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.