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
Gus 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.

Perhaps 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.

Inexpensive 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.

If 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 sledges, 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 large timbers.   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 of life.

If 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.

It 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. Without a 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.

The 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.