Woodland students have an axe to grind: Timber Team aims to get kids out of the classroom and into the outdoors to learn

Woodland Regional High School history teacher and Timber Team coach Robert Murdy stands in Woodland High School manufacturing class on June 2 with one of the axes and near some chess pieces that the manufacturing program has manufactured. Andreas Yilma Citizen’s News

By Andreas Yilma Citizen’s News

BEACON FALLS — Woodland Regional High School manufacturing and marketing students are teaming up to create its own metals company with the help of a West Coast family owned business.

Woodland Regional High School history teacher and Timber Team coach Robert Murdy started the Timber Team about six years ago, he reached out Precision Axes, a company from Mount Shasta, Calif., involved in timber sports events and dedicated to preserving the skills of lumberjack. The company sent a bunch of axes and other equipment to get kids to be outdoors, Murdy said.

Through the years, Murdy has kept the company updated and the company has loved it.

Precision Axes, a family business, reached out to Murdy last April to gift the school part of their business. In return, the company asked that students learn manufacturing and business skills to make and sell products, Murdy said.

The company shared its process of making their axes and gave the school a portion of their business which is now the high school timbers sports market. The new student lead company, Woodland Metal Works, will begin to sell precision axes for the entire high school timber sports market which includes high schools in Connecticut, New Hampshire, Louisiana, Oregon and Washington. The new student business will also manufacture metal chess pieces and metal signs, according to Murdy.

Applied technologies department head Bill Carangelo, business teacher Michael Magas and Murdy have designed an interdisciplinary program from two different programs. The manufacturing class will make axes, metal chess pieces and metal signs using Metal Inert Gas welding, Computer Numerically Controlled plasma cutters, CNC lathes and powder coat painting. The marketing class would run the operations side including shipping, logistics, boxing, accounting, customer services and website design, Murdy said.

“These high school students will leave high school having already worked in an actual business, making and selling an actual product, putting them miles ahead of their competition,” Murdy said. “So that was sort of the whole goal and this way we get to connect two different types of students with two different interests and all come together to make sellable products.”

The program is scheduled to have 16 students in the manufacturing program and two marketing classes of about 50 students in the next school year where both sections of students will meet during the same block. The manufacturing and marketing students will be right across the hallway from each other to try to make it as realistic as possible, according to Murdy.

A student using a lathe, or a machine primarily used for shaping wood and metal, would design a program and write into the machine the parameters and then the machine will automatically cut the correct size for a chess piece, Murdy said.

“These are industry level machines that are making professional level products but everything is designed and done by students,” Murdy said.

Local businesses are interested in students with any sort of welding or CNC. In the past two years, nine students, including five this year, landed welding jobs upon graduation starting above minimum wage and most starting salaries out of high school, according to Murdy.

“The whole point is to give these kids actual employable skills, leaving theory behind and what does Connecticut need,” Murdy said. “We’ve been working with a lot of the local businesses and this is what they’re looking for.”

Edgar Jorge, a freshman, has been coming to the manufacturing classroom during his free time to learn how to mid-weld, according to Carangelo.

Jorge said during his study hall, he goes to the manufacturing classroom and has had Carangelo teach him welding after his interest sparked from a boy scouts summer camp where he took a welding merit badge class.

“It is really interesting because a lot of careers like this in the real life, they make a lot of the stuff,” Jorge said. “They make a lot of things that we have today and that people use a lot in engineering and stuff and it’s a really interesting and fun career to go into so it could spark interest in a lot of kids.”

“These are still high school students so by the time they get their actual jobs, they’re going to be pros,” Murdy said. “So I’m very proud of this program, very proud of everything that’s going on.”

Carangelo said the school’s manufacturing program began about five years ago and that manufacturing students could pretty much do anything. Students have built from scratch three electric and one gas-powered doom buggy, two sheds and modified a Harley motorcycle.

“A lot of people have no idea that this is happening here,” Carangelo said.

The class plans to make 25 light and heavy throwing axes, about half a dozen chess piece sets and roughly 20 metal signs. The manufacturing business wouldn’t be possible without Precision Axes, according to Murdy.

Woodland Regional High School. CN archive

Precision Axes website states it is proud to offer sponsorships for a variety of levels including professional, amateur, college and high School.

“We love to support small town events, local competitions and collegiate events as well,” according to the website.

“Just having talked to a lot of the local businesses, manufacturing may be down in America but advanced manufacturing is growing and they are constantly looking for welding and CNC skills,” Murdy said. “So I mean this is the community enriching the community.

Murdy said besides the manufacturing and marketing skills, students are developing soft skills such as talking to customers and how to correctly approach a problem.

“I want the kids in the marketing class to see how this stuff is made but I also want the kids in the manufacturing class to see like this is how we do a website, this is how we do customer service,” Murdy said. “I want them all to get some of those skills.”

Vanessa Krasnick, a junior, said her interest began when she started taking a construction class because she wanted to get into building and understand how tools worked while having friends who know how to do those kinds of things.

She has recently made a birdhouse and used several tools in her construction class including a table saw, sanders, nail gun as it was her first time using those tools, Krasnick said.

“I’d say it’s really important for me because in the future I want to be more efficient and independent and if I’m going to do that I feel like these skills are really important,” Krasnick said.

Krasnick said she’s interested in having a STEM career and possibly majoring in mechanical engineering. She believes it’s valuable and there are many good opportunities in the future for kids who have those skills and know how to use the machinery for construction and manufacturing.

“I think this vitally important for Connecticut’s economy and for just the industry in general and most schools are not going in this direction with advanced manufacturing so I’m really glad that we’re being different.” Murdy said.