Woodworking Reaches China’s Higher Education

Woodworking Reaches China’s Higher Education

For nearly 20 years, Jack Xu has considered himself to be a “matchmaker” between China’s parts supply chains and woodworking and metalworking machinery sellers worldwide. His company, Harvey Industries, designs and builds band saws, table saws, sliding table saws and shapers, plus metalworking tools, for 105 countries. It has been an OEM supplier for several big woodworking tool companies here in the States.

More recently, Harvey Industries launched a new line of “innovation” products under its own brand label, too. The company also sells a heavy-duty T40 Turbo Wood Lathe through its website.

Harvey is now offering a new line of “innovation” products that include GYRO dust processors and a benchtop lathe.

But there’s another side of Harvey Industries, where Xu is now serving as a matchmaker between the Chinese government and some 12,800 colleges and universities. It’s an unlikely development that’s taken shape over just the past five years or so.

“China has had an export and infrastructure investment economy for a long time,” Xu says. “But cheap labor and an economy with more than 50 percent of its revenue based on investment isn’t sustainable. Even export is becoming risky, because costs are going up.”

Some 500 hybrid table saws await final assembly and inspection in Harvey’s Shanghai factory. Painted and branded for a major U.S. woodworking tool label, many of these saws are destined for hobbyist shops.

The government’s answer to a more stable future is to shift from an export- and investment-based economy to one that innovates, too. To that end, it is challenging Chinese colleges and universities to change their curriculums.

Harvey workers bolt together table saw arbor and trunnion assemblies, one at a time, in the company’s Nanjing, China, facility. Smaller batched quantities of woodworking machines make robotic assembly lines unnecessary.

“In China, traditional education involves students being given the answers to problems. Teachers teach that the solutions to the important questions of math, science and otherwise are already known,” Xu says. “Students aren’t encouraged to be creative and to come up with their own answers to new questions!”

Woodturning promises the same opportunities for creative exploration for Chinese college students as it does for turning enthusiasts the world over.

As part of the recent initiative, the government is now subsidizing colleges and universities to add creativity-based courses to their curriculum. Woodworking is among those options.

Educators and college students at the Nanjing educational show observe a SawStop “hot dog” demo. For many, this is likely their first exposure to a woodworking table saw, much less one with skin-sensing technology.

“We were doing a little business with higher education already, supplying a table saw or other machine here or there,” Xu recalls. “But our core business was in the hobbyist market, not the educational market.”

Harvey’s Creativity Centers supply Chinese colleges and universities with premium Western hand tools, including this plane from Bridge City Tool Works.

Then it began to dawn on him: in order for students to really learn how to solve problems creatively through woodworking, a table saw alone wouldn’t be enough. What colleges or universities need are fully equipped woodworking shops.

Harvey’s 8,000-square-foot training facility is staffed by four full-time woodworkers. They offer basic courses to college educators who will teach in their school’s new woodworking program.

So Xu and Harvey Industries are now helping some 200 universities achieve these goals through what he calls “Creativity Centers.” The company provides the institution with high quality hand and power tools, Harvey woodworking machinery, accessories, learning materials and training. Most of the smaller tools and general woodworking supplies are imported from sources such as Lie-Nielsen, Bridge City Tool Works, Veritas, Rockler, Leigh Industries and Kreg.

Harvey’s “turnkey” approach for establishing Creativity Centers includes machinery, hand and power tools, learning materials, accessories and supplies, workbenches and more, depending on the school’s needs.

“There are Chinese alternatives for all of these products, but I’ve found none of them to be up to our standards for our Creativity Centers,” Xu says.

Educational show attendees look on as a Harvey trainer demonstrates a mortise-and-tenoning jig, made by Leigh Industries. Similar Chinese jigs may exist, but Harvey opts for better quality, imported alternatives.

Harvey Industries has also added an 8,000-sq.-ft. woodworking shop to the first floor of its factory, located in Nanjing. Here, college faculty receive basic training in woodworking methods and tool use. The shop is staffed by four Harvey employees who are full-time trainers.

This enormous banner, located above the lumber storage area of the Nanjing woodworking training shop, welcomes teachers who come for ongoing seminars led by Harvey experts.

“Through woodworking education, students learn that there isn’t just one answer to a problem or question. There can be new answers! And by making mistakes, that’s where learning and creativity begin,” Xu says.

During a trade show for higher education, held last November in Nanjing, China, attendees could try their hand at scroll sawing in the Harvey Industries booth.

The program is still in its infancy, but Xu hopes to eventually have a woodworking shop in every accredited Chinese college and university. “I’m very proud to be helping Chinese students become better independent thinkers this way,” Xu says.

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