Category Archives: Charitable Woodworking

A noble internet business venture.

Pencil Holder project complete in the Self-Help shop

I finished the pencil holders! I used this project as a means to get to know my way around the shop, and it worked! I got to know BU1, the shop manager, as well as several other people who frequent the self-help woodshop more than I do. I’m now familiar with the tools, earned the trust of the shop manager, and chipped in a few hours of cleaning which serves as collateral against future requests for use of the shop.

Pencil Holder

This pencil holder was my first project in the Camp Lemonnier Self-Help shop in Djibouti. The material is all scrap pine, the biscuits on the edges were made on the table saw, the coin is glued into a depression made with a 1.25″ forstner bit, and the finish is wiped varnish.

All good right? Well, sort of. Here at Camp Lemonnier we are almost wholly staffed by reservists and individually augmented active duty types. One of several repercussions of that is that the turnover rate here is on the order of 150% every year. So no sooner did I build my shop cred, then did BU1 start packing his bags to get on the next rotator out of here. I’m not selfish here though, I’m thrilled for anyone that has done their time and can get the best view of this place…in the rearview mirror. The problem for me is that the Camp doesn’t have another body to replace BU1. They’re going to assign it as a collateral duty to another guy in the meantime, but that likely means it will be open during regular business hours, during which, I have other regular business to attend to.

I’m an optimist, though. Things have a way of working out, so I’ll chum up with the new guy and get back in there. I have two ideas for my next project; either a plaque with the outline of the continent, or a Charitable Woodworking build for the Friends of Africa volunteer group. I’m still working my angle on the latter…stay tuned.

Finishing Tip

Bonus tip: In an effort to cover the whole piece with the varnish I build these makeshift project supports by knocking a few nails through a piece of wood.


This commemorative plaque in progress is a fine example of a future project in the self-help shop. The wooden elephants are popular over here so they find all sorts of good uses. It wouldn’t surprise me if the other half of this elephant was elegantly turned into a pencil holder. What else would a squid do with an elephant ass?

CLDJ Woodshop (Self Help)

How cool is this? A woodshop on Camp Lemonnier! It’s open everyday except Sunday, which conflicts with my day job. It opened up Sunday afternoon so I got a few hours to orient myself. Here are some photos of the laydown:

Love that SawStop. First time I’ve used one. I’ve been wanting that exact one for my shop, but they come at a hot dollar. The guy that runs the shop, BU1, said that was $3500. The “hot dog” saw. Look them up, you’ll find a video of the guy who invented it stick his finger into the spinning blade.

My first project is a couple of pencil holders. I got the idea from The Wood Whisperer and thought it would be a good starter project to get to know the shop.

Pencil holders to be.

Pencil holders to be.

Since I know you’re thinking it, those biscuits are to strengthen the joint, I’ll trim them off after I glue them up. I’m also going to bed these coins into the front face of each.

Coins to be set into the front face of the pencil holders.

Coins to be set into the front face of the pencil holders.

In keeping with the traditions of Charitable Woodworking I’m building two in order to donate one. I haven’t figured out who to donate it to, so welcome any suggestions. There is a group called Volunteers in Africa that I hope to get involved with to find some worthy recipients.

Blogging “from away”

When you’re not born in Maine, and you live there, you’re know as being “from away”. I’d sure love to be in Maine, or better yet, NH right now, but alas, I’m not. So, let’s see if I can drive this train “from away”.

CLU Move In

Me sitting on the front porch of my new home.

I live in what’s called a CLU “clew” (Containerized Living Unit) in the African desert. Which is about as nice as it sounds. Regardless, I recently regained access to the internet, which is surprisingly nice having gone without, well with limited access, for the last few weeks.

So, how do we squeeze some lemonade out of this lemon? Number 1: Set goals. After considerable thought mine are to get this bod to 12% body fat, get 100 CWW sales from people I don’t know, and win the GWOT (Global War on Terrorism). That last one is a wee lofty but it’s what we came here to do so let’s get after it.

Goal 1: Redefining this warrior. I’m not too worried about this. I’ll need the PT to maintain sanity but to get the push I need I am re-reading The 4 Hour Body by Tim Ferriss. I’ll also start a PT log and potentially a food log. The chow here is actually pretty good, and it’s all you can eat for each meal so I’ll need to dig into some discipline.

Goal 2: I have 9 woodworking plans posted now. The trick is to build a client base, tune the website and get learned up on Internet marketing.

Goal 3: Most of this stuff won’t make it on the blog. The line between super squirrely secret and common sense is blurry sometimes, so it’s best that I keep most of my job to myself. That said, I’m slotted to be a contingency planner in the CJTF-HOA J5 shop, which means nothing to pretty much most people in the world. Not me, man. That’s my baby for the next 326 days, but whose counting?

Doin’ It

I’m making it happen. All my plans are now re-listed online, this time on this website. Also, I’ve been running, pushing and pulling to get this ol’ bod back in shape. I even got to huck some hammers last night in the rain (Ultimate Frisbee lingo).

The next step is to redirect my to the current location for the plans. Then I need to tackle the marketing to get the word out that these are available. I suspect I will start the push on social media, but the real deal is to find the right people drawing crowds out there and get their support.

Of course, there is also the layer light. I need to get that code up on GitHub, and develop the kit with some more pictures and building directions. Drive hard, drive smart, and this truck will roll.

A New Approach

The process of getting mobilized is indeed an emotional roller coaster of sorts. But, while I was checking in it occurred to me that, what if this is the best thing that happens to us, meaning myself and family?

How could that be, or better yet, how could I lend a hand to destiny so that it is?

Well, here’s how. This is an opportunity for me to be reminded daily that I would rather be home. Let that serve as a daily reminder that I need to be pursuing mechanisms to free me from the chains of the system, the grind, the working for the boss. Furthermore, in the absence of my family I need to re-embrace my entrepreneurial spirit and get busy.

Here are some new commitments:

  • Reform my habits to return a culture of fitness to my life.
  • Start the daily writing of the affirmation that, I, Matthew Rowell, will become financially independent from the system.

I woke up this morning and ran along the coast with intermittent pushups, dips and situps. Now I’m posting on my blog. Keep it up, man.