012 07:26 PM


A very good friend of mine does his woodworking from a wheel chair and doesnt “miss a beat”. He finds a way around almost everything. He used to get really frustrated about his limitations until he learned how many friends he had. He knows we are a phone call away whe ever he needs a hand.

V/R…. John

View Martyroc's profile


2712 posts in 2333 days

#14 posted 05-09-2012 02:41 PM

If there’s a will, there’s a way. The good thing is as long as it keeps your interest and you work at your pace and not the pace you think you should be working at you will be fine. Hand tools require a lot more mental and physical strength than power tools, but like I said go at your pace and you will be fine.

-- Martin ....always count the number of fingers you have before, and after using the saw.

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