Another Look at the Wheelchair Workshop

When retired firefighter and mountain rescue volunteer Dave Clarke was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease) in 2018, he quickly realized that life as he knew it would change dramatically as his disease progressed. Once an avid skier and cyclist, Dave said his balance, gait and speech have mostly been affected so far. Losing function in his legs caused him to reconsider a long-postponed hobby: woodworking.

We asked Dave to take a look at an article Woodcraft Magazine published in Issue 44 by Pete Stephano – “The Wheelchair Woodworker Shop” – to see if he felt that the recommendations were still relevant and if he had any other advice for folks wanting to set up a workshop with modifications.


Dave begins by saying he enjoyed the article and found it to be informative. “But I would add a few things,” he said.

#1 - “I believe that the measurements listed for accessibility are standard UBC and ADA dimensions for commercial buildings. They’re meant to accommodate people with a variety of disabilities as well as a variety of wheelchairs. But I think it’s unlikely that any one woodworker would need all of the accommodations. So I would say use them as a starting point and measure things like how much room is actually needed to turn or how high can the person reach.”   

#2 – “The article has plans for building mobile tool stands, but if someone is just setting up a shop, how do you build them? It seems to me that there are a lot more mobile tool bases and workbench casters in Woodcraft’s catalog than ever before so why not start with them? This would also allow a bit of a ‘fudge factor’ for the recommended dimensions for wheelchair accessibility since a tool could be moved out of the way to allow easier access to another tool or shop space.”

#3 – “The greatest difficulty I have is moving workpieces and materials around the shop.  I’m lucky to have a power chair so I can move with only one hand. Manual chair users obviously need both hands.  Some kind of material handling system should be incorporated early in the design process. Perhaps a cart or roller system or something else to accommodate the woodworker’s particular disability.”

#4 – Dave’s final piece of advice for creating a safe and effective working environment for physical limitations: “Consult with an occupational therapist. They are the experts at solving these problems.”


What advice would you offer for someone facing similar circumstances, maybe someone who would like to be out in their shop again, but they aren’t sure where to start?

Dave:  “Pick a project that’s small, quick, and at the easy end of their skill level and just get into their shop and spend time working. For me, I am still discovering new limitations and having to figure out how to solve the problem. When things turn out well that is pretty satisfying. It’s also similar to problem solving in do I do this task with the tools that I have at hand? So my guess (and hope) is that people who enjoy woodworking are well equipped to accept the challenge of woodworking with a disability. There are plenty of opportunities for frustration along the way but there are also great rewards to be earned when they overcome the limitations of their disability. They should keep their eye on that prize.”

Great insights, Dave!


Read more about Dave and his journey back into woodworking in this Woodworking Adventures blog, “Woodworking: A Silver Lining in My ALS Cloud.

You can also find out how Mike Dils, who considered woodworking to be his best therapy, adapted his workshop in “It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over.”

We hope you’ll be inspired!

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