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Woodworking for the Elderly

With older men and women, especially seniors, suitable activities can sometimes seem so scarce. We don’t want them to just spend their daily life alone in their rooms, without any engaging activity or a social group they could mingle with. It’s vital for seniors to enjoy their lives through a fun activity that cannot stress their bodies too much, but challenge their minds so that they continue to keep their brains and bodies sharp. This way, they can fully enjoy their senior life while being healthier and happier.

Woodworking… for seniors?

There are a lot of options to choose from when it comes to elderly activities. From board games, dance lessons, knitting, and painting, to tennis, golf, swimming, camping, and exercise, it seems like there are really common activities that the elderly enjoy most, even the more adventurous ones. This brings us to what this article is all about: woodworking as a great activity for seniors.

It might be an odd idea for some, but woodworking is the perfect activity to pique the interest of the seniors, challenge their minds, strengthen their bodies, give opportunities for them to socialize, and even give them a sense of accomplishment and ownership for whatever wood piece they would create. Some elder facilities have woodworking as one of their programs, and they have seen great results from all who have joined it. One of them is Kerby Centre, a non-profit facility in Calgary, Alberta that assists older adults so they can have enhanced lives.

 

Kerby Centre’s Woodworking Program

The Kerby Centre has a workshop where elders in the facility can enjoy woodworking activities. We have contacted Kerby Centre and interviewed them about their woodworking program.

Kerby Centre logo

Q: How did the woodworking program started in Kerby Centre and what was the inspiration behind it?

A: Our woodworking program was one of the original areas of the center when it was founded in the 1970s. From the 1974 Annual Report: “Carpentry – Students availed themselves of expert instruction to produce a wide range of end products from birdhouses to kitchen cabinets. Ladies were great achievers in this class. Supervision was available for persons wishing to use the facilities of the carpentry shop outside instruction hours.”

Q: Can you give us an idea of the main activities of the woodworking program?

A: The woodworking shop has two expected outcomes:

The first is to provide a woodworking hobby shop for men and women of any age to have the opportunity to continue their passions and work on personal projects of any sort. Kerby Centre not only provides the equipment and maintenance of it but also provides a place where users can find commonality and friendship in the new people they meet. The woodworking program creates social inclusion in addition to magnificent woodworking projects.

The second main activity of the woodshop program is to provide opportunities for volunteerism. Other than upper management administration, the woodshop is completely run by volunteer monitors. The monitors carry multiple roles within the shop as they oversee the day to day management, teach people how to use machines safely and efficiently, offer advice and assistance when asked, and complete multiple projects for the greater building and its maintenance department.

It’s amazing to know that the carpentry and woodworking program of the Centre has existed for so long. It means that there is beneficial stuff about the program that helped and is still helping the elders have an enjoyable life.

 

Benefits of Woodworking to Elders

Seeing the vision of Kerby Centre for the woodworking program, we know exactly that woodworking for elderly isn’t just another activity to fill their day—it is an activity that brings the seniors together and encourages volunteerism. They said, “The amount of pride the volunteers take in their woodshop is amazing.” We asked them a bit more about the program’s benefits to the seniors.

image of old person woodworking

Q: What do you think are the benefits of the program to the seniors residing in your retirement facility?

A: The greatest benefit to the program is the social aspect. Nearly all those who venture beyond the woodshop door are greeted with a friendly smile, a warm ‘hello’, or a good joke. Conversations are never dull and laughs are always heard up and down the hall outside. Having the opportunity to engage in such a delightful social atmosphere, while being able to physically continue your passion for woodworking is a benefit we all hope to have as we age.

Q: Would you recommend a woodworking program to other elder facilities and retirement homes?

A: Of course we would recommend the woodworking program. We find the woodshop as one of our top program areas to attract men, specifically. Although we do have many women that use the woodshop as well, we find men seem to make their ‘den’. Administering a program like a woodshop, however, does carry a lot of risks. We often consider the risk of injury and safety concerns, risk of equipment failure, and risk of funding as some of our top areas of concern in the woodshop.

 

Senior Woodworkers

John’s Passion for Helping Others through Woodworking

Volunteer John Gangon on the shop

There are also elder individuals that find woodworking a great hobby at their age. Whether they have been doing woodwork since they were younger or they have just started, woodworking allows them to express their creativity and create something with their hands. One example is John Gagnon, a volunteer and a participant in Kerby Centre’s woodworking shop for 5 years now.

John had a 23-year career in cabinet making before he joined as a volunteer. He has also been doing woodworking from age 15. Now, he happily does his woodworking on the Centre’s workshop while he helps in monitoring the safety of the other elders there. When asked why he volunteers for Kerby Centre and what he gets from it, John answered:

John: I decided to continue volunteering and Kerby is the best place. I wanted to continue my trade. It gives me satisfaction in doing something and helping others.

John has been creating small reindeer pieces in Kerby Centre for the last 3 years and even had a total of 195 reindeer sales in 2018 with the help of other volunteers. It was his way of helping the center, as all the proceeds of the sales went to Kerby. According to him, “I like helping people with projects that save them money.” He’s been making frames for Kerby Centre’s art program students to help them save in frame costs.

 

Edwin’s Woodworking Pieces for Others – Edwin Moor

Not only those who have access to a huge workshop, like John, are interested in doing woodworking as a hobby during their senior years. Edwin Moor, for instance, does woodworking in his workshop. Although he isn’t immersed socially while doing woodwork like the elders in Kerby Centre, he still benefits from the good that woodworking does to him. We also asked him a few questions to we can get to know him better.

Q: When did you start doing woodwork? How were you introduced to it?
A: At my school, you had to have a mechanical drawing before you could take a shop class. I was in the seventh grade when I took it. I also made a little toolbox (still have it). I would have been 13.

Q: What makes you continue woodworking at this age?
A: I have used my woodworking all my life, from doing trim in houses to building things. I’m 72 and finally have the time to make things for people (most I give away). The look on people’s faces when they get the things that I make [is priceless].  I’m starting on this year’s (2018) Christmas now.

six bandsaw boxes by Edwin

 

Q: What are some of the best woodworking benefits you think would help seniors like you?
A:
I have PTSD and I’m finding that even though I work at woodworking, I relax. For anyone my age or younger, there is a sense of value on the things that you make.  It’s also the friends that you make.

Q: Among all the pieces you have created, which one is your most favorite and why?
A: Wow tough question. I made a couch table out of a 2-inch walnut with a live edge, it came out beautiful and is in my living room. I enjoy making a band saw boxes, you’ve seen only a couple of the many that I have made and given as gifts.

Q: Would you recommend woodworking for other seniors like you?
A: I would tell any senior or anyone else that it is a great hobby. It can be expensive, but I have accumulated my tools over many years. The look on people’s faces when you give them something or they get to see some of your work is awesome. Woodworking will teach your patience and as I said, some friends are into woodworking or you can just show others your pictures or the pieces.

Both John and Edwin have amazing and inspiring stories to share about their woodworking craft. While one of them has a professional background on woodworking and the other does not, we see that in the core of their craft is the intention to help and make others happy. They also both have a sense of pride in what they do, especially as they can still do woodwork even when they are in their senior years. Both of them are proofs that woodworking can do so much more for the elderly. And with Edwin mentioning his PTSD, it’s just important to know that woodworking can also help anyone, elders or not, in their struggles with different mental issues like PTSD or autism.

 

Conclusion

While many wouldn’t always ponder about the elderly, especially about woodworking as their hobby, we hope this article encouraged you to be more involved in the elderly’s lives. We’re glad to have encountered Kerby Centre, John, and Edwin and their love for woodworking. They have expanded our views on woodworking—about who can do it, what it can bring to people of old age, and what the essence of woodworking is for those who do it with passion and purpose.

If you’d like to read more inspiring stories like this one, head out to our interviews with women woodworkers and a former drug user whose life was changed by woodworking.

Robert

Robert Johnson is a woodworker who takes joy in sharing his passion for creating to the rest of the world. His brainchild, Sawinery, allowed him to do so as well as connect with other craftsmen and women. He has since built an enviable workshop for himself and an equally impressive online accomplishment: an extensive resource site serving old timers and novices alike.
Robert

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