Texas school first in WoodLINKS contest

14_studentsFive teams from high school and post-secondary woodshop teams from around the country were named winners at the WoodLINKS USA "RTA" (Ready to Assemble) contest held at IWF 2010 in August. The prizes included woodworking equipment and supplies donated by industry supporters.

The Dale Jackson Career Center in Lewisville, Texas, won the top prize - $10,000 worth of much-needed shop equipment - for an end table with a lockable top, protecting a hidden safe. Joseph Davis, the school's cabinetmaking instructor, says teamwork made the difference.

• 1st: Dale Jackson Career Center, Lewisville, Texas

• 2nd: Lincoln East High School, Lincoln, Neb.

• 3rd: Madison Area Technical College, Madison, Wis.

• 4th: Halifax County High School, South Boston, Va.

• 5th: Harper Creek High School, Battle Creek, Mich.

"They took one student's idea and ran with it. I, as their teacher, had to do very little in the process of coming up with a prototype. After the prototype was built, we sat down again as a team and designed the type of jigs we would use to replicate each piece of the project. After the project had its first production run, they again sat down and had a brainstorming session with students from our advertising and design class and our media technology class about how they could really sell this product."

Duane Griffiths, manager of educational services for Stiles Machinery, one of three judges for the contest, says the judges liked the lockable table and gave the team high marks because it was an innovative product, but also for its professional presentation and marketing plans.

"The judges were all impressed by the contest because it gave students the opportunity to design a product that could be produced on a large scale while having the participants understand marketing, cost of producing a product and its salability," says Griffiths.

Mark Smith, national director of WoodLINKS USA, says the contest is important to the future of the woodworking industry because it reinforces the fact that there are lucrative opportunities available. The contest started in 2006 and has been held at IWF and the AWFS fair in Las Vegas.

The contest started as a way to get students involved with design and help introduce them to professional critique. Initially, the RTA theme itself was recognized for significantly decreasing the cost involved in the contest. Chairs and tables that are easily pulled apart and folded away make for easy shipping. It has since developed in the scope of the work produced, while the number of industry supporters has increased.

"The RTA contest is important to WoodLINKS USA schools because of the emphasis on designing. We'll do anything we can to help students grow in their ability to design with tooling, materials and equipment," says Smith.

The team from Madison Area Technical College in Madison, Wis., also earned high marks for a clever coffee table design. Instead of four separate legs, the table featured two sets of preassembled interlocking legs that attached to the top in a precut dado.

Many of the pieces were made with CNC machinery. This was a good sign to Smith, who says WoodLINKS wants emerging wood industry professionals to be trained on high-tech equipment, which is the future of the industry.

The RTA contest also brings students to the industry's two biggest shows, opening their eyes to the potential that exists.

"When you're in a classroom with a teacher that's talking and showing you how to do things, those are good things, but nothing helps a student understand the size of the wood industry and how high tech it is," says Smith.

The prizes were perhaps the most significant benefit to the school instructors and students. Smith says that getting modern equipment is always a difficult proposition for most schools because of the costs involved.

"All of the equipment and supplies, which have been generously donated by our sponsoring companies, will have a dramatic effect on the educational experience back in the winners' shop programs."

Sponsors included Kreg, FastCap, IWF, RT Machine Co., Valspar, Graco, Stiles Shop Solutions, American Home Furnishings Alliance, and Fein. Bosch, a corporate sponsor, donated its second-generation lithium-ion drivers to students on the first-place team.

Contact: WoodLINKS USA, P.O. Box 445, Tuscola, IL 61953. Tel: 217-253-3239.  www.woodlinksusa.org

This article originally appeared in the October 2010 issue.