In a time when woodworking education often seems to be struggling, Palomar College bucks that trend.
Located in San Marcos, Calif., near San Diego, the school's Cabinet and Furniture Technology program boasts an enrollment of 600 students. Those students can choose from 55 different classes taught by 14 part-time and four full-time instructors.
Key to the health and diversity of the program is a wide range of partnerships that bring industry and education, amateurs and professionals, young and old all together to create what is unquestionably one of the strongest, most diverse woodworking programs in the country.
Chris Feddersohn, who has been teaching in the woodworking program at Palomar since 1995, says the program has long embraced partnerships with industry. For example, he points to how contributions from Holz-Her of a vertical panel saw and a sliding table saw invigorated the cabinetmaking program, giving students the chance to learn on professional-grade machinery.
More recently, the contribution of a Williams & Hussey moulder to the school's cabinetmaking and millwork program shows how partnerships not only can boost the program but also can intertwine with other partnerships for wider benefit.
Moulder for millwork
Feddersohn says there are currently about 40 students in the architectural millwork class, but the class had gone for some time without having a moulder. Students would learn about working with moulding and millwork by installing purchased stock mouldings, but they didn't have a chance to get hands-on experience with the production of moulding. That runs counter to the way Feddersohn likes Palomar to work, he says. "I like to say we educate the hands."
When Feddersohn met with representatives of Williams & Hussey at a Furniture Society Conference, they began talking about making the company a Palomar patron. Williams & Hussey agreed to donate a machine and tooling to the program. So, now students can make the mouldings as well as install them. "I see this as a real asset to our cabinet program and our architectural millwork program," says Feddersohn.
Urban forestry tie-in
But the story doesn't end at one machine and one class. Another partnership with the California Department of Forestry has led the school to take a leading role in regional urban forestry efforts. A Wood-Mizer sawmill loaned to the school by CDF allows students to take trees removed from city parks and back yards and mill them into usable lumber rather than have the trees destined for a landfill.
Some of the wood has been sawn into timbers for timber framing classes. Those classes have built five timber-frame structures on the Palomar campus, including the structure that houses and protects the sawmill itself.
The urban forestry program and sawmill also give students access to some unusual species for their projects, including rare Torrey pine, some of which has found its way to the Williams & Hussey moulder to be transformed into a wide variety of custom mouldings at the hands of the millwork students.
Besides Williams & Hussey, a number of major industry suppliers can be found on the list of current patrons of Palomar's woodworking program. Laguna Tools has contributed equipment, including a resaw bandsaw and jointer. Apollo Sprayers International, Rockler Woodworking & Hardware, Lie Nielsen Toolworks and Hida Tool & Hardware are also on the list.
Hida's involvement has been international, arranging exchanges between the school and master woodworkers in Japan.
"More industry needs to do this," says Feddersohn. "Besides helping the program, it helps get their name out with the students. If they can't donate, they should consider lending." He compares it to how Yamaha loans a piano to the school's music program each year and then offers the piano for sale to the students at the end of the year.
A guild is born
Another way the school partners with industry is in keeping up strong ties with professional woodworkers in the region, including former students. Graduates from the program were instrumental in forming the Professional Cabinet & Furniture Makers Guild of Southern California.
The program also reaches out to younger students, cultivating area high schools and working to support their programs. "Each (Palomar) teacher takes on a high school," says Feddersohn, who shares full-time teaching duties at Palomar with Russ Filbeck, Dave Thomsen and Jack Stone.
For more inforation about the program, check out the school's Web site at www.palomar.edu/woodworking/.
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