Michaela Anderson is something that’s turning into a rare sighting these days: a high school woodworker.
Technically, now, of course, she’s in college, but the 2011 graduate of Centennial High School in Circle Pines, Minnesota, began her woodworking career as a younger student, starting with balsa wood cars in sixth and seventh grades and moving on to machinery in eighth grade for projects like clocks and lamps.
“When I was really little, and my grandpa would watch me, I would ask him about how to build things,” Michaela said, and the two would end up “hammering wood together.” Her grandfather, however, she described as “handy” — he built the family cabin – “but not a woodworker.”
So, even though “no one in my family had ever done it,” Michaela became “really interested in woodworking. I was really interested in the class, and I took it all through high school.”
She began this series of high school electives with some core courses, which she described as “hard to get into. I think the limit on the classes was 25 kids, and they were usually full.” Michaela’s class projects ranged from a clock — now sitting in her family’s living room, in appreciation of their support for her woodworking interests — to a gun cabinet. “I’m really into hunting, so I thought it would be pretty cool,” she said. Although “fishing tournaments in summer is my main thing,” she’s also a hunter of “duck, pheasant, deer, you name it” — and the builder, previously, of a duck call as a gift for her boyfriend.
The gun cabinet was her project choice for a class that required “some sort of cabinet with a door.” Projects from the rest of the students included things like TV cabinets, entertainment centers, and storage items.
Prior to this project, Michaela said, she had used only hardwoods, not plywoods and veneers. The gun cabinet, in addition to introducing her to these different materials, also had a face plate and other joints she hadn’t yet used. “I had to go in early and stay late to get it done because it was such a big project,” she said. “The teacher let me come in whenever he was free.”
The teacher, John Cloues, was a great help and encouragement to her throughout high school, Michaela said. For the gun cabinet, like most of her projects, she created her own design, taking inspiration from visiting various websites to “see what other people are doing and go off that.” She then creates paper and pencil sketches, although she said, “It would have been a lot easier with a computer, especially for the angle pieces — me and the teacher had to do a lifesize piece of paper for that angled piece.”
Upon completion of the gun cabinet, Michaela entered it in the student woodworking competition at the Minnesota State Fair, where it helped her to win a scholarship sponsored by Rockler Woodworking and Hardware.
Now a business major in college, Michaela says that what she likes about woodworking is that “you can actually make something useful.” She also likes the different colors of wood, and the grain. “You can see a tree and then go inside and see, ‘oh, this came from outside.’ And you have the colors, from super-white, like oak, to super-dark, like walnut: it’s pretty cool.”
Currently, she owns only a mini-lathe for pen turning as home shop equipment, but she says of woodworking, “I think it will be a hobby, something I do for the rest of my life. Once I have my own house, I’ll definitely have my own shop, and build my own cabinets, to have them the way I want them. I think that’s really cool to make something to use on a day-to-day basis.”