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Overcoming Disability

Hi Paul,
My son (9) has become very interested in woodworking over the last year, watching and helping with the projects I have done, along with a few of his own. He was born with one hand, and his other arm ends just below the elbow.
He has become competent with some of the easier tasks that only require one hand such as sawing, and use’s his arm very well and is able to use things like using a hand plane by pushing with his arm and using his hand to keep the plane straight.
The difficulties are things like holding a spokeshave, and other tasks we take for granted using two hands such as holding a hammer and chisel. He is very determined, and has always overcome any problems he has encountered, but is becoming frustrated.
Do you have any experience working with or teaching anyone with similar disabilities? 
I would appreciate any advice you may have on how he can develop his skills, how I could help him through uses of jigs/supports or any other ideas you may have.
Many thanks.

I checked first to see if I could ask my audience if they might have any answers to this so here it is. My personal experience is too limited but I hear of people without sight using hand tools and other situations that can be physical disabilities, mental disabilities or any combination. Often disabilities are not apparent, so I wondered about the experience some of you might know of that could help our friends here.

39 Comments

  1. Jay on 7 August 2019 at 11:57 am

    Working with others can be fun and fulfilling.

  2. Dennis on 7 August 2019 at 12:31 pm

    My twin sons (6) were born with underdeveloped thumbs, they’ve had multiple hand surgeries, including one procedure were they turned the index finger into a new thumb, this was done early on so they have not known anything else, they are very proficient with their hands given their limitations.

    It takes more work to do the same things others do, as they don’t have the same grip strength or dexterity as regular people but I hope they will be able to work on things in the shop as well. I’ve only had them hand saw a few bits of scrap wood so far, they seem more interested in other things. But they are young.

  3. Phill on 7 August 2019 at 12:34 pm

    (where there’s a will…) — my armless friend wears a pair of prosthetics over his shoulders, but steers his car with his feet. I learned more from my disabled son than I ever taught him. I know how hard it is to watch your child struggle, but it’s the struggle and frustration and impossibility that lead to success. Trust in his ingenuity. I wish others understood the joy of raising a disabled child.

  4. Dennis on 7 August 2019 at 12:39 pm

    To answer the original question, I realize I failed doing so. What he needs is a way to hold the other side of a spoke shave, or a chisel or a hammer. It sounds to me like some kind of prosthetic tool holder is what he needs.

  5. Phill on 7 August 2019 at 12:42 pm

    PS: – Paul often refers to his bench vise as his “third” hand. Think about tools that hold – clamps, vice grips, handscrews, etc — or combinations of same. Maybe just being exposed to all the different sorts of holding devices out there might spur his imagination. — Lots of Japanese woodworkers (who sit at their benches rather than stand) use their feet to support their work. – Random thoughts. Good luck.

  6. Edmund Sergeant on 7 August 2019 at 1:25 pm

    I had a friend in college that originally set out to become an orthopedic surgeon but ended up studying mechanical engineering. He went on to find a job developing prosthetics. It is astounding the solutions that they come up with for people of all sorts of disabilities. I have no idea where he is now, but Massachusetts, specifically Boston, appears to have a great deal of resources of this nature. I like the above comments about both prosthetics and the use of a vise as a “third hand” and believe that the combination of the two could probably allow the use of virtually any hand tool for a person with your son’s challenges. I would reach out to various firms that make these items. If the response is less than inspiring, (they are businesses after all,) approaching people at the closest university with a medical school, especially one that has a relationship with area hospitals that provide orthopedic residencies would be my next move. The engineers themselves thrive on these kinds of challenges, so I am sure someone will take an interest. Plus it is great public relations when a business such as this is able to help a child. Also, the Shriners do a great deal of work with orthopedics in some areas and provide all services for free. Hope this helps. It is truly inspiring to hear about that young man pursuing his interests despite the challenges.

  7. Tom Angle on 7 August 2019 at 1:34 pm

    I know he is a little young for wood turning, but here is a guy turning with on hand.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=geWYboruA6k

    Carving also come to mind. If he could have something that could hold the gouge that was maybe a little spring loaded to resist the hand that controlled. Because that is all the one hand does.

    I do agree with the others here that mention some kind of prosthetic. Maybe one that can hold the tool but pivot so the other hand can steer.

    He is only 9 and at that age any child is learning by watching more than doing. I am sure as he matures he will find ways to do things. I have seen people over come physical disabilities that made me say wow or how did they think of that.

    Remember the most important thing you can teach him is how to be a dad. By spending time with him, show patience and love.

    Never let him use his disability (I really hate that work) as an excuse. My dad lost a leg from an injury in Vietnam (then had a few back surgeries). He played softball, basketball, soccer, hunted, cut firewood, etc… He never his disability stop him from trying something.

    I play baseball with kids that was in a similar condition as your son if I remember right (been 40 years ago). He would catch with the gloved hand. slide the glove under his armpit, take the ball out and throw it with his good arm. He also batted one handed.

  8. Gav on 7 August 2019 at 1:47 pm

    I worked with a fellow whom had a much shorter right arm than his proportionate left one which had, I think, a thumb and finger . Its use was very limited however he successfully completed in the Paralympic games in cycling and was a competent bike mechanic. There were a number of workarounds he would come up with to achieve different tasks. Being able to hold the item he was working on stationary certainly helped , whether in a vice or work stand, as it does all of us. I also was involved with designing clothes for a child whom lost use of digits on both hands in an accident . The biggest obstacle was their grief and sense of loss (understandable) however clothes could be made which would work . If grip of some description could be obtained with a simple prosthesis than some tools such as the spokeshave could be within the realm of possibility. Specific modifications to the handles on some tools may also be of assistance . Quite a swing can be achieved with the upper arm, transmitting an appropriate blow to a chisel handle, nail, dowel etc would be the key. Sawing away as much of the waste as possible and then paring more material would possibly be more achievable for cleaning up tenons etc. Boring out mortices (breast drill) or battery or pedestal and using a guide to pare out the waste in a vice may also be more achievable. There is an amazing video floating around somewhere of an African man who makes stools with his feet . Just some thoughts. Don’t give up.

  9. Marten on 7 August 2019 at 2:04 pm

    My thought too. Holding and positioning a chisel is where the fine dexterity of fingers helps, but striking it could be done with an arm or elbow if some hard surface can be attached somehow.

    Blacksmiths used to have some sort of foot-operated hammer. That idea might also be adaptable?

  10. Bob Easton on 7 August 2019 at 2:14 pm

    Sometimes, turning things upside down helps. Normally we secure the piece of wood we are working on and then move the tools across, or into it. For certain tasks, I’ve found that securing the tool in a vise and moving the wood across it works just as well, or better.

    Perhaps this is one simple example. Challenge the young man to consider ideas like this.

    Ingenuity and determination are often as important as fixtures, jigs, and prosthetic devices .

  11. Jeff Skiles on 7 August 2019 at 2:50 pm

    The Fall 2015 issue of the SAPFM magazine “Pins and Tales” includes an article about a man who’s been woodworking for years with one arm. His preference is working with hand tools. To see a pdf of the article, go to http://www.sapfm.org, then on the left under Resources click “e-zine”. Page 17. I pulled up the pdf without being logged in, so hopefully it’ll work for you, too, even if you’re not a member.

  12. Ed McGugan on 7 August 2019 at 3:57 pm

    A farming accident put me in a wheelchair so this is almost the opposite of what you are addressing.
    However, one of the other comments about Asian woodworkers using their feet is quite appropriate.
    A pair of boaters slippers (rubber for grip yet allows use of the toes- and a little protection) along with a low Roman style bench might give the young gentleman a bit more flexibility.
    Saw a video years ago of a man playing a guitar with his feet. Pretty amazing what he could do.
    Maybe if he was able to sit on the low bench where he could get his feet up on the bench and use them with his arms he could use the combination to manipulate the hand tools.
    Just a couple of thoughts to consider.
    Good for you to do that though. It is very therapeutic and confidence develops over time.
    tx, Ed

  13. Robert Fitzpatrick on 7 August 2019 at 4:09 pm

    Hi Paul

    There are obviously a host of ideas out there. I think hope and perseverence are key attributes – along with inventiveness.

    An elderly cousin who lost an arm in WW2 had a series of different arms that he strapped on for different tasks. He did everything from decent carpentry to breadmaking. As a youngster I just remember being fascinated by the different arms he had hanging up. With modern technology, much developed especially for more modern veterans, I am sure there are some good solutions.

    Good luck to you both.

  14. Ernie Green on 7 August 2019 at 5:16 pm

    Rob Cosman in Canada does woodworking with differently abled vets ( Purple Heart project) he might have some suggestions.

  15. Steve P on 7 August 2019 at 5:59 pm

    A couple things I can think of:
    1. As someone else mentioned, the workbench and vise in vise to hold work securely.
    2. Do things differently. Instead of trying to chop dovetails with a hammer and chisel, use a coping saw to cut waste close to line and pare down to line with paring chisel. For mortises, use a drill and then pare. Focus on learning the “big 3” joints in a way you can master.
    3. Don’t forget you can make your own tools. Planes, spokeshaves etc. WHat this means is you can make it as needed. No need to follow a traditional plan. Make a spokeshave yourself and design it to work with one hand.
    4. Need is the mother of invention!

  16. Holland on 7 August 2019 at 8:07 pm

    There’s a Canadian fellow on youtube, Cosman I think, and he is a very competent woodworker. He reaches out to veterans, many with missing limbs & any number of other injuries resulting in disabilities. He would be an excellent resorce to help with your son. Good luck!

  17. JEAN CLAUDE PEETERS on 7 August 2019 at 8:21 pm

    A one handed spokeshave… it already exists. We all have it in our kitchens, a potato peeler. You only would need to make a bigger one.

  18. Craig Alderson on 7 August 2019 at 9:46 pm

    The disability rights and independent living movement has spawned a number of innovative solutions and manufacturers in recent years. It’s a boon, not just to people like this 9-year-old aspiring woodworker, but to the rest of us as we get older and start feeling the effects of age-related limitations: arthritis, failing eyesight, and so forth. And, sadly, to people in places that have suffered the ravages of war. One catalog I found is subtitled, “Tools for survivors of landmines and explosive remnants of war.”

    I would recommend firing up your favorite internet search engine and searching for phrases like “assistive technology,” “adaptive technology,” “assistive devices,” and “adaptive devices.” There’s a lot out there. You can even refine the search by adding the key word, “woodworking.” I found additional promising resources by searching “woodworking with disabilities” — which I’m sure this boy’s parents have tried already, but which I suggest in the off-chance they haven’t. It led me to a 2013 article in Woodworker’s Journal entitled, “Rich Fabend of Handihelp: adaptive options for woodworking–and more.”

  19. Walt on 8 August 2019 at 12:34 am

    Get in touch with VME (volunteers for medical engineering) located in Baltimore Maryland. Their on the web. They were started by an Engineer I worked with and help both doctors and people with disabilities. They design and build item’s not normally found on the self, I’m sure they have already designed a prostatic that can be adopted to your sons needs.

  20. Ed on 8 August 2019 at 3:00 am

    My daughter has a full palm and thumb, but no fingers on one hand since birth. She plays the violin and viola at a high level. What helped her was seeing other people work with what they have, whether as a one handed major league pitcher, a professional violinist, or some other activity. This helped her see that these people were creative in discovering how to do what they do, that it took trial, error, perseverance, and love of what was being done. This helped develop a deep sense that, even if she couldn’t do something yet, she believed that, with work, she’d eventually accomplish it. That is so important. With that belief, and with a love of doing the activity at the current level (without spoiling the now with worries of the future), she could work, feel accomplishment, and progress to new levels.

    Throughout the journey, there were many calls for prosthetics. I’m not going to say that is wrong, but I would caution against the attitude that the prosthetic is “fixing” the boy so that he can do things “the normal way” or “the right way.” I have never seen the boy, but I am confident predicting that he can do things with that arm that I cannot do with my body. With my daughter, we never talked about a “good hand” and a “bad hand,” but might instead talk about her “big hand,” and her “little hand.” So, don’t think about fixing things. Think about accomplishing things. If that means making an appliance of some kind, fine, but keep in mind that the task might be accomplished in a way you’ve never dreamed of, so the appliance may not look like a “prosthetic” that imitates “normal.” Really, the person who is best suited to figure this out is the boy himself, but with encouragement and guidance.

    Let’s talk about chopping with a chisel. In addition to grabbing with their fingers, rock climbers use various kinds of lock grips. For example, a skinny open hand goes into a crack, a fist is made, and since the fat fist cannot come out of the narrow entrance to the crack, it can bear your weight. It’s a human-hand chock. I wonder if a cylindrical mallet could be made with a cup-like end that the boy could insert his arm into, then flex his elbow, and end up with a lock-grip on the mallet. You’d probably want the mallet to be a cylinder, probably tapered, like a traditional carvers mallet so that the striking attitude doesn’t matter so much. I like the lock-grip because it would allow him to snatch up the mallet in the blink of an eye, use it, and put it down again. This would allow chopping dovetails and housings. I’d need to think about paring, but this is an example of adapting with an appliance but without trying to make things mimic a “normal” grip. Of course, you have to think about safety and injury, and whether something like this (or any other idea) presents an overuse injury risk. Think, also, about the unexpected. Someone once proposed something for my daughter, and one form of that appliance, if she fell on it, might have caused terrible injury. This is serious stuff you’re exploring, so treat it as such.

    Think also about exploring _why_ the boy wants to do woodworking. If his interest is in art and composition, he may like chip carving with a knife in basswood, which is requires only one grasping hand. The other limb stabilizes and rotates the piece. See work by Wayne Barton, for example. Thinking about why he wants to do woodworking may allow you narrow the processes he must master to achieve satisfaction. Someone mentioned turning. Using my daughter as an example again, she wanted to do music. While she might have gone somewhere with piano, it was likely that this would be forever limiting, although I’m sure huge things could have been achieved with just one hand. A picked guitar would have much more of its capability accessible to her, but not finger picking. A violin, though, didn’t have any obvious limitations. It wasn’t clear that she’d develop the needed bowing technique, but we could imagine making an appliance for the bow, etc. Anyway, the violin was chosen and, in fact, she’s never used any appliance for the bow, although just recently we modified the grip by fattening it to reduce hand tension. She can do quite advanced bowing at this point, including various forms of spiccato. Figure out what he can do, and design around those operations. As you add new operations, the design space can increase. Someone mentioned turning and that type of thinking is right down this alley!!

    Don’t forget that kids think differently than adults. They are smarter than we are: The often enjoy the process and don’t care so much about the outcome while we got all twisted up in outcomes.

    Hope this helps.

    Paul, I’m not going to publish my contact info publicly, but feel free to pass it on to the person that contacted you via private communication. He or she is welcome to contact me and I’ll help if I can, although much of my thinking is here. I can send you an email if for some reason you can’t get my email address from this submission. Let me know.

  21. Ed on 8 August 2019 at 3:21 am

    By the way, who says a spokeshave must look like a mouth with two handles, one on each side like bicycle handlebars? Perhaps you can put a single handle that looks a bit like a squirrel tail onto a shave body so that it becomes a one handed tool, although I bet he’ll find a use for the other arm, too. I’ve never played with violin maker’s tools, but they use a number of small one handed planes that might be alternatives to a spokeshave? Paul might be able to advise on that. For convex curves, I’ll bet much of the work could be accomplished with a block plane.

    • Paul Sellers on 8 August 2019 at 8:50 am

      I think we might miss the point sometimes though. My experience working with people who want to be woodworkers shows me that people just want to be, well, for want of abetter word, normal, whatever normal is in the complexity and diversity of humanity. With any shortfall and indeed exceptionality plus and minus, be that mental ability and disability, physical or whatever, we tend to feel or even be marginalised and we’d give anything to be just, well, typical. You know, like everyone else.Saying someone can’t use a spokeshave may increase the fightback too but that does not mean it is always possible.The quest becomes very different and using a hand tool that requires two hands cannot generally be substituted by two people holding the one tool because then you have two heads trying to take charge from what they are each sensing and sensing differently through the application of the tool to the wood. Of course the hand tools we use are developed through stages of an evolutionary process to give us typical tools that work best for those who themselves are typical. My first thoughts have been realised and that is that we have not had input from someone who has the same condition as the young son and who worked from that position to become able to work with the hand tools available without much modification. Some anecdotal input is of course fine but it doesn’t bridge this gap that we strive to resolve. I am still hoping that someone out there will know someone in the same or similar position and can combine a left foot with a right hand, a mouth or whatever. I hope none of what I type here is offensive in any way but I would love to be able to answer for this and other situations.

  22. Ken on 8 August 2019 at 11:16 am

    This is a fascinating question and I hope we get feedback as some of the answers are tried and as progress is made – as I am sure it will be.

    My personal experience is limited. I am right handed and that arm and wrist got badly damaged in an accident in my 50’s. I ended up with some loss of movement in the arm and some loss of feeling and dexterity in my right hand. (I frequently drop things without even realising it.) My sight is not brilliant (even with spectacles) and I am deaf. All these problems frustrate the heck out of me and I have never fully adjusted to the limitations of my hand and arm. I believe this is due to the fact that all was well until my 50’s and I have been poor to adapt to the changes occurring later in life.

    The attitude towards ‘disability’ is changing in that we are now more interested in what a person can do rather than the things they cannot. The paralympics showcases brilliant athletes with the same grit and determination to succeed as any other athletes. People with no legs climb the highest mountains, people with no limbs learn to scuba dive etc etc. I look forward to the day when the word ‘disability’ is viewed as an archaic term.

    I am willing to bet that most of the obstacles your son has overcome will have been by his own ingenuity. He was born as he is. Therefore his brain has never known any different and will have adapted to a host of situations. Your son’s brain is therefore probably the most valuable assets in figuring out how to perform many tasks.

    Others have mentioned prosthetics and you will find people who have solved similar challenges – an existing solution probably just needs adapting to suit your your son. Modern materials (e.g. carbon fibre) provide brilliant opportunities for strong, lightweight, multi-functional prosthetics. You will almost certainly find professionals who can develop what your son wants and needs.

    One suggestion which has not been made is that your son could use his feet and legs for tools where even force is needed on both sides such as a spokeshave. This would initially be a faff as the workpiece will need to be held in a vice at near-ground level. Your son would need to be sitting on a secure seat – probably with a back support and the spokeshave secured to his shoes (I am thinking about toe straps used on tradional road bicycles or the ‘clipless’ arrangement designed for skis and modern road bikes -obviously with a bit of adaptation to hold a spokeshave). If the arrangement works, it would be suitable for many similar tasks such as a Stanley 80 scraper or possibly even a draw knife. The huge advantage of this approach is that the legs (& thighs in particular) are far stronger than the arms and are better in terms of stamina and endurance. Feet are quite sensitive and that would be useful for ‘feeling the grain’ etc.

    The problem of a mallet and chisel might be solved by adapting a three finger clamp. (Here are examples if you do not know what they look like. https://www.google.com/search?q=three+finger+clamp&rlz=1C1CHBH_en-GBGB748GB748&tbm=isch&source=iu&ictx=1&fir=empAfVK0zvKnUM%253A%252CVXkTB2eVjcWtLM%252C_&vet=1&usg=AI4_-kToMpJvYLGHjHz8fywkCt4ImjR_GA&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwicsfmR-PLjAhXCwKQKHcMLAQEQ9QEwAHoECAkQBg#imgrc=empAfVK0zvKnUM:&vet=1)
    The clamp holds the chisel handle (put a couple of small screws in the chisel handle if you find the clamp is prone to slipping). The metal bar would need to be extended and bent so that a padded end can be held in the mouth at a comfortable distance from the workpiece. Your son could then rest his short arm further up the bar (preferably padded in that area) and the chisel would be held steady. The mallet can then be held and used in the usual way. With such an arrangement your son will probably learn that using a chisel is a relatively gentle process rather than the brutish/forceful exercise many beginners wrongly assume. You could probably run a quick test on the theory of this by borrowing a 3 finger clamp from a school laboratory for a couple of days. If you can make it work by holding the arm of the clamp, you know it is worth buying and attaching a bent extension to the clamp arm for your son.

    Some final points. Your son is showing an interest in a craft at an early age and that bodes well for his future. Too many people these days have no practical ability whatsoever. Practical skills are not taught in schools in many countries. Your son’s interest already puts him ahead of most! Few people master a carpentry skill at the first attempt. Some practice is needed and results are often initially less than perfect. That can be frustrating but if your son understands that we all have to experience the learning curve he may be encouraged to realise he is no different from the rest of – he just has a slightly different learning curve to deal with.

    Good luck to you and your son and please keep us posted.

  23. Charles on 8 August 2019 at 4:08 pm

    Dennis, I think the solution for a spoke shave is a prosthetic that would allow him to use his are to apply pressure and guide it. A hammer and chisel takes a different set of mechanics. The dexterity to manipulate a chisel would be easiest with his hand, while using a non traditional hammer with his arm. I’m not an expert by any streach, but I’m thinking of a hammer head attached to prosthetic shaped like an L.
    The hammer head is attached to the top of the L. The top has a cup, the remainder is an open U shape, more or less. His forarm slips into the cup, his elbow is at the turn, and his upper arm is in the bottom. When on, he would partially extend or retracthis arm to “hold” the hammer.
    If he has a developed forarm muscle, a snug fitting prosthetic “tube” could be made so that all he has to do is insert his forarm and flex the muscle. The expanded muscle would creat a jam hold, similar to how rock climbers creat holds by jamming fist into cracks and them clenching to expand the muscles.
    I would approach a good physical therapy clinic, many of them have the ability to make simple molded braces on site using thermo plastics. The other would be a university, or, try your hand at it using YouTube.
    Good luck and happy wood working.

  24. Jeff on 8 August 2019 at 4:13 pm

    Paul I’m not sure if this will work but I had a stroke several years ago & couldn’t use my right hand for a few years. So to use a chisel I used my left hand (non-dominant) hand to hold the chisel, then my right hand as a guide to hold near the work and I would keep the chisel braced to my sternum/chest area & then I would move my chest forward very slowly instead off using my hand to push the chisel. The left hand was really used to guide the chisel & also as a stop so I wouldn’t blow through the edge. It works pretty well once you get used to it. I hope this helps!

  25. Jeff on 8 August 2019 at 6:11 pm

    I went to school with a girl that was a spectacular tuba player, as well as “All – Everything” baseball player. Her physical situation was nearly exactly what you describe of your son.
    I watched Julie over my years of school. Maybe the best lesson I learned was that none of us could necessarily tell or show her what to do, but if she was in any way motivated to try/do something, SHE worked out a way that was hers. I always believed that it was her will to not be held back by something she couldn’t change, and her developing abilities over time (exactly like all of us in that we learn, practice and gain skills) that led her to excell in those areas. I realized this while watching a very patient and sage music instructor, let her try various instruments, and just stand back while she got to try them out on her own and make her own choice about what she really wanted to do. She never looked back. I would never have thought that the Tuba was anything but the last choice for a good fit, but in some internal way, it appealed to Julie like none of the others.
    Even better was watching her dominate on the baseball field. The rest of us thoroughly enjoyed watching teams from schools that didn’t know her pick their jaws off the field when she turned double-plays, and play games with how deep their outfielders played as the game wore on.
    Too late here to say “in short”, but as the examples offered by others above are themed, THEY had or developed some level of difference, but THEY developed a method of doing the work with which they were comfortable, and gave them confidence that they can make the tool do it’s job.
    Just my two cents…

    • Lawrence on 9 August 2019 at 12:10 pm

      I second Jeff’s comment totally- we can easily fall into the trap of looking at prosthetics etc which can help, but we are effectively just tackling the problem through our own perceptions, and the go-to philosophy here tends to be to try and replace or support, to get back to the way WE see as working. Whilst this can help in many situations, let’s not forget our humility here and realise that the biggest expert in dealing with any challenge is the person who lives with it each and every day. We do it ourselves for example- I am sure my strength and dexterity is different to anyone else’s, which leads to subtle changes in my own methods, muscles, stance, nuances which may be different and personal to me. I believe a disability can in a lot of cases be positively looked at like just this mechanism much amplified. I would say the best thing is to work with your son, see what he feels best, offer suggestions supportively and try to keep the fun in. It’s the quality time that’s really important, plus his own satisfaction and hence esteem which is built upon. Keep a watch for safety, but don’t be scared to let him experiment with novel approaches. And certainly if prosthetics or adaptations help then go for it. I’m just saying don’t start with “inside the box” thinking before looking and having a go at all options…. Good luck and happy shavings!

  26. Pete on 8 August 2019 at 6:13 pm

    Rather than spokeshaves have you thought about finger planes, they come with both flat and curved soles? Used by luthiers especially on acoustic instruments.

  27. Ed on 8 August 2019 at 6:42 pm

    The reply link doesn’t seem to work for me any more on Chrome or Safari. It’s been like that for a little while. That’s a reasonable configuration, but just in case it’s not what you want, I thought I’d let you know.

  28. Paul Bouchard on 9 August 2019 at 11:51 am

    Maybe he only needs to worry about balancing the pulling force on each side of the spokeshave – meaning his good hand is enough to guide the angle effectively. I think if he could loop a rope around his neck and under the end of his shorter arm, it could be attached to one side of the spokeshave.

  29. Anuj on 12 August 2019 at 11:53 am

    Please take a look at this website – http://enablingthefuture.org/

    They provide 3d printed prosthetics.

  30. Noel Rodrigue on 12 August 2019 at 12:59 pm

    Another place to look to for information is the local MoD/DND/DOD/etc.. Locate a hospital that has a physiotherapy dept and inquire about what they do with individuals who’ve lost either the use of or the whole of hands/arms/etc. They would have all kinds of tricks in their arsenal of ways to recover/replace the lost functionality.

  31. Jeremy Clark on 12 August 2019 at 1:36 pm

    Paul, outstanding that your son can be taught and show this determination at an early age!
    We always talk about that third hand we need. We use jigs, clamp configurations, and many odd methods to help us.
    He needs two extra hands!
    Even with a chisel, as a suggestion looking at what needs to be done. Maybe “cheater” jigs like . A deep dado/ mortise per wood thickness that can straddle a workpiece and clamped with a quick clamp and then masking tape the chisel against it to allow him to achieve these tasks. It would take time to make the “assist” jigs but end investment is priceless! It will take longer to achieve a result but it will help him achieve a result! It’s just an idea on one specific task. Thank you for sharing and allowing us to give input! I wish him the best of luck and know that determination prevails more than force and or our level of equipped tools.

  32. Duke on 12 August 2019 at 6:15 pm

    While prosthetics are by no means my area of expertise, I do urge you to explore the adaptive technology. Having said that, I’ve asked myself how one in your son’s position might, with practice, learn to work with a chisel reasonably safely in situations that require straight, shallow cutting. I’ve sometimes found that a device made for a completely different purpose adapts quite well for something closely related. It then occurred to me that a honing guide might present an initial opening. I depend on and encourage brighter minds than mine to explain either why these ideas are unsafe, won’t work or how they might work better.

    The problem would be controlling the balance and weight of the chisel since the handle is the heavier part. With the chisel in the guide bevel down at the recommended cutting angle, he might try applying downward pressure on the back of the chisel blade while using the other arm to tap or push the butt. Obviously, the shorter arm would have to be fastened to the chisel handle in some appropriate way — say, a large elastic band — that would allow him to tilt the chisel upward as he goes along. The purpose of the guide is simply to orient the chisel properly from the start and make it easier to produce a series of cuts evenly and accurately across, for example, a marked out mortise, by gradually increasing the angle on subsequent passes. In this way, he might find he can cut a mortise. He might practice with a wood like poplar held in a vise. It’s by no means a perfect solution, and it’s effectiveness depends on how the guide can be worked with the shorter arm. It might be worth a try.

    Another approach that might work for vertical chopping or shaving is to get a machine shop or someone with a milling machine to remove the handles from a set of chisels and then bore a slot, say, 2″ long down the upper third of the chisel blade. The width of the slot would be proportional to the width of the chisel blade, perfectly in line with vertical axis of the blade and perpendicular to the surface. Then the back of each chisel could be attached with of an appropriate screw and washer into a threaded hole in stainless steel rectangular block about 2″-3″ high and about 4″-5″ long. The position of each threaded hole would align with the bottom of each slot so that the tip of the chisel was in line with the bottom of the block. This may enable him to position the tip of the chisel, hold down the block with the shorter arm and hammer with the other. The short sides of each block could be threaded to accommodate two different chisels, with the chisel sizes marked. I suggest stainless steel because other metals can stain some woods. This contraption — and I can’t find a more accurate word — like the guide described about would at least get a mortise started accurately, which Paul notes if the key to successful mortise cutting. And we all know how it feels to cut a decent mortise!

    I also have to say I’m impressed with both your son and his father, as I am with the contributors above who have graciously “had a thing” and shared their thoughts, knowledge and encouragement to both of you. And thanks, Paul, for bringing this challenge to the blog.

  33. David Murphy, retired rehabilitation counselor on 13 August 2019 at 7:56 am

    Ergonomic engineers, specialty trained occupational therapists, and vocational evaluators are constantly developing prosthetic hardware and techniques to improve peoples’ ability to overcome barriers and perform tasks despite physical limitations. If it is possible to consult one of these professionals it might be helpful in developing a realistic plan with an emphasis on ability over disability.

  34. Hank Edwards on 14 August 2019 at 6:03 pm

    Very, very well done, Mr. Sellers. Thank you.

    Both engineers and medical practitioners do need to be involved. Solutions have evolved.

    Thanks again.

  35. Charlie Voss on 15 August 2019 at 12:54 am

    I was moved by the response to Paul’s request for ideas so did my own search and learned about Hero Arm, a medically certified 3D-printed bionic arm, with multi-grip functionality. It’s a myoelectric prosthesis engineered and manufactured in Bristol, UK, reportedly lightweight and affordable, and available in the USA, UK and France for below elbow amputee adults and children aged eight and above. Here’s the website: https://openbionics.com/hero-arm/

    Good luck

  36. John Housden on 26 August 2019 at 7:33 am

    Well done for taking the time to research this problem – the Hero arm seems to be the ideal solution, not just for woodworking but life in general.

  37. Troy Durant on 13 November 2019 at 4:50 pm

    Hello Paul Sellers. I enjoy all your tutorials. I especially needed this portion of the blog AND ‘Bench heights and planing technique, youtube’. I’m coming from a former combat engineer background and as a grunt I usually had a framing hammer in hand. A few hurricanes happened and I managed to herniate a disk (cleanup phase). I thoroughly enjoy hand tool work still. So, I have to be mindful of the height of the bench and how far I extend. Do you know anyone (or have your personal experience) being able to happily experience the joy of the physicality involved with hand tools along with the limitations of their back injury issues? I sometimes take it too far, back off for a while, then eventually pick up a tool enthusiastically again. Any advice on the topic? Troy

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