The Heart of a Community

FSCIRC first came to know Adam Hood when he was initially injured and received his inpatient rehabilitation at Tampa General Hospital.  Adam spent a lot of time in the Resource Center asking questions and checking out material to learn more about his injury and the resources available to help him live more independently.  He learned to drive fairly quickly after discharge and became a regular at the support group.  We’ve seen many new injuries over the years and it’s always amazing to see someone grow from a grieving newbie to a well-adjusted, enthusiastic individual who’s happy and making plans for the future.  Well done Mr. Hood!

 

See a video of Adam with his new Independence lathe.

 

Also check out his website at www.adamhoodstudios.com to see his work!

 

 

 

The Heart of a Community: The Story of Adam Hood
Ed Brannon and Bob Varner
 

Adam Hood is 29 years old, in a wheelchair, and grateful to be alive.  When he was 24, an age when young men feel immortal, he took risks.  Then, on April 2, 2007, while riding home from work on his motorcycle, he took one risk too many.  He lost control, wrecking his cycle and his body. The accident damaged his spinal cord; he now uses a wheelchair.  But Adam feels lucky to be alive.  This is his story.  It is a story about individual recovery and redemption, but it is also an important story about community - our community - the community of wood turners.

 

Growing up, Adam gravitated to extreme sports - he became a competitive wake boarder and stunt motorcycle rider.  He was also on the wrong path.  “I was someone who hung with the wrong people, did the wrong things, and acted the wrong way,” he recalls.  At work, he was a welder, making things that people used.  Steve Hood, Adam’s father, is a cabinetmaker with the Polk County School Board.  Like his father, Adam chose a life in the trades over one in the office.  He loved working with his hands.  The change to his body happened in a frightful instant.  The change to his emotions did not.  “Lying in my hospital bed feeling depressed, I came to realize this is not helping.  I needed to move on,” he said.  What happened was a tragedy - one we can all understand.  But if he had not embraced his loss, it would have been a much greater one.  He was alive and had the love of his family.  “I do not know why Adam accepted his injury so quickly, but he did.  He asked for a wheelchair to get on with his life,” said his father.  A new life began.  Adam’s email tag, wheelin24-7, tells it all.    

 

In May of 2010, two years after the accident, Steve Hood returned from an auction with an old high school shop lathe - a floor mounted Rockwell.  He thought he bought it for himself, but right away Adam said, “Pops, I want to learn how to use that.”   The lathe has a fixed height, so Adam had to use his power chair to lift himself up.  It was awkward, but he could do it.  Adam then found a used Craftsman tabletop lathe in the want ads.  “I paid forty bucks,” he said.  Cheap.  Maybe this would be easier to use than the Rockwell.  Steve built a stand allowing Adam to turn from his wheelchair.  It required body positions and a range of moves that most turners would find exhausting.  However, it worked, and Adam became infected with woodturning - the same virus that infects us all. You remember.  It starts with a mild fever, and then moves on to an obsession with tool catalogs.  You dream at night about what you want but cannot afford, and you end up spending every free minute in your shop.

 

Adam and his new bride, Amanda, decided to use their limited resources to get a new Jet Mini lathe.  Steve talked the family into chipping in for Adam’s Christmas present - a chuck and a few tools to go with it.  Steve built Adam another table, an improved version.  Adam learned how to turn by sitting sideways on the bed and leaning over the lathe in order to get access to the inside of objects.  He began turning goblets and small bowls and the other usual small turned items - bottle stoppers, pens, and toothpick holders - to name a few.  A Jet Mini is a great little lathe, but is limited in size and capability.   Steve continued solving logistical problems for Adam.  He built a workbench and mounted a small Delta band saw.  The old gouges (chisels having a partly cylindrical blade with the bevel on either the concave or the convex side) still worked, but Adam was having his share of other challenges - bad ergonomics, limited tools, and the frustration of learning on his own.  Nevertheless, he was hooked!  No turning back (no pun intended).

 

Safety and ergonomics are important for all wood turners, but are critical for anyone with a disability.  The stakes go up.  People in wheelchairs can develop real shoulder and elbow problems later in life.  At 29, Adam can get away with leaning and reaching and elbows flying.  But it takes a toll.  Adam and Steve began attending Chapter meetings of the Woodturners of Polk County.  Like many Chapter meetings, they begin with show-and-tell.  Adam brought a few goblets and small bowls with him.  A little catch here and there, but a start.  When he showed his work, everyone could see it meant something to him.  He described the problems he was having using his lathe, and the difficulty in getting the correct angles with his bowl gouge.  

 

Ed Brannon, a winter “snowbird” Chapter member, happened to be sitting next to Adam that first meeting.  Ed turned to Adam and noted, “You know Adam, they make lathes for seated turners.”  But, given Adam’s financial situation, a “sit down” lathe was beyond his wildest dreams.  Adam and Amanda were living with his parents in Lakeland, Florida.  Like any young couple they dreamed of having a home of their own, so spending $6,000 for woodturning equipment seemed like a farfetched fantasy.

 

Clearly, Adam had a growing passion for woodturning.  People who “own” their disability, tend to do better and adapt better.  Remembering this, Ed called his friend David Ellsworth for advice.  David, who most woodturners know, lives in Quakertown, Pennsylvania with his wife, noted bead artist Wendy Ellsworth.  “Let’s start by getting Adam a membership to AAW,” David replied.  Ed approached a foundation in his hometown of Milford, Pennsylvania to discuss Adam’s situation.  Although the foundation did not provide grants to anyone outside of the local community, a week later Adam Hood received a check for $1,000.  The story had traction.  Adam was elated.  Out came the catalogs.  This was a huge amount of money, Adam thought.

 

Adam and Steve began to dream.  They dared to look at lathes designed for people who turn from a seated position.  Steve had the idea to place wood wedges to “tilt” Adam’s Jet mini 30 degrees.  Adam bought a grinder and some gouges (learning in the process how fast you can spend $1,000).  Ellsworth donated one of his sharpening jigs.  Don Geiger, the Florida guru of gouge sharpening, gave Adam a few of his special tools and taught him how to properly sharpen them.  Al Hockenbery donated a few used but serviceable gouges - AND much needed instruction.  Local Chapter members Bob Varner, David Scully, and Ted Smith began mentoring Adam and helping him develop his skills.  Adam was now wheelin’ down hill.

 

David Ellsworth stayed involved.  He believed he might interest Brent English of Robust Tools, LLC, in modifying one of the Robust lathes to suit Adam - and anyone else with a disability.  After a few calls and 6 months of study and design, the prototype plans were ready to share.  The discussion moved back and forth between Adam, Brent and David, and others with disabilities.  Step by step, it was tweaked and modified so that it could be approached from the side for spindles, but also from the end for bowls and hollow forms.  Most of all it needed to be ergonomically functional for a seated turner. The design was set, and production of the first Robust Independence version of the popular Liberty model was ready to go.  It promised to be a full size 16” capacity powerful lathe that could be used either seated or standing - with options for maneuvering and turning everything from spindles to hollow forms.  It would be a leap forward in lathe design and serve a new constituency of wood turners - not just people who needed to sit, but also those who may want to sit and stand as well as turn off the end of the lathe - without sacrificing versatility and capacity.

 

The new Independence lathe arrived in March, 2012, just under two years from the day Adam first tried out that floor mounted Rockwell.  Adam felt like a kid on Christmas morning - with Santa Claus on steroids.  A dream he never dared to dream had come true.  Since its arrival, his family has had to pry him off it each night to come to dinner.   Every day is a learning experience.  Each piece is an improvement over the last.  Maybe this was the life waiting for him. 

 

Adam has also become a leader in his community by initiating a support group, a friends group really, for people with disabilities.  He calls it the “Gimps Night Out,” and they are becoming a force to reckon with.  “When you make a reservation at a restaurant and 15 people roll in with their wheelchairs and significant others, people take notice,” Adam exclaimed.  Our guess is this is only the beginning.

 

Other community initiatives have been planted as well. Woodturners of Polk County established a project to assist Adam and others with disabilities.  Adam is reaching out to the Veterans Administration.  He volunteers at the local Veteran’s Hospital.  Other members started the Freedom Pen Project to make pens for active military.   Who knows how many other ideas will flourish in how many other places?  

 

At a recent Chapter meeting we asked Adam about his dreams.  “I want to build a successful business in woodturning, Adam Hood Studios.  I need to work with my hands.   My passions in life are my wife Amanda and woodturning.  I want to help others - either fully-abled or not - learn and enjoy woodturning.  Woodturning has changed my life, and this new lathe is giving me the capacity to expand my work.”  Looking ahead five years, he said, “I see myself conducting demonstrations at shows, perfecting my skills, and growing as a woodturner.  All I need to do is get over my fear of public speaking!”  He grinned, paused and then added, “I am struggling with the words to thank everyone who has done so much for me and my family.”     

 

Steve sees this as the beginning of a new profession and a new life for his son.  They are looking for a used enclosed trailer, and they are thinking about how to set up for the Florida craft show circuit.  More ideas keep coming each day.  This story started with a local AAW Chapter deciding to help one of its members.  As it happens, the effort has morphed into something more.  We think it is about the woodturning, and it is.  But maybe it is much more than we think.

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