Gil's Guide to Woodworking

Introduction By Gil Johnson

The smell of sawdust from a freshly cut board; the sound of a sharp tool shaping wood; the touch and feel of a completed and individually designed and crafted, one-of-a-kind wood project; the satisfaction of repairing a malfunctioning item in the home—these are the challenges and rewards of working with your hands.

Acquiring the skill and confidence to design and build a piece of furniture, install a shelf, make a game board, repair a leaky faucet, or re-roof a building takes perseverance, accepting failures, and occasional mishaps. But the rewards for those who stick with it is a sense of accomplishment and self-pride that is matchless.

I have had the joy, privilege, and occasional disappointments of working with my hands with wood, metal, electrical wiring, concrete, plumbing, and thousands of simple and complex home repair projects for more than 50 years. I still possess all of my fingers (although with a few scars and deadened nerve endings). I can look around my home and touch the desks, book cases, dressers, night stands, and other items that I designed and created. This is very satisfying to me and a source of pride for my family.

Although acquiring the tools I have in my shop has cost some money, almost every hobby has associated costs. I know that I have saved money by not needing to hire repair persons because I was able to fix something myself. Some of the furniture I built costs less (not counting the time I spent doing it) and is of better quality than would generally be available in most retail stores.

But this is not the primary reason I work with my hands. The personal satisfaction I receive goes well beyond any monetary measures.

The fact that I have done this as a totally blind person for most of my life has caused me to devise some, but not many, alternative techniques. Figuring out how to accomplish something that usually requires vision is part of the challenge and contributes to a sense of satisfaction.

Do I think that every person who is blind should take up this hobby? Absolutely not! Nor would I say that every blind person should take up water skiing, marathons, fly fishing, or any of the many hobbies that blind persons are engaged in. I would only wish and hope that every person, blind or not, could find a pastime that has provided as much satisfaction, pride, and self-confidence as working with wood and other materials has for me.

Woodworking Safety Tips

If you're experienced in this area, you know that safety is the most important consideration when using any type of power tool. Even if you've had many years of experience with power tools and home repairs, we recommend you use a safety checklist that includes the following:

  • Regardless of your visual status (blind, visually impaired, or low vision), always wear impact-resistant safety glasses that completely enclose your eye area and are shielded along the sides and top edge of the lenses. They can be worn like glasses, or can fit over your own eyeglasses. Many types of safety glasses can also be obtained with prescription lenses.
  • When using power tools, you will also need ear protection, such as foam ear plugs or headphone-style ear muffs.
  • If you have low vision, make sure that the lighting in your work area provides sufficient illumination. You can read more about lighting at Home Repairs Safety and Preparation Checklist. A lamp with an adjustable flex-arm or gooseneck is usually a good choice because you can adjust the direction of the light as needed. A flexible-arm floor lamp on wheels allows you to move the light with you as you move around your work area.
  • To help with locating and using your tools and controls, you can mark the tool handles and the most commonly-used settings with any of the methods and materials in Organizing Your Workshop Area.
  • Clamps can help secure pieces that you are gluing, cutting, or drilling.
  • Keep track of the location of your power cord before and during the time you are cutting or drilling. One solution is to use your power tool with an extension cord, keeping the cord over your shoulder and behind you. Also, the thickness of an extension cord should be equal to, or greater than, the cord on the power tool. Otherwise, the extension cord can overheat and cause a fire or severe burns.
  • Become familiar with the controls and make sure you are able to turn your power tool "on" and "off" immediately, prior to plugging it in and using it.
  • For additional work preparation tips, see Home Repairs Safety and Preparation Checklist.

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