Woodworking Machines Accessible for Everyone

Some interesting information crossed my desk this past week. General International is introducing a series of tools, known as “Access by General,” designed specifically for wheelchair users and individuals with limited mobility. The issue of properly sized and proportionally correct tools was brought to my attention before by non-wheelchair-bound women (and some men) who attend woodworking classes. Some are unable to reach past the table saw blade or feel they need to be taller to effectively use the band saw. These tools could be the answer for many woodworkers, not just those restricted to wheelchairs.
The “Access by  General” line, all made in Canada at this time, includes the mainstay of tools in a woodworking shop. A table saw, jointer, band saw, drill press and lathe are the beginning of the line, with promises for additional tool releases during 2008 , made in both Canada and overseas.

The line will be available in stores later this fall; prices are expected to be released by the end of October.

To gain a better understanding of how changes in the table heights and overall dimensions affect a wheelchair user, I adjusted my desk chair to match a wheelchair height (19″) and positioned myself at four of the five tools. (The lathe escaped my scrutiny , I don’t turn much).

I began at the jointer. The machine in the Popular Woodworking shop has a table height of 30″ while the Access jointer is listed at 28″. I can tell you that the 2″ differential could make a difference. Seated, I was uncomfortable using our jointer for milling rough lumber. While I was still adequately above the board, I felt much less secure pushing forward while holding the piece to the bed.

Next, I rolled my chair over to our table saw. Here I found a substantial difference. Our saw is 34″ tall and the “Access” saw tops out at 29″. I felt very out of control ripping a piece of stock. Not only was I pushing directly at the blade, I could not reach past the blade to finish the cut. Push sticks were required and I was cutting a 6″ wide board (generally this would be of no concern).

Sitting at the drill press seemed no big deal. I could reach the handles just fine. I was within the standard front-reach measurements specified by the Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility guidelines. But, our drill press overall height is 68″ and the “Access” press is only 57 1/2″ tall. The 10-1/2″ difference would make things much more easy to use from a seated position.

Using our band saw while seated was the most eye opening experience, to say the least. As I sat in the chair, I looked directly at the table edge of our Grizzly G0555X. The table height is 44-1/2″.

The “Access” band saw has a table height of 32-5/8″. That amount is astounding and would make the band saw so much easier to use -not to mention safer.

I applaud General for the effort to produce tools for a specific audience. I also think there will be additional users who would just feel more comfortable using machines that better fit their body structures.

If this is an issue or concern of yours, leave a comment so we can see if General in on course with the “Access by General” line of tools. When the prices are released and further information is in hand, I’ll update this entry with the numbers.

, Glen D. Huey

3 thoughts on “Woodworking Machines Accessible for Everyone

  1. Dwight Shirey

    Hi Glen,
    Megan sent me to your blog just today and I couldn’t wait to comment. I was a professional, master cabinetmaker, owned the shop where I spent most waking hours, taught apprentices, and made what seems now like a foolish statement "I’ll never be out of work as long as I’ve got a strong back".

    Then came the accident and the spinal cord injury, and the wheelchair for the rest of my days. My shop was sold since the neurologist told me I would probably have to give up woodworking. Yea, right! But in the meantime we moved from our 4 level ranch to a much smaller place close to the grandkids (hey, if you gotta move anyhow …) with a 1 1/2 car garage which I declared in no uncertain terms was my new shop. When sawdust is in your blood, you simply gotta build something!

    But, as I mentioned to Megan, after a couple years of recovery and rehab, I discovered that my first task back in my shop was a two month stint building roller stands for the smaller, benchtop style tools I waa forced to buy in 2004. (mostly Delta- thankfully they make a decent line of these kinds of tools).

    Now to the meat of my writing to you – thank you for the blog where you gave credence and added dignity to the lives to all the woodworkers whose lives have been altered by disease, injury, or just plain age. I believe an article in the magazine would be of great benefit to more people than you know. I have already given my plans and ideas for the roll out bases, as well as roll around tool caddies and my easily movable assembly table to quite a few other "broken" woodworkers who thought they could never get back in their shops and it has literally changed the lives of a couple of them. The blog is nice, but I think the concept needs to get out to a larger audience. I wrote a simple one page article for an international church publication about access to churches and it recieved thousands of responses – I can only wonder how many good men and women have given up hope that they will ever smell the sawdust again when the tools are now available to them. Hey, I pay attention to these kinds of things and if it weren’t for Megan I would never have known what was out there.

    Oooops, I have draggled on long enough. Thanks again.

  2. Larry Arnold

    Glen, I was glad to see your post about the Access by General tools. I am a wheelchair user that enjoys woodworking. I’ve seen lots of changes in the time I’ve ridden wheels,(34 years). It’s great to see a company address this issue. In my shop I’ve got regular woodworking equipment mounted on lower stands. I use a contractor table saw, because it’s easy to lower one. I can’t wait for the Saw Stop contractor saw to come out, because of the saftey issues, ie. leaning over the table. Guess I’ve made do for so long by altering regular machine tools to fit me, I have to wonder if there will be a big enough market for General to keep the tools affordable, hope they can, in the meantime I’m planning a new workbench and may be asking your editor Chris Schwarz a few questions. Thanks for the info.
    Larry Arnold

  3. Michael Rogen

    Glen,
    Thank you for an article that has been way past due. Also to General for looking at a group of people who come from every walk of life and potentially fulfilling a need that until now has been all but non-existant.
    I suffer from ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease which it is better known as, and my main problems are standing for any length of time and the use of the fine motor skills that control what my hands can and more precisely cannot do.
    Although I’m not in a wheelchair yet the liklihood of me being in one is probably just a matter of time, so my interest in General’s machines is immediate. I currently have a Jet bandsaw and I do struggle with it whenever my legs are too tired to work at the machine safely. If I had one of General’s new bandsaws I would be able to use it more, resulting in a more pleasurable day all around. Do I hear someone say trade in?
    My woodworking quality of life as well as my regular quality of life could only improve over what it is now. I dream of being able to use a tablesaw that is made for someone with my disability. If General ever has a trade in plan for equipment, I’d gladly give up my Jet band saw for a properly outfitted General.
    This could be the begining of a beautiful relationship. Thanks for bringing this story out to the public, I know I will be following what General does with this idea very closely.

    Michael Rogen

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