WOODWORKER OVERCOMES DISABILITY — Starts successful business & helps others

Johnny Starnes, of Tennessee, is an accomplished woodworker. He hasn't let disability slow him down -- here he is with his Woodmaster Molder/Planer and a hardwood pizza peel he's made. 

Johnny Starnes, of Tennessee, is an accomplished woodworker. He hasn’t let disability slow him down — here he is with his Woodmaster Molder/Planer and a hardwood pizza peel he’s made.

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.”

Johnny says he makes just about anything people ask him to. That includes furniture, cabinetry, wood molding, and much more. Here's one of Johnny's bird feeders -- handsome and functional.

Johnny says he makes just about anything people ask him to. That includes furniture, cabinetry, wood molding, and much more. Here’s one of Johnny’s bird feeders — handsome and functional.

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.

Johnny found a way to retrofit his Woodmaster to lower the working height several inches so he could work seated in his wheelchair. He's recessed the wheels inside the cabinet so the chassis rides just a half-inch off the floor.

Johnny found a way to retrofit his Woodmaster to lower the working height several inches so he could work seated in his wheelchair. He’s recessed the wheels inside the cabinet so the chassis rides just a half-inch off the floor.

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.

Johnny can change heads in his Woodmaster without anyone's assistance. He hooked a deer hoist from the ceiling to hooks he installed in the Woodmaster's hood. Using the hoist's pulley system, he can easily raise and lower the hood for simple maintenance and tool changes. Where there's a will there's a way!

Johnny can change heads in his Woodmaster without anyone’s assistance. He hung a deer hoist from the ceiling and attached it to hooks he installed in the Woodmaster’s hood. Using the hoist’s pulley system, he can easily raise and lower the hood for simple maintenance and tool changes. Where there’s a will there’s a way!

“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.

Johnny shows off a matched pair of lamp holders he's built.

Johnny shows off a matched pair of lamp holders he’s built.

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

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One thought on “WOODWORKER OVERCOMES DISABILITY — Starts successful business & helps others

  1. I am on disability but not a wheelchair. I have right sided weakness that comes on with to much activity so I develops mild to severe tremors. I am working with vocational rehab and my love of art and music are not something they will endorse for school. I love woodworking but have little experience. I have several carved a few prices that have been gifts to family. I started my first in 1999 when I was first sick, and my last two years ago. Am looking I am looking for friendly advice and trying to get working or start business.

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