Being in a wheelchair hasn’t stopped Tennessee woodworker, Johnny Starnes, from pursuing his lifetime love of woodworking. He’s modified his Woodmaster Molder/Planer to make it easy to operate from a sitting position, and makes everything from cabinetry to furniture to molding.
And beyond his career as a professional woodworker, Johnny uses his personal situation to help others with disabilities. His sharing about both his personal challenges and woodworking successes has inspired several others to start working in wood, too.
“I’ve been a woodworker since I got out of high school.”
I live in the Greeneville, Tennessee area. I own the 718 Woodmaster Molder/Planer and I have the Pro Pack with all the add-ons: sander, saw, planer, molder. I’d looked at Woodmaster for years and always wanted one because of the quality and the fact that’s it’s made in the United States.
I’m a professional woodworker. I went to a vocational school for woodworking and I’ve been doing it since I was 18 years old. I make just about anything: cabinetry, all kinds of furniture, bedroom furniture, kitchen cabinets and more. Now that I have this Woodmaster, I’ve made a lot of molding. For the past few years I’ve been making molding for those who’re building homes. I’m doing this with my brother and we’re making a living.
“When somebody gets put in a wheelchair, I get called.”
You can see in my picture I’m in a wheelchair. I used to work for Easter Seals. When somebody got hurt and put in a wheelchair, I’d get a call to go talk to them in the hospital. I tell them about the woodworking I do. I have worked with two people with disabilities and who are thinking of getting Woodmasters. I’ve worked with three more who’ve already bought them. These are people in wheelchairs just like me. Some want to do woodworking as a hobby, some are thinking seriously about going into woodworking businesses.
I show them how they can do woodworking with a Woodmaster even if they are in a wheelchair. For example, I show them how they can change the heads in the Woodmaster. I rigged up a block and tackle like the hoist you use to when you dress a deer. I just put two bolts in the hood of the Woodmaster and put a bolt in the ceiling. Now I can raise the hood and change Woodmaster heads myself — from molder to planer, or saw, or drum sander. I don’t have to have anybody else help me.
“I’m always willing to help another person in a wheelchair.”
I’m a volunteer. I talk to others who’re in wheelchairs. I use my own situation as a way to help others. If anybody wants to call or email me about woodworking as a person with disabilities, I’m always willing to help. Always.
(Editor’s note: If you or someone you know is in a wheelchair and would like to talk to Johnny Starnes about woodworking, please call us at Woodmaster 1-800-821-6651 and we’ll give you his phone number.)
Yes, there are challenges for a person with disabilities doing woodworking. There are always things you could do better standing up but I’ve found work-arounds. I always find a way to solve problems.
For example, I found a way to put a tension pulley on the cutterhead to make belt changes easier for those in a wheelchair. As another example, many machines are too tall for people in wheelchairs. All I had to do with the Woodmaster is recess the wheels up inside the cabinet so the cabinet is just a half-inch off the ground. That lowered the whole unit down so I can reach the table.
“I never liked just sitting around.”
My advice for others with disabilities: if woodworking is something you want to do, you just have to work on it. You need to pursue it the best you can. I never liked just sitting in the house.
Yugo vs. Maserati
If someone wants a woodworking machine that will last, I tell them don’t get any of that China-made stuff. It’s like buying something from Wal-Mart – fine if you’re just going to use it once but it won’t last. I hate going to buy something and it says China-made on it. There’s no comparison between things made in China and the Woodmaster. It’s like the difference between a Yugo and a Maserati.
I’m very happy with my Woodmaster. I think the price is reasonable and I haven’t had any problems with it. Replacement parts are no problem. I’ve had Sears machines and it’s like pulling teeth to get them repaired. I learned Grizzly’s made in Taiwan. Woodmaster’s made in the USA. Just buy a Woodmaster and you’ll see the difference between the USA quality and Japanese the version. Woodmaster, you do have good tools!”
— Johnny Starnes, Woodmaster Owner, Greenville, TN