HOW TO MAKE A
Carpenters throughout the developing world are involved in a wide range of activities, from
boat building to roofing, to making furniture and ox-carts. They all face the same basic
problems, but the scale of each problem varies from country to country and from area to area.
The high cost of tools and equipment is a major factor is starting up or expanding a carpentry
shop. It is very unlikely that you will see new tools in a small workshop, except where they
have been donated by an agency. The majority of tools have been handed down from
generation to generation since the time when foreign exchange was less of a problem, or
when training institutions presented tools to graduates. The tools you will see are old, worn
out, broken, but highly valued examples of imported steel tools.
Traditional skills are being lost throughout the world as Western mass-produced tools are
equated with excellence. (In fact the West only switched from wooden tools recently because
metal tools were cheaper to mass produce. Many craftspeople treasure the wooden planes
that they have left.) This was not always the case: tool-making skills were once commonplace
all over the African continent. Blacksmiths not only forged a wide range of utilitarian and
ceremonial objects, but they were also able to mine the ore and smelt it into iron long before
this technology reached Europe. Sadly, ‘development’ has made many of these skills
redundant; popular western-style furniture needs to be made from western-style tools.
Traditional African woodworking tools have now been replaced almost completely by tools
developed by Western manufacturers, but the skills to make these tools have not been part of
the development process. This has left carpenters in most East African countries, for
example, totally dependent on purchasing mass-produced hand tools, which unnecessarily
drains the country, as well as the pockets of the artisans, of foreign exchange.
Mass produced tools are usually durable. They will last for many years of hard work, they have
a good weight and precise adjustment mechanisms, and their quality can be assured. Their
major disadvantage is cost, which puts them out of reach of the majority of individuals and
On the other hand, most hand tools can be made using locally available materials and
techniques which are well within the abilities of competent artisans. They are cheap to make
and to repair. They allow a carpenter to build up a comprehensive kit of tools, which in turn
can dramatically increase the range of woodworking methods available. They do need careful
maintenance – but then so do metal tools.
The most effective way to change attitudes is to educate the younger members of society,
although the benefits may not be apparent for many years. Secondary schools, youth
polytechnics, technical colleges, and teacher training colleges are all institutions where
carpentry is taught in formal training environments, and where locally made tools could be
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