Thursday, June 7, 2012


About every two years I head over to Tanzania for a couple of weeks to work alongside the students and staff at Bomalong'ombe secondary school to improve their water and electrical system and to help build dorms and classrooms. Last time I was there I promised the school carpenter—a gentleman by the name of isaak—that I'd get some hand tools over to him. I can’t go this time, but while I was packing up tools for the group going over there to take, I began reminiscing about the day I spent building chairs with Isaak.
Isaak and students working on chair components

Power at the school is scarce, so Isaak does all of his work with hand tools. The morning I arrived to apprentice with him he explained that our first task was to rip the material we needed for the chairs down to the proper width. With that he broke out a machete and in 6 or 7 deft strokes “ripped” the chair legs to the exact width needed. The blade came within fractions of an inch to his fingers, but he was so skilled he never even flinched. When it came time for me to “rip” some material to width, it took me 10 times as long.
Spike cutting tenons using a box miter saw

The day involved much sharing of information, much laughter and much building. The workbench was a rickety old table with crossbracing. We used planes to plane; brace, bits and chisels to create the mortises; saws and chisels to create the tenons; draw knives to create the scooped seats and curved backs. By the end of the day, Isaak had created five new chairs and left an indelible impression upon me. What was impressed?
Isaak proudly displays one of  five completed chairs

1)    That having the right skills trumps having the right tools
2)    That every woodworker has things to learn from every other woodworker
3)    That woodworking is a universal language.

For more information on Mission Tanzania, visit Mission Tanzania, Trinity Lutheran Church

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