Monday, February 24, 2014

Further Adventures in "Back to Basics" Woodworking

As I've said before, sometimes its good to get back to basics, if only to remind us how lucky we are to have the things we have that make our jobs easier. I've just returned from my fifth trip to Tanzania with a medical team from the Phil Simon Clinic of Huntington Hospital in Pasadena. Not being a medical type, my duties are generally infrastructure- and administration-related. Working alone, and with only hand tools, I've generally only had the time to build maybe a set of shelves, or a table, with the short amount of time available. This time, though, there was another team member along who was a general contractor, so things were looking up.  

My woodworking task on this trip turned out to be to make as many storage shelf units as I could in a couple of days to help outfit the dispensary building at the clinic we were working with in a small village called Kisongo, on the outskirts of Arusha. As with any project, the first task was to find some materials. And this time, that was pretty easy. It turned out that here was a lumber seller just about 100 yards from the building we were going to be working in.

With the help of Joyful, one of our drivers, translating for me, I was able to pick a batch of 1x8 pine boards, which the proprietress, Edith, was also able to have surfaced for me. And the best part was, they even delivered the milled lumber right to our door.

The biggest trick in designing the shelves was to figure out how to do the least amount of cutting, since it was all hand work, and the wood was still very wet, as well as the least amount of joinery. The first unit we made was a 16" deep unit for the main clinic room. It was strictly a board and batten affair, with screwed butt joints for joinery. As it turned out, not only was Dave the contractor interested in my Japanese hand saws (he's more of a large-scale metal fabricator guy), but several of the drivers, when they weren't busy translating, wanted to get in on the action, as well. In no time we had a little production line going with me marking and the guys cutting.

The cut parts came to me for drilling, and then we all got in the act during assembly.

In just a few hours, we were able to fabricate the entire 5' high x 5' wide unit. Then the next day, again in just a few hours, we fabricated two more single-board depth shelf units for the pharmacy room to organize medications.

In all, the six of us were able to make a significant contribution to the dispensary in a very short amount of time.

Our team (l to r): Mtili, Dave, Aron, Joyful, Albert, and me, with Woody, Dave's creation from  scraps, in front. Later on, since this room was being used for the pediatric clinic, one of our nurses, Ashley, even gave Woody a colorful makeover.

To find out more about the Phil Simon Clinic's Tanzania Project, check out their website or Facebook page.

My thanks to Michael Eastwood for several of the photos.