FREDERICTON – Fredericton’s George Woodworth has been working with wood before he was even in high school.
“My stepfather was a carpenter and I started working with him at about 13. I discovered that I really enjoyed the construction trade. Building, putting pieces together. I’ve always been very mechanically minded,” Woodworth says.
“I discovered that working with wood was one of my favourite things to do. Just putting pieces together, taking pieces that looked like square blocks and you could make anything you wanted out of it.”
Woodworth started carpentry at NBCC Saint John from 1997 to 1999. Though he spent some time working in IT, he was always practicing his passion for woodworking in home renovations and construction.
Then in 2007, that all changed.
A climbing accident left Woodworth a quadriplegic, leaving him with very limited function in his upper body. It appeared that the chances of any kind of career, let alone one in woodworking, were zero to none. But when he started going to the Stand Cassidy Centre for regular therapy, he encountered a problem with his transfer board, which helps those in a wheelchair move onto another surface. It was a problem he knew he could solve with a little help.
“I have no hand function and very limited arm function and reduced strength in my arms. Traditional transfer boards are varnish and slippery, but when you have the weight of your body, it becomes sticky,” Woodworth says. “But I needed a transfer board that was slippery, so I decided to make my own.”
So with the help of his son Daniel, Woodworth created a maple transfer board polished with linseed oil. A tip he learned from his grandfather.
“My grandfather had always instilled in me that a good finish on wood was linseed oil,” he says. “It remains slippery under pressure.”
On his next visit to the Stan Cassidy Centre, Woodworth discovered that he didn’t just create a transfer board, but the beginning of a business.
“I actually took my transfer board into Stan Cassidy’s to one of my rehab sessions,” he says. “And my occupational therapist said ‘This is awesome! Why don’t you make these and sell them?’ and I went ‘Well ok, let’s do that.”
Using some basic adaptation, Woodworth altered his entire workshop and is now once again able to work independently with the limited arm function he has remaining. He now takes orders for transfer boards through the Stan Cassidy Centre. He also makes cutting boards and serving trays which he sells online through his website, Facebook and on Etsy.
“I try not to make any two alike. I strive to make each one unique,”says Woodworth. “I do a lot of live edge stuff, where the live edge of the tree is part of the cutting board.”
Though he’s never considered himself an artist, Woodworth takes pride in making the flaws and imperfections in a piece of wood into something beautiful.
“I was sitting down here one day in my shop and I was fighting stubborn piece of maple … and I thought ‘Hold on a minute. These are just like people. It’s their flaws and individual traits that make each person beautiful and this piece of wood beautiful.'”
When he’s not in his workshop, Woodworth sits on the board of Ability New Brunswick, an organization working to empower the independence and community participation of people with spinal cord injuries or mobility disabilities. He says the organization has played a huge role in getting his life back on track after his accident.
“They were the first ray of light or ray of hope that I saw in my life,” Woodworth says. “They really did insist on showing me that you do have options. You do have choices and there is help out there. There are accessible things available to you and they know where to find them. They know how to hook you up with these services and choices.”
Showing there are options is something Woodworth says more people can do when it comes to getting people with spinal cord injuries or mobility disabilities into entrepreneurship. With many programs already in place to help entrepreneurs, it’s important that they feel welcome to take part.
“I think a lot of people don’t know about the test programs or realize there are means to an end if you’re interested in starting your own business,” he says. “Getting the word out there to people with disabilities who are interested in becoming financially independent and telling them that there are options.”
There’s no doubt Woodworth’s disability forced him to face some incredible challenges, but with those challenges came the adoption of an entrepreneurial mindset in both work and life.
“If you’re trying to do something and it’s not working out,” he says. “Try it a different way.”