I was introduced to Hermilia at a Zapatista gathering to hear Sub Comandante Marcos. She asked if she could come talk with some young men from a Zapatista community near Simojovel about a workshop in carpentry- a class, if you will. Her late husband, Alejandro, had spoken in glowing terms to her of my shop and work at Syjac. A week after our meeting she came with six young men from a community called "Mercedes" about 5 kilometers from Simojovel. At that meeting we explored the problems of a small cooperative that has lots of wood, lots of will and no money with few tools. At that time, the group had been working at building doors and windows for the Caracol at Oventic, as volunteers. We explored the idea of a workshop through Syjac, they wrote a proposal and later met with Sabas Cruz to present said proposal. The following week, David Wiley, a friend from Omaha, came for a visit. With him, Araceli and I traveled to the Mercedes community to meet with the cooperative folks. David subsequently donated the money for their food and transportation while Dr. Raymundo Sanchez of Cidesci was kind enough to extend hospitality at the school for their housing.


I started the week on instruction with an outline of each days activities (see attached). As we started I noticed that they had a very short attention span for any information in the theoretical without a practical application. So, I shifted the prepared outline to include more practical uses as we talked about the different kinds of woods (Cedar is softer but has a clear grain, while cypress works well for strength, etc.) We spoke of the various hand tools as I dealt with aspects of maintenance (i.e. keep your chisels sharp or it is much more work and you ruin the piece) showing them the various uses of the various saws while they each cut pieces of wood with the different kinds of saws. By the second day we started working with the wood by building small projects which they could reproduce in their shop with the limited tools they possessed.

The first afternoon we visited a local wood shop that does only planing. That is, they talked to Domingo, the owner, as he explained that he too started as a simple carpenter but got the money to buy a planer and now does all his work only in planing for other carpenters.

Continuing with the work of the small projects, Wednesday through Friday, each of the participants had to use a number of different electrical tools to complete each stage of their project. One man, Sebastian, had to learn the table saw so all gathered round and cut pieces. He later had to cut cross-cut pieces to form his project so we all gathered around the power miter to learn those cuts. Another wanted to sand with the electrical sanders so all gathered to practice on a belt sander and later with an orbital unit.

The second day the group went to visit the shop of Javier (el guero) who runs a general furniture shop but also works with a lathe. In his slow times, when Javier doesn't have clients for his furniture, he turns pieces for other carpenters. While we were there, three different carpenters came in to order Bannister parts, legs for a bed, and finally, legs for an ornate table.

The third day, Wednesday, was spent on working and finishing some of the projects. The group helped others who were not finished (i.e. learning to work together.) We also spoke at length about recycling wood;about using mop handles cut into small pieces for a coat rack; using small pieces from a plank for making small useful objects; etc.

Thursday was like Wednesday with more projects finished and started, as well. By the end of the day Thursday, every student had learned all the electrical tools in the shop and could run them independently.

Thursday afternoon we visited the people of Islam and their wood store with tools along with their wood shop. Very interesting for everyone to see that though the Muslims had all the tools needed for anything in their shop they had no master carpenter so the level of their woodworking was very crude. However, at the store, the Muslims were happy to explain their manner of selling tools. That is, they did not just sell the tool but took it to where it was to be installed, set it up and gave instruction in it's use. If the new buyer wanted more instruction, it was possible to come to the workshop and learn more basic instruction.

On Friday, all of the participants had finished the actual construction of their projects but had, additionally, made everything ready for different finishes. We spent the day with the uses of a sealer, polyurethane, painting, etc. All got to paint with the various substances to understand why one would use one over the other. Finally, the wood cutting boards that they had made for food were finished with vegetable oil.

In the afternoon of Friday, all of us went to the woodshop of Don Augusto in the barrio of San Ramone where they could see a full workshop at work. On the lower level, Don Augusto has the young men planing and edging the rough cut wood. When they have mastered the lower level tools they can start working upstairs with the finish carpenters (usually 2 or 3 years.) Upstairs, the fine cuts, the assembly, the final sanding is finished. All of the final finish (polyurethane, etc.) is done in a separate area next door so that no dust will enter the finish.

On Saturday we met for three hours to talk about the work, the week, and to finish up the last of the painting. The general effort was that they now had some options to make some money but also wanted to expand their shop with various tools to work better. I suggested that they apply to the Zapatista group leaders to get a planer for their shop which would benefit both the communal and individual effort. We also spoke about having them do work for commercial purposes in Cedar for larger projects where they would get paid in a combination of tools and money so that they might get a lathe. Finally, we made arrangements for them to work for a month on some of the small projects and to discuss how they would set up their shop. At the end of that month, I will come and visit to make a kind of assessment and help them lay out their basic shop.

-Richard Flamer