If you are anything like me, advancing RA stole away the hobbies I have loved for many, many years. I have been a woodworker and crafter for nearly 30 years, building everything from toys to an addition on our home. The DX of RA and the aggressiveness of my case, not to mention the depression that came with it all, caused me to shutter my work shop and leave it in moth balls for nearly a year. I poked around in it a bit now and then, but really did nothing. Finally one day I had had enough of RA and decided to take my life back. I rearranged my shop to make it easier for me to use and started looking into tools and what not that I could safely use. I am hoping this post will help you to start a hobby up, or to post how you have overcame some of the obstacles we face with this disease. I could not be happier having saw dust flying again and making people happy with hand made gifts.
As I had mentioned in an earlier post, some large tools I decided were just not going to be safe for numb fingers and painful hands. You would have to decided for yourself what is safe and what is not, I tried to be very honest with myself, and it was hard as I had to give up some tools that were near and dear to me. I did however give them to friends, so I know they are going to have a good home and be used as they were intended. Another idea would be to sell them, making some side money to refit your shop or craft area with new items you can use with ease.
I decided to use my shop and tool to make toys for the neighborhood kids, there is no shortage of those, and they are always eager to get a new toy
Some tools I had to reconfigure to make them easier to use. Its not just a case of making the area wide enough to allow a wheelchair through, you have to be able to use the tools to make whatever you are planning to do. Its not like you can just Google “Woodworking tools for people with RA” and supply your crafting needs! My friends and I came up with some pretty good ideas just the same.
Shopping at some stores you can find items that will help you a great deal. At Sears for instance (I prefer Craftsman Tools) you can find Screwdrivers with chunky foam handles, you squeeze the foam and you can turn the screwdriver, release your grip and the handle spins freely! Works great! I look for chisels, hammers, pliers etc with chunky handles that are easier for me to use. If you cannot find these, however, I have another idea! I found that if you can get some Underground Wire Connectors from a supply store, these are pliable rubber tubes with a stiff core of hard plastic. You put the handle of the tool in the core, then slowly pull the core out, as it unravels it lets the rubber shrink around the handle, leaving you with a soft chunky rubber handle! They can be cut to fit and come in various widths to fit anything from a plier set to a garden rake. These are normally used to connect wires from the Power Company underground. If you cannot get a supply of these (my buddy works for the electric company…wink wink, nod nod) another good substitute is good old Duct Tape!!! Wind it around the handle until its the thickness you want and there you go, nice big soft handle! I have been able to buy hobby knife kits, putty knives, and what not with large handles included, so look around and see whats out there, you may be surprised! Lowe’s has kits of tools now that come with one chunky handle and many interchangeable tools that fit it, everything from a hammer head, to nut drivers. Another great resource for me was Woodcraft.com they have a wide variety of all sorts of tools you can search through.
I also like to use a Dremel tool, this makes sanding, cutting and even forming wood items much easier. I bought a Dremel tool stand that holds the tool for me, I simply set it to the angle I want and move the wood through it, you can also hang the dremel from it and use a extension pc to hold the bit. This makes it much easier to control as it is virtually weightless. Along the same lines are the new Lithium Ion mini power tools many companies have available now. I have a Skil 10v, Craftsman 4v and Kobalt 3v drills that are priceless for installing screws or removing them. Another great find was a new saw on the market from Rockler called a Bladerunner. Very stable, yet light enough to haul around. It also has a wall mount bracket to keep it in one place, these are available at Lowes or online and it was a great investment!
I also made sure I am organized, items I use a lot are all at arms reach, nothing too high or too low. I moved power outlets to make them easier to reach as well. I added several walls of peg board to get my tools OUT of tool boxes and on the wall where I can easily see and reach them when needed. I also put rubberized padding on the floor, you can get these tiles at most any hardware store now and it really helps with my sore feet on the hard concrete floor.
All of this took a long time to do, and it was not super cheap to do. BUT, in the end, it gave me back my wood shop! RA will not take it from me again, I may have to adapt again, and if so I will! If you have a hobby or craft you like to do and have lost the ability, take a look at what you COULD do, sometimes its just a matter of moving things around and looking at it from another perspective. I could not be happier in my wood shop now, and the neighbor kids are happy as well! I just got a new “order” for a wood gun, very popular with the boys, I need to get cracking on it. Please let us know what hobbies you have and how you are adapting to them due to RA. :)
I added a few pics of the toys I have been making!