Monday, December 19, 2011

Using Woodworking Skills for Habitat for Humanity

It occurs to me that many of the people who frequent this Blog would be interested in one of my favorite things, i.e. Habitat for Humanity.  Not to be bragging, but I am probably up to 75 houses that I have worked on in some fashion or other over the years.  A few more and maybe I will learn how to actually build a house.  Let me tell you about it.

The system is pretty typical around the country.  A corporate sponsor or group or individual comes forward and offers the money needed to purchase the land and the building materials.  Then the sponsor or group will collect volunteers (that’s you, Pilgrim) to come and actually do the construction work.  In my local Chapter, we look for about 30 to 35 people per day on the site, and we schedule about ten days to complete a 1400 square foot house.  The Chapter obtains the land and the building materials, the permits and licenses, and provides essential construction expertise.  The skilled trades which require licenses will be hired by the Chapter.

Once everything is in place, construction begins and that is the really fun part.  Day One and Day Two are the best.  In our Chapter, we are sorely disappointed if all the walls are not standing by the end of the first day.  Roof trusses are usually scheduled on Day Two  and the rest of the work proceeds from there.

One of the real joys of the construction time is working with the family who will live in the house.  A requirement for purchasing (that’s right — purchasing) a Habitat House is the sweat equity investment.  Before we will sell the house to a family, they must put in 250 hours (logged in and out) working on either their house or someone else’s Habitat house.  Plus they must attend a 50 hour course on financial management as taught by Dave Ramsey of radio fame.  Once they have made the hours and completed the course work and shown they can handle the payments, then we sell the house to them for the cost of materials and land.  We provide a twenty year mortgage at zero per cent interest.  At the end of twenty years, the house belongs to the family with no further obligation to Habitat.

But then, you ask, if the materials are furnished by the sponsor, and the labor is all volunteer, why is there a mortgage?  The answer is that we take the money which comes in from the mortgages, pay a minimal staff, and then use the rest as seed money to build more houses.  It is somewhat like a benevolent Ponzi scheme.  Our Chapter for instance has built about 125 houses so we have around 125 mortgage payments coming in each month.  Larger Chapters have built 1500 or more houses.
Habitat works all around the world.  In fact, as a salute to our Christian beginnings, we tithe our monetary donations.  Turns out you can build a house in Guatemala for about $3000.  As a result, Habitat International recently celebrated construction of its 500,000th home.  Corporate Donors also step up constantly.  For example, Whirlpool Corporation donates a stove and refrigerator to every single house built in America by Habitat.  When we finish a house, we call Whirlpool and they send them out.  That’s why I buy Whirlpool every chance I get.  Blessings on them and hundreds of others who do likewise.

How do you fit into this scheme?  Call your local Chapter and see what you can do.  Start by showing up on the site one day to offer your labor in construction.  Look around and see what they need.  What you will find is a bunch of good people doing something they love for the benefit of someone who will never have a  home any other way.  Match your skills to their needs and it will be a good thing for both of you.  Go do some good!!

Our latest house, sponsored and built by employees of Delta Airlines in Atlanta.

Christmas Wish List

Christmas is coming and it is time to look at the old wish list.  My family laments the fact that I have all the $30 woodworking tools.  Anything I still need/want is going to be more.  Assuming you have been a good boy or girl, perhaps it will be a fruitful year in the workshop.  For the sake of any of you friends and family (particularly my son Jon) who might be looking for something to grace this old blogger, here is my list for this year.  Maybe there is something you might like on my list.

1.   I would like to be able to write songs like Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and sing like George Younce of the Cathedrals.  Oh wait, did you say this was a Wish List for a Woodworking store?  Sorry, those two just slipped out.
Steel City Hollow Mortiser

2.   Hollow Chisel Mortiser — Highland has a top notch power mortiser from Steel City for $299.99.  I saw it in the store this week and it is high on my list.  If you do a fair amount of mortise and tenon joints, then this tool may be just right for you.  It is bench mounted and has a rack and pinion adjustable fence for easy alignment.  The handle adjusts to six positions and is reversible.  The switch is right up front and easy to reach.  The bits lock into the spindle and there should be none of that twisted bits stuff which is so irritating on lesser models.  This thing looks like an excellent medium duty machine for the serious amateur mortise maker.

3.  ANYTHING from Festool.  I have not started my Festool collection yet, but these tools are always on my list.  Given my choice, I would start with the chop saw, then the router, and then the sanders with the vac.
Shaping a Rocker

When I was working on my rocking chair, Charles Brock in his shop had the heavy duty Festool sander hooked up to the Festool vacuum and it is a sweet operation.  Probably not going to happen this year, but perhaps if I am very, very good next year.

4.  Sawstop Table Saw —  Highland can ship the SawStop Contractor Saw to all the lower 48 states now and if you are looking at a table saw, you owe it to your spouse and family to keep all your fingers.  Touted as the safest table saw out there, don’t ask for any other saw without looking seriously at this one.  Watch the famous hot dog video, (or the chicken leg demo) and you will be a fan.
Fein Multimaster Tool

5.  Fein MultiMaster — I have seen the commercials on TV for this thing.  What really convinced me, however, was when the construction manager at my Habitat for Humanity chapter pulled one of these out of his truck.  We needed to notch out a board to set a marble counter top, and there was no good way to do the work without tearing half the wall down.  We turned this thing on and in about 30 seconds, the job was done.  Be careful, though because there are many lower-quality imitators out there, ranging from the $29.95 version at the tool discount store to somewhat more expensive models from some of the major manufacturers.  The real thing may seem a little pricey, but it is worth every penny.  Also do some research on the blades, because there is a very wide range of quality available in blades and they can be a costly error if you get the wrong ones.  The Fein Multimaster model I would like is the FMM 250Q Select Plus kit, which until recently sold for $329, but is available at Highland right now for $299.  It should do almost all I need right now, and I can always buy accessories for it as I need them.

6.  Auriou Chairmaker’s Rasp Set — If you have never used one of these things and all you have ever tried is one of those five dollar rasps from the local hardware, then you are in for a revelation.  I had never used one of these things until I worked on a sculptured chair.  Who knew that the single biggest issue with one of these beautiful tools is you have to be careful to not remove too much wood.
Auriou Chairmaker's Rasp Set

How many hand tools do you use where taking off too much wood is the main problem?  Most of the time, I have trouble just getting tools to cut in the first place.  Well, you say, I sure as heck ain’t paying that much money for a stupid rasp.  Well, nay, I say, nay!  First of all, these rasps will last the rest of your life and your children will bless you for them.  Second, once you try them you will wonder how you missed them your whole woodworking life.  Just try one and you will agree with me.  (By the way, Jon, I like the set of three for $349.99.)

There you go.  Slide this list under the door for somebody, or leave it open on the computer.  Or print it out and leave it under the breakfast cereal.  If you don’t score any of these things this year, try being gooder next year.  I’ll let you know how it worked out for me.