Northland Woodworks teams up with Blaine High School for the Win!


Matt with the winning project and its creators, the MEACK & Mighty team: (L to R) Catherine Miller, Elisabeth King, Michaela Martin, Alicia Stone and Kayla Olsen

Matt with the winning project and its creators, the MEACK & Mighty team: (L to R) Catherine Miller, Elisabeth King, Michaela Martin, Alicia Stone and Kayla Olsen

 

Northland Woodworks Vice President and current Cabinet Makers Association President Matt Krig went back to high school in December.

In late 2015, Blaine High School put out a call for mentors to guide 138 seniors in the school’s Center for Engineering, Math and Science program as they completed a complex, months-long “Capstone” project.

Intrigued by the idea of sharing his education and expertise with students, Matt signed up and was selected by a team of five seniors working on a furniture-based project that aimed to make the most of space in small college dorm rooms.

Once the mentors were assigned, Matt headed over to the high school to meet his students.

“It was funny walking back into a high school,” Matt says. “All those weird feelings come back.”

He couldn’t have been more impressed by the students in his group, who had named their team MEACK & Mighty, incorporating the first initials in their names for a bit of clever wordplay.
All of the young women were honor students and were dedicated and mature.

“This was not who I was in high school,” says Matt (muttering the word “slacker” under his breath). “I could see that I was going to be working with kids who are the best of the best.”

 

Getting started

The students had a stack of sketches to show him, and he began by helping them learn how to distill their ideas. He asked each of the five teammates to do 5 or 6 final sketches over Christmas break and bring them to the next meeting.

Together, they identified what deliverables were needed, then factored in a little extra room and worked back from there to create a schedule milestones and due dates.

When they reconvened, they talked through the sketches the students had brought in and chose what they believed to be the five best. The next step was creating quarter-scale models out of cardboard to get a better idea of what the prototype would actually be like. In the end, a few concepts were combined to create the CAD (computer-assisted drawing) renderings and –eventually – the prototype.

The students’ final concept was a cube that transforms into a desk and seat, with storage in the pull-out seat as well as a cubby built into the cube.

The next steps were choosing a final design, ordering materials and producing the prototype.

Ordering materials as well as adhering to the restrictions on where materials could come from was a challenge due to the lengthy process required to get approval of funds through the school district.

“This led the team to feel they had to rush ahead to get orders placed during the cardboard model stage, rather than refine the design,” Matt recalls. “I told them not to worry about materials as we could handle that later, once the design was right.”

He assured them that most materials could be obtained in a couple of days and that he could provide them with some scrap material for the prototype if necessary.

 

Serendipity – and generosity

While he was at a kitchen and bath trade show in Las Vegas in January, Matt stumbled on a new piece of Richelieu hardware that would be ideal for the team’s creation.

“This Samo hardware allowed a drawer to pull out out and fold open into a desk with minimal effort,” he says.

Unfortunately, the hardware was not yet on the market, but Matt contacted the company, explained the situation and soon got an excited call from the local Richelieu rep. A week later, he had the first one in the country, donated to the students by Richelieu.

“We couldn’t even get one for our business at that point,” Matt recalls. “The team was excited.”

 
Prototyping

Many issues came up as the team built the prototype, and there were a few frantic emails where Matt helped the team work through some complications, but overall, due to the process they had put in place, many of the issues were worked out as a natural progression of moving through the steps.

“I had to reiterate a few times that they shouldn’t worry too much about the aesthetic of the prototype,” Matt says.

The group was concerned about blemishes and issues with screwing the piece together with drywall screws. Although he planned to let them use the Northland shop for the final construction, first Matt wanted them to learn how to build something ‘quick and dirty’ – to explore ideas and concepts without being focused on perfection.

“I was afraid that if I showed them any of our shop’s capabilities in the early stages, it would influence their design,” he says. “I really love unrestrained thought, design and dreaming, when you have absolutely no idea what can and can’t work. That’s where so many innovations come from – when you don’t know what can’t be done, anything is possible.

One great example? Matt initially told the team that it would be impossible to incorporate one of the cool design elements they had come up with; weeks later, he spotted the accordion-style pull-out tabletop at the Las Vegas trade show and, thanks to the Richelieu hardware used in that tabletop, the impossible became possible!

 
In the big leagues

The students were very excited to learn that they would be building the final product onsite at Northland Woodworks.

“They had no idea how it’s done in the industry, compared to how you have to build things with the limited tools available in the school wood shop,” Matt says. “I wanted them to see how to cut the pieces on the equipment we use.”

To his delight, they immediately jumped on the Northland machinery and tools and “started
making stuff.”

They had sent all of their CAD work from school, but they had no idea that they would be making perfect, chip-free cuts on the CNC (computer numerical control) wood router, a machine that creates objects from wood.

The edge bander in the shop created crisp professional edges, and dowel construction created clean, invisible and strong joints.

In the end, they buckled down and completed the final product in two visits to the shop, including making changes that required recutting some parts.

“Total construction time in the shop was less than 5 hours,” Matt recalls. “It was fun to see them show up ready to get to work, and then to go from being apprehensive about getting the final product built with only couple of weeks remaining, to quickly becoming fluent in the new processes they were learning and then finally becoming confident that they were going to in fact leave the shop with a nearly complete full-scale working design.

“One of the hardest parts early in the process was to hang back and let them work at it to understand,” Matt says. “It had to be their project.”

Although there were a couple of small challenges at the end, he “was floored by their level of professionalism and responsiveness.”

All of that hard work paid off: The MEACK & Mighty students got the top score in their class, and the school superintendent asked them to to return in the fall to present their full project to the incoming CEMS students and faculty.

“I didn’t know what I was getting into, but it was rewarding and fun,” Matt says. “They had a great group dynamic, and I was honored to work with them.”

We’d like to offer special thanks to Richelieu Hardware for its contribution to the MEACK & Mighty team’s winning project!

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