Innovative Workstation for African Carpenters
When Jeffry Lohr welcomed Abubakar Abdulai (Abu) to his woodworking school in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania, he hadn’t a clue that this chance meeting would change his life and the lives of impoverished people in the West African nation of Ghana.
But it did.
Abu, a carpenter by trade, spent his time away from work teaching woodworking to orphans and abandoned children, in the hopes that it would lead them out of despair. So he reached out to Jeff in 2007 from an internet café, asking for Jeff’s help in coming to the United States to attend his school. But Abu had another goal besides learning western woodworking techniques; he wanted to help bring a tide of change that would lift Ghana out of poverty.
Over the next few months Jeff and Abu exchanged countless emails and talked many times over the phone. A friendship between the two developed, and Jeff invited Abu to attend a one-week class–on him–and to stay with him and his wife, Linda. Jeff and Linda worked tirelessy, trying to raise money for the venture, and by the time Abu’s visa was approved months later, they had the financing to expand the plan from one week to three months.
“Our goals seemed pretty simple,” says Jeff. “Train Abu on western style woodworking machinery and send him home with the intentions of shipping what machinery we could afford to Ghana in the years to follow.”
After attending a one-week class at Jeff’s school, Abu worked in Jeff’s furniture making business, learning the business from the ground up. Jeff learned a lot from Abu, too, about Ghanaian life, culture, and the hardshops its people endure. And his goals changed as a result.
“Our initial plan to ship large stationary woodworking equipment for Ghana’s carpenters completely missed the need,” says Jeff. “Almost none of the country’s woodworkers would ever be able to afford such equipment.”
Electricity also proved problematic. “Most African woodworking shops have to rely on small generators. What would happen if you plugged a 15 or 20 amp stationary table saw into a plug powered by a portable generator?”
So Jeff developed a woodworking system using common, hand-held power tools, called Mr. Jeffry’s Third World Woodworking Machine Shop. It consists of a hand held circular saw and router mounted in a wooden table. It can perform all the functions of a sophisticated tablesaw, jointer, and planer, at 10% of the cost. And, except for the tools and a few accessories, it can be built entirely of materials readily available in Ghana. The system was easy to ship and could be assembled on site, transforming them into “efficient, highly accurate, contemporary production equipment.”
But Jeff, Linda, and Abu were determined to do more to help all the people of Ghana. So they started the charity organization MoringaCommunity.org. Their mission is to help the people of Ghana develop methods to grow food and preserve the crops and to learn occupations that will help stem the tide of poverty.
So far, all of their efforts have been hugely successful. For the Lohrs, the experience has been life-changing.
And to think it all started with an email.
The typical woodworker and carpenter in Ghana does everything by hand, from rough milling to final surface prep.
The daily grind of handwork takes its toll on the workers, leaving many unable to continue working after they reach their forties.
To help carpenters ease the pain of woodworking, Lohr developed a simple workstation to handle tasks normally done at the planer, jointer, and tablesaw. It uses a circular saw and router.
Jeff Lohr and Abu hold up a door made with the setup.