The below is one way pre & early industrial revolution technology
could be used to benefit third world societies to aid progression
toward their brighter future.
It was first written as a letter in 1989 and then included as part of
my column in International Woodworking Magazine; it has been modestly
revised and updated in 2006.
copywrite 1989 & 2006 John T. Kramer
The Traditional Way
Root recently wrote and asked for references to information on
hand-powered tools which can be used by ACTS volunteers to aid
villagers in Honduras.
The best information available is none too
good. Perhaps the most helpful publications are Roy Underhill's
books which show a couple of ways to make a lathe the table saw is
not much more difficult but, information is harder to acquire.
Museums like Greenfield Village, Connor Prairie Indiana, etal have
many original tools on exhibit and in regular use. Tools can be made
with virtually no metal parts and it is more up to the craftsman to
figure how to make what is needed out of what is available, more than
a specific plan that can be drawn.
the first decision (once the needed tool or machine is determined) is how to power the tool; treadles, grand wheels,
dog races, human treadmills, arm strong, water wheels, pug mills, steam, spring
poles all and more offer possibilities. If the wood available is
light or weak simply use more of it, if exceptionally heavy perhaps
less. Lathes are very useful and simply built, craftsman built table
saws are more difficult to transfer power to in adequate revolutions; sash
saws are better adapted to people power and offer greater versatility
of cuts both the straight of the table saw and curved of the bandsaw,
blades are relatively inexpensive, can be resharpened with only a
triangular file, and are more easily transported by pack animals if
necessary. Good sash saw blades are made of commercial band saw
blade, broken to convenient lengths and mounted in the sash.
power tools can be purchased without electric motors they can be most
easily powered off a grand wheel with belts, pulleys, pillow blocks
and jackshafts. A five foot diameter wheel turned by an apprentice
should be sufficient to power a table saw, lathe, bandsaw, sanders,
sash saw, boring machine, drill press, and much more, individually.
If commercial bearings and pillowblocks are prohibitive, make wood
shafts and bearings out of the two hardest woods available, mount metal shafts in babbitt bearings.
Good tools require a great deal of intensive labor, a modicum of
common sense, a dogged unyielding desire for them, and a lot more
time than money. Production will be achieved much sooner if modern
tools are adapted to traditional power sources. If this is not
possible, acquire a few pictures, the below listed basic tools, and begin work.
the wood is still in the log then this first group of tools will be
needed: felling axe, broad axe, pit saw, spuds, slicks, wedges,
gluts, commanders, beetles, mauls, splitting forks, cant hook or
peavey, log dogs, pit saw, foot adze, large cross cut saw and froe. A
blacksmith's hammer, anvil, files and a supply of iron and steel
would make many solutions easier; then all else a smithy or a mill
needs can be made. If the lumber must be transported then
harness, pulling teams, chains and single trees and more may be
needed. Any number of hoists and spanish windlasses can be devised
of poles, ramps, inclines, cribbing, rawhide, rope, chain, &c. to
more easily manipulate
If gasoline is available and funding allows one of the Swedish
Chainsaw mills will be found most useful. Without money labor can
provide a good alternative. The alternative can earn enough to
purchase more modern tooling, but, it may be found the traditional is
more beneficial and the earnings can be sooner used to improve quality
sawn lumber is available then begin with this tool list which is in
addition to the above for raw logs. Chisels, mallets, gouges, scrub
plane, smoothing plane, joining plane, brace and bits, mortising axe,
turning saw, large tenon saw, 6 point saw, 12 point saw, coping saw,
level, framing hammer, large square, folding rule, draw knife, spoke
shaves, rasps and files are the necessities to build first class
tools. Many other tools such as rebate or combination planes could
be put to good purpose, the work can be done with less and many of
these tools can be first made. Glue can be made from the hides of
fish and animals locally acquired. Finish and lubrication by the
most common local oil, grease, wax or soap rubbed in.
Make do with whats available until better is affordable. Use the
tools you have or can afford to make the tools and machines needed to
do the work that needs doing.
may take a full day or longer to cut one difficult mortise or tenon
in the construction of large tools, some days are more
fulfilling. While preparing raw timbers and planing, the work
seems to go no where
and feels as if it will never end. The first tool to make is a solid
work bench and
a set of both high and low saw horses. If commercial vises are
available they will save much time, if not good vises can be readily
made, clever clamping and wedging can mostly do without official vises.
bench a woodworker is less than whole. A good first bench which will
be found useful in making a full bench, as well as most everything
else, is a shaving horse usually thought of in conjunction with
shingle making; they are very useful for a wide variety of other
work using drawknives, spoke shaves, chisels and occasionally planes.
last consideration would be to use tight mortise and tenon joinery
throughout the construction of tools and power systems and cross
brace members taking stress, triangles are stronger than squares and
three point bases for tools are less subject to vibration, walking
and falling off level. Basically if an individual or group can
understand the concept of a large flywheel and the transfer of that
power to purpose and can then build that wheel and harness that power
(out of the materials ready to hand) then there are no limits to what
else may be accomplished. Any community with a hard working
blacksmith and woodworker will never be in serious jeopardy.
With effort, and a little pre-industrial revolution knowledge,
indigenous groups can work their way out of poverty. Every place
I've ever been has something special about it that can provide
livelihood and sustenance to the residents. Some benefits are
less obvious than others. In the rain forest there are many
options better than slash and burn.
Practicioners of historic crafts and trades have much to teach so that
primitive peoples can work their way up and improve their life
situation by their own labors. Less culture shock than a sudden
introduction to the 21st Century, Labor investment is no less
valuable than capital investment no matter what bankers say.