A Tools for Opportunity success story: Mauricio Calderon

Mauricio lives in Caluco, El Salvador and is one of the first carpenters to receive support from Tools for Opportunity. He is very skillful and has work year round. Many people from all over Caluco – and even from neighboring communities – ask Mauricio for various projects. He is truly a model of Tools for Opportunity’s vision, as he has raised the quality of his work and living standards. He welcomes anyone that wishes to learn carpentry into his shop and is constantly improving the quality of his work. Pictured are two recent doors he made for himself – he recently expanded his home – out of conacaste and cedar.


He has also made wooden garden chairs from pallets. He says these chairs are very popular and people are asking for them.


Quick Glimpse 5: Last day of training

Our first day at the PALISAL saw mill, the carpenters impressed us with their knowledge, so much so that we got through a day and a half of training in one day! So during our second day, we decided to let them build a router table they could keep. The plans Tools for Opportunity provided are for a table about the size you saw in the previous post. Because they knew they would be using this table, and lumber availability at a saw mill is not a problem, they decided to super-size it to match the table saw around which they gathered to discuss their plan.


As instructor, I had the easiest role of all: stay out of their way. I occasionally answered a question about tool operation, offered safety pointers, or provided a tip on a procedure. They ended up producing a sturdy, useful tool that should serve them for years to come. While I didn’t get a photo of the finished table on my camera, this shot gives you an idea of how big it became!


While the router table was being built, TFO board member Dale Schmitz worked with Soraya Duron, an administrator at the mill, organizing the tools provided by TFO and our donors in the back room of the workshop. On the floor on the left of the second photo, you’ll see the shelves the carpenters built during our training.



After the finishing touches were placed on the router table and the tools stowed, we all gathered in the mill offices. Our newly trained carpenters signed agreements to provide community service, mentor another carpenter, and plant 5 trees.


Discussion followed about opportunities and ideas for future training, and finally, it was back into the van for the drive back to Gracias. Friday was a travel day back to San Salvador. Saturday Gene and I said our goodbyes to the indispensable Guillermo and Isaac, and flew back to Des Moines.

These posts have been called Quick Glimpses because I hope they give a peek into the day-to-day work TFO does in Central America. I hope in my next post to provide some insights to how we are making a difference, and how your support makes it possible.

Quick Glimpse 4: The PALISAL sawmill

Wednesday took us about an hour down the highway to the village of Yamaranguila and the PALISAL cooperative sawmill . 40 owner/members operate the mill, processing trees primarily from their own properties.


The coop built a new structure in anticipation of our visit. It served as our training area and will continue to be used as a shop for construction of furniture and other items, using tools provided by generous Tools for Opportunity donors.


Our students at the Colosuca school were in their teens and twenties. Here at PALISAL, we had older students, from their twenties on up. Because they were members of the coop, all had experience working machinery and construction of some sort. Our training introduced them to new tools and methods. One carpenter, Fausto (in the purple shirt, below), had spent a year in the US working construction and in our class stepped into a leadership role that kept the class moving at a brisk pace. Our first task was introducing them to the operation of a portable planer, used to smooth the faces of a board and bring it to a consistent thickness.


However as we fed in the freshly milled lumber, the planer began to struggle to pull the boards through. Gene and I were puzzled. The carpenters persuaded us to use diesel fuel to clean the rollers and cutting knives, removing the pitch and sap that had built up on them, and as a result the planer operated like new (which is good, because it IS new!).

This incident also highlights an issue facing these carpenters. Woodworkers would prefer to have dried lumber to work with; about 10% moisture content is ideal. The wood used in Central America is freshly cut, which means a moisture content of 40% or even more. The wood will dry over time, but it shrinks and often twists as it does. Imagine what happens to a table or chair as wet wood dries. However, the carpenters can’t afford to buy lumber and then let it sit unused for several months while it dries before turning into something they can sell. We discussed the possibility of building solar kilns to help speed drying. This may be an area where Tools for Opportunity can provide assistance in the future.

Back in class, our carpenters absorbed lessons on the use of the Kreg Jig, router table, and table saw. In the photo below Jose Reyes, a skilled hand-tool carpenter, gets his first exposure to a new power tool, the router table. The second photo below shows some of Jose’s handmade molding planes he uses to accomplish the same type of work by hand. Again, plenty of talent here, ready to find new ways to be more productive.




In the next glimpse, a wrap-up of our trip.




Quick Glimpse 3: Training in Gracias


After leaving Orlando’s shop in Santo Domingo de Guzman, we began our almost seven hour drive to Gracias, Lempira, Honduras. The next day, Monday, we began our two-day workshop at the Colosuca school. Twelve young men showed up for training, some traveling several hours to be there. The school had prepared a large  Continue reading Quick Glimpse 3: Training in Gracias

Quick Glimpse 1 of Tools For Opportunity’s recent trip

Over the course of the next few days, I’d like to provide you glimpses into our recent trip to El Salvador and Honduras to train carpenters and follow up with carpenters that Tools for Opportunity has trained on previous trips.

TFO president Gene Pederson and I left dark and early from Des Moines and arrived in San Salvador mid-afternoon. We were greeted by our translator and in-country coordinator Guillermo and our driver Isaac. We immediately loaded into Isaac’s van and headed west along the coast to Acajutla to meet with the Lara family who received tools last year. Here’s a quick video of the table saw and crosscut sled they built with assistance from TFO plans.

Lara Table Saw

The table saw has allowed them to work more quickly and efficiently, two very important items for any business. Gene presented certificates of completion to Julio Lara and three of his sons who work with him, indicating they have met the requirements asked of them in exchange for assistance from TFO, and that the tools we provided were now theirs to keep.IMG_1034


In the next Quick Glimpse, following up with an impressive group of carpenters and their mentor in Santo Domingo de Guzman.


Getting ideas to carpenters: How you can help


During our recent trip to El Salvador and Honduras, as we followed up with carpenters and trained new ones, whenever we opened up one of the woodworking magazines we packed along, the carpenters would gather round and tell us how much they would love to see more of them. To them, the magazines serve as Continue reading Getting ideas to carpenters: How you can help

Trips, Projects, and Tools, Oh My!

Tools for Central America


We have a team arriving in Honduras in a few weeks to provide training and tools to local carpenters. This training has been in planning for almost two years. Gene and Randy tried to take tools into Honduras from El Salvador a year ago but were stopped at the border. This year, our tool shipment is being sent directly from the U.S. to Honduras.

As you might know, these trips cost several thousand dollars. There is the cost of shipping the tools. The cost of air fare and lodging. Then when our team arrives in Central America, there is the cost of transportation, including the salaries of the drivers. We sure could use your help in defraying some of these costs. You can click here to donate. We very much appreciate any amount you could give.

Your donations directly drive how often we can make trips to Central America to help local craftsmen. We would like to make at least two trips a year. So please consider giving today.


When woodworkers in Central America build their projects, they use local woods. These woods are often at too high of a moisture content. This can result in severe shrinkage and warping of project parts. For example, doors that fit a cabinet when the cabinet is first built will dry out over time, resulting in gaps and doors that are too narrow.

One of the goals of Tools for Opportunity is to provide the materials and training to build solar-powered kilns for drying lumber. This would have a very positive impact on the overall quality of the projects our craftsmen build. Your donation can help us with this project.


If you haven’t figured it out by now, you know that all of us at Tools for Opportunity appreciate and use woodworking tools. And we love to share that appreciation with craftsmen in Central America. We not only provide tools, but the training necessary to use them and be able to better provide for their families. The craftsmen sign a one-year commitment to use and care for the tools while having a positive impact on their communities. If they live up to their end of the bargain, the tools become their property.

We accept tool donations for our carpenters. Tools that aren’t necessarily suited for shipping to Central America will be sold to raise funds to purchase other tools or add to the budget for trips and projects. Please consider donating tools or giving today.

Thank you for your support!

Carpenter Profile: Orlando Garcia

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The carpenters we work with in Central America are provided tools and training. In exchange, they sign an agreement that they will put the tools to good use in expanding their business and serving their communities. They also agree to provide hours of community service and plant trees. Below is a report about one of our carpenters, Orlando Garcia.

Orlando has expressed that he has been blessed with the tools he received last year from Tools for Opportunity. Work has been really good as he has stayed busy. He received a table saw kit along with a new drill and other great tools. He has been able to grow in his business as he admits that the tools he received have helped him complete pieces faster. Three weeks after the training workshop ended, he build a table saw according to plans he received from Randy and Gene and he loves it. He admits to have made one modification to the original plans: He  used a solid wood piece for the top rather than plywood. The reason for this is because he says that due to the humidity and heavy pieces of wood, the plywood tends to bend.

Orlando recently made a closet for one of his clients. In addition to this he has also made tables, beds, windows and chairs. As for his community service work, he has worked in two different schools. In one he provided 24 hours worth of work where he built two tables — the School provided the wood and Orlando provided his labor. For the other School, he provided 25 hours worth of work where he also build two tables and installed a division wall for a classroom. Again, he just provided the labor. Orlando also mentioned that he spent two days painting school desks for a third School where they bought the paint and he provided his work. As for the trees, he has planted 5 cedar trees and for the upcoming winter, he hopes to plant many more of the same kind.

The photos show the compressor, a window he is working on, as well as a chainsaw he recently purchased. Orlando was very happy to hear that you will visit again on March, as he says he will demonstrate to you he has honored the agreement fully.

Below is a video thanks from Orlando.

Providing tools and resources for deserving craftsmen

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