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Thread: cousin with Parkinsons wants to woodwork

  1. #1
    Join Date
    May 2007
    Fort Worth, TX

    cousin with Parkinsons wants to woodwork

    I have a cousin who lives nearby with Parkinson's. Or something like Parkinson's. My understanding is that until she dies and they look at her brain under a microscope they will not know for sure. Anyway, she has been refinishing furniture for a few months and would like to try her hand at building some. Which I think is awesome. But, well, there are issues, right?

    She wants to start off with a night stand. My dad or I would be happy to cut all the wood, but she wants to do that herself. And we are a bit hesitant to let her use our power tools.

    I'm assuming power tools are mostly right out. Especially saws. Table saws and miter saws and skill saws are tricky enough and accidents happen all the time without adding shaky hands into the mix.

    Between my dad and I we have lots of hand tools to loan her. She bought a plastic miter box the other day, but we'll loan her a good one and a good saw. But I was thinking that maybe a Japanese saw would be best? Seems like I remember they are easier to cut with because they are thinner? I don't have one, and nobody does that I know to borrow. Also would the handle be easy for her to grip, or would a pistol grip like on a regular saw be better? Do they make Japanese saws with pistol grips?

    Egg beater drill or cordless one or I was thinking maybe a drill press, since it's nice and sturdy/steady and stuff can be clamped down and if she gets the shakes it will not mess anything up?

    Anyone here have Parkinson's or know someone who does that can give some advice?



  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    falcon heights, minnesota
    good to hear that your cousin isn't letting parkinson's slow her down. i would suggest looking at the arts & crafts/craftsman/mission style of furniture. straight forward, with mortise and tenon joinery. she would have to concede the ripping and cross cutting of parts on the table saw, along with making the tenons, but, she can still glue up the table top, legs, etc., along with making the mortises (drill press with forstner bit, and cleanup with chisel), assembly and finishing. if you want, and she wants to go that way, i'll set you up with a set of plans, just let me know the dimensions.
    benedictione omnes bene

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    ABQ NM
    Mike, I met a gentleman a few years ago who had Parkinson's, and he was a very successful woodturner, specializing in segmented pieces that involved cutting of LOTS of small parts. He was a homebuilder for much of his life, so he was familiar with using power tools, but by the time I met him he was retired and the Parkinson's was pretty severe. That didn't stop him from spending most days in the shop. Interestingly, when he was at his lathe, the shaking was nearly non-existent. He joked about the fact that on the lathe, side to side shaking wasn't too bad, but forward and back shaking (spoken while moving his arm like he was stabbing someone) made things a bit trickier. Here's an example of some of his best work:

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    Regarding Japanese saws, or more specifically saws that cut on the pull stroke instead of the push, look into the Shark saws. They are inexpensive and cut well.
    When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson
    When the weird get going, they start their own forum. - Vaughn McMillan

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Apr 2010
    North of Reno, NV...middle of the desert
    My dad had Parkinson's late in life (showed up in his late 70's until he passed at almost 94). He was a carpenter by trade and always enjoyed the shop, but it did become harder and harder for him to get out there.

    I think it affected his gait more than his hands. I hardly ever saw his hands shake. I think that once a person comes to grip with what they have, they do learn their limitations and work within them. Mike, you and your dad are awesome folks to help her out.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Mountain Home, Arkansas
    I would suggest trying to dissuade her. Power or not almost everything in a wood working shop is a potential finger amputator.
    On the other hand, my church has a member who has serious Parkinsons, we have to help him move around. But, he is a wood worker. Our church is small and lacked a steeple. One day I drove by and saw him on the roof installing a nice steeple he had made. Scared the 'h' out of me better and our preacher ever did.
    And, we have a friend who was forced to retire from being a surgeon because of a parkinson-like condition. While visiting he bought an antique item and wanted to turn a handle for it. I offered to do it but he wanted to himself. He sketched his handle, I gave him basic instructions on the lathe and, with great trepidation, let him start turning. As soon as he began all the shaking stopped and he turned a beautiful handle. He had never used a lathe before. I could see his concentration and the use of his hands clearly showed the inate skill of a surgeon.
    "Folks is funny critters."

    Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too. ~Voltaire

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Austin, Texas
    I am not an expert on Parkinson's but I see several posts above where a person with Parkinson's can accomplish what they set out to do in a wood shop, knowing their limitations, whether it is building a steeple, turning a handle, cutting 7,552 pieces for an awesome segmented turning (to say nothing of the gluing and turning), or whatever. Trying to limit them to kiddie tools is not fair to someone who is smart, mature, has the desire, and knows how to manage their condition.

    SawStop is an expensive first saw, but it may be a worthwhile investment. The only woodworking accident that I have had that required medical attention in over 60 years was a chisel that slipped - the superglue didn't survive my shower later that night, and we had a house guest who put in one stitch. So in my experience, hand tools are more dangerous than power tools.

    Japanese saws are awesome, both in what they do and how expensive they are. The blade is very thin, and as noted, cuts on the pull stroke (so the blade doesn't flex during the cut). They normally have very fine teeth. So combine fine teeth and a thin blade, and those teeth have to be very hard - read brittle. Set the saw down on something metal, and you are likely to bend or break off a tooth or two. The saw can still be used until too many teeth are gone (if a tooth is bent, it will break off when you try to straighten it). I have used the Dozuki Z saw for years, and am on my third replacement blade. They do cut very fast, smooth, and easy. I haven't done it, but I bet I could cut my finger badly if I slipped. I may have to try the cheaper Shark saws mentioned above.
    Charlie Plesums, Austin Texas
    (Retired early to become a custom furnituremaker)
    Lots of my free advice at

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Schenectady, NY
    I am certainly no expert on Parkinson's disease, but I believe the tremors are generally not vigorous in nature, meaning that if you grab someone's hand they stop. I would think that tools with guides like a tablesaw and rip fence, lathe with a tool rest, etc. would in reality aid the person using the tool and help steady them. Guides, jigs, fixtures should all be beneficial to someone with this disease instead of being seen as dangerous. We have a guy in our woodworking club that has pretty significant tremors and he does just fine.

    Maybe try her in the shop and see what she is capable of. You might be surprised.
    Don Orr

    Woodturners make the World go ROUND

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    ABQ NM
    Quote Originally Posted by Don Orr View Post
    ...Maybe try her in the shop and see what she is capable of. You might be surprised.
    I think that sums it up nicely.
    When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson
    When the weird get going, they start their own forum. - Vaughn McMillan

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Plainwell, Michigan
    Use what ever safety devise that is available like the grr-ripper on the table saw and such...can't be too safe

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