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AAW and Greenwood Offer Honduran Artisans Woodturning as a Channel to Self-Sufficiency
By: American Association of Woodturners (AAW)
Together, the AAW and GreenWood groups taught Honduran artisans to turn and sell wooden hand-tools made from well-managed tropical hardwoods using a human-powered lathe. AAW teammates, shop teacher Scotty Lewis, and Manuel Suarez, an accomplished woodturner who is fluent in Spanish, traveled to Honduras for 15 days. They assembled the human-power lathe in the coastal town of La Ceiba and trucked it for nine hours to the remote village of Las Champas, located on the Honduran North Coast. Las Champas has limited access to electricity. There, Lewis and Suarez taught twelve artisans about woodturning and helped them to launch a program to make and sell wooden mallets on the global market. As a bonus, they also taught the basics of woodturning to an indigenous community of Pech Indians in the village of El Carbón.
Lewis designed the human-powered lathe as part of his teacher training. The lathe has a wooden frame held together with bolts and metal brackets. The pedals and chain, which were scavenged from a bicycle, drive a flywheel made from a bicycle wheel. Surrounding the wheel is a wooden ring weighted down with sand. As one person pedals, another uses woodturning chisels to shape everything from tops to bowls to mallets.
"The main difficulty was giving all the students time at the lathe," Suarez remarked. They set up a rotation to give everyone a chance to both pedal and turn wood on the human-powered lathe. "I translated Scotty's instructions and tried to adapt them to the students' cultural and educational level." The students waiting for their turn soon began to notice if the person at the lathe wasn't moving his body correctly with the tool, or if the toolrest was too far from the work.
"We met the local doctor, who asked if his teenage daughter could see the lathe," Suarez reported. "The next morning she came, observed the class, and suddenly she was seated at the lathe, pedaling as fast as demanded. That way, she won the right to try to turn."
Suarez summed up the experience by saying, "The students were anxious to learn, thankful for our efforts to help them, and delighted with Scotty's lathe."
"This is a perfect project for us in our 30th anniversary year," explained Phil McDonald, the AAW's executive director. "It shows how woodturning can positively impact people's lives. We appreciated the opportunity to help the Honduran artisans learn about woodturning and develop new products to sell. This project will serve as a model for future woodturning education endeavors with GreenWood and other nonprofits around the globe."
Scott Landis, president of GreenWood, noted, "We're all about using appropriate technology to support sustainable forest management and community development—
Woodturning is a unique form of woodworking that dates back to ancient Egypt. Woodturning is done on a lathe, a machine that holds and spins wood securely while it is shaped with sharp carving tools. Historically, woodturning has been used to create functional objects like chair legs, candlesticks, and bowls. Until the 19th century, most lathes were human-powered, typically with the help of a springy tree limb. The turner would wrap a rope around the wood to be turned, then up and around the limb and down to a foot treadle. Pumping the treadle moved the limb and made the wood spin. There were alternatives to the pole lathe, too. Some woodworking shops used a water wheel to drive belts that powered the lathe, while others had an apprentice run in the equivalent of a big hamster wheel to provide power.
The AAW, founded in 1986, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the art and craft of woodturning worldwide. It currently has more than 15,000 members and a network of over 350 local chapters globally. The Honduras project is an activity of the AAW's Turners Without Borders committee, which helped Scotty Lewis build his human-powered lathe and take it to a school in the Dominican Republic in 2014. For more information on the AAW, visit: http://www.woodturner.org
For nearly 25 years, the Maine-based nonprofit GreenWood has been fostering small-scale appropriate technologies and sustainable development in Central and South America. It works alongside local residents of remote forest communities to help them manage their forests and create high-value wood products. GreenWood artisans in Honduras have developed a diversified catalog of more than 25 standard furniture products; they also sell mahogany guitar parts and graded hardwood lumber. For more information on GreenWood, visit: http://www.greenwoodglobal.org
Kim Rymer, Communications Director
American Association of Woodturners