Jimmy Carter, Craftsman

DIY: The 87-year-old former U.S. President Jimmy Carter (left) put volunteers half his age to shame by chipping in, alongside wife Rosalynn (right), to help build a series of one-room houses on the earthquake hit island of Haiti

DIY: The 87-year-old former U.S. President Jimmy Carter (left) put volunteers half his age to shame by chipping in, alongside wife Rosalynn (right), to help build a series of one-room houses on the earthquake hit island of Haiti

I grew up on a relatively isolated farm, long before we had electricity and when all the labor was by hand or with livestock. My father did the building and repairs, made many of our hand tools, and was a good cobbler and an expert blacksmith. As soon as I was physically able, he expected me to do my share of the work, and I was an eager student. I expanded my skills as a Future Farmer of America, and was required to make a few pieces of furniture, usually as gifts for my mother.Later, when I was a young naval officer with a base pay of $300 a month, it was important for my wife, Rosalynn, and me to live as inexpensively as possible, so we chose unfurnished apartments. There were fully equipped hobby shops at the large submarine bases, staffed by qualified personnel who helped in the design of furniture and provided good advice on the types of wood, proper joints, gluing techniques, and the use of power tools. I made the necessary beds, tables, and other furniture, but the only piece we brought home from the Navy was a white oak cabinet for high-fidelity sound equipment.

When Rosalynn and I moved back to Plains, we lived in a government housing project, and I was struggling just to earn a living for our family. I can’t say that I improved my woodworking skills during those years as a farmer and struggling businessman, since my only tools were a handsaw, hammer, drawknife, and an auger and bits, but I made some couches, lounge chairs, and tables that we still use every day. During this time, I became more familiar with the local woods and accumulated a good supply of lumber.

I had very little time for woodworking while we lived in the governor’s mansion in Atlanta, which had no shop facilities, or immediately thereafter when I was a campaigning full-time for president.

From Fine Woodworking #174, pp. 82

also see Highland Woodworker Episode 3

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