Travel to El Salvador with Tools for Opportunity

Join us for an unforgettable service vacation to El Salvador this November! We will work alongside Salvadoran woodworkers to build tables, benches and cabinets for school children in rural villages of La Union along the Pacific coast of Eastern El Salvador. 

The villages need a place for the students to have their meals, but they do not have the resources for the furniture needed. Tools for Opportunity and our partners will provide all the tools and materials for the project. Our group, along with our Salvadoran friends, will provide the skill and light labor. 

After our project is completed, the tools will be given to the Salvadoran woodworkers, with the condition that they earn them by using their new tools to complete pro-bonoprojects for their communities.  

When: November 9-16, 2019
Where: La Union, along the Pacific coastline of Eastern El Salvador
Cost: $1,325 per person

Cost includes:

  • Driver and all ground transportation in El Salvador
  • Expert local guidance by our in-country director, Guillermo Sensente 
  • All lodging (simple, but with hot showers & air conditioning)
  • Individual private rooms
  • All meals and bottled water while in El Salvador
  • Translators fluent in Spanish and English

Cost does NOT include:

  • Airfare to San Salvador (typically $800)
  • Passport and Visa
  • Immunizations
  • Souvenirs
  • Entry fees to optional activities
  • Alcohol

Besides building the projects, we will take time to see some of the sites in this beautiful and fascinating country, led by Tools for Opportunity In-Country Director Guillermo Sensente.

Here are a few options:

  • Meet local woodworkers and visit their shops       
  • Climb a Mayan pyramid and explore a 2000 year old archeological site
  • Visit the National Archeological Museum with an outstanding collection of 
  • Pre-Columbian artifacts
  • Swim or relax on some of the most beautiful beaches of the Pacific
  • Hike to the edge of the crater of the active volcano
  • Zip-line through the forest canopy
  • Tour a coffee plantation at harvest 

Others you may know who have traveled with us include: Chris Fitch and Randy Maxey from Woodsmithmagazine, Craig Ruegsegger of WOOD magazine, founder of Kreg Tool Co. Craig Sommerfeld, and Chris Martin, ISU College of Design.

So make sure your passport is up-to-date and let us know that you are interested in joining us this fall. I will keep you posted as plans are finalized. And I promise you, this will be an unforgettable experience!  

Download our application, medical waiver, and liability release here. 

Gene Pedersen, President
Tools for Opportunity


Our guide and chief translator will be Guillermo Sensente, Tools for Opportunity In-Country Director for El Salvador.
We will visit the shops of woodworkers like our friend Hilario Sanchez from Santo Domingo de Guzman.
Roadside craft markets on the Ruta de las Flores.

How You Can Help Central American Craftsmen

Every year, Tools for Opportunity tries to make one or two trips to Central America.  During each trip, we have one or more trainers on our team to teach new woodworking skills to local craftsmen, carpenters, woodcarvers, and furniture makers.

Tools for Opportunity Class Graduates

Before each trip, there is an enormous amount of planning and preparation that needs to take place. The first item on the agenda is finding eligible craftsmen in our target areas such as El Salvador and Honduras. We have a local team member in El Salvador that interviews craftsmen to determine their eligibility for training and what specific training is needed. One of our board members annually visits Honduras for several weeks to work with local residents to find craftsmen that need our assistance.

While candidates for training are being selected, we work on gathering tool donations for shipment to the training areas. These tools can be donated by individuals or tool companies. We accept usable power tools like hand drills, routers, and circular saws. We also try to gather as many hand tools as possible such as chisels, clamps, carving tools, and hand planes.

Tools ready for distribution

If we are lacking any necessary tools for training our carpenters, we must purchase them. We’ll search around for the best pricing and look to tool manufacturers that are wanting to get rid of old stock. Sometimes, we’ll wait and purchase tools in the host country if the prices are reasonable.


Our tool shipments are sent by cargo ship to the target location many months ahead of time. The tools are stored until they’re needed for training.

In the meantime, travel arrangements need to be made for our team. This includes air fare, lodging, and food. As you can imagine, these expenses add up fast.

Once our team arrives in-country, the work begins. Classes are held that may have anywhere from 4 to 12 students. These students could be young people that have had some technical training and want to expand their skills. Other students have been woodworking for many years but need to advance their skills to the next level.


We’ll typically spend a week conducting 2 to 4 training sessions during that time. Once the training is complete, the students sign a contract with Tools for Opportunity. They agree to use our donated tools and training and their time on projects for their community, in addition to growing their business to provide income for their families. Many of these families survive on only a few dollars a day. We try to help the carpenters increase their income through our training and tool donations.


The board of directors of Tools for Opportunity has established a budgeting goal of $10,000 per trip. As I mentioned before, we often make two trips per year.

You can help by making a tax-deductible donation. We make it easy using the “Donate” buttons on our web page and Facebook page. We appreciate any amount and you can rest assured that your dollars are spent with the utmost care.

We sincerely thank you for your support!

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 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.


Providing tools and resources for deserving craftsmen