Leaders talents lend hand to 4-H projectsA symphony of creation played Saturday in Rodney Johnson’s workshop. The drill’s song dipped to a low hum to secure bolts and rose to a whine for screws; a router added a bass note. Belt sanders lent a constant hum and hand sanders added to the music filling the Oulu building. Children and their parents bent to their tasks, creating pairs of snowshoes with their own hands.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
A symphony of creation played Saturday in Rodney Johnson’s workshop. The drill’s song dipped to a low hum to secure bolts and rose to a whine for screws; a router added a bass note. Belt sanders lent a constant hum and hand sanders added to the music filling the Oulu building. Children and their parents bent to their tasks, creating pairs of snowshoes with their own hands.
“It’s really quite amazing,” said Eunice Laakso, a leader with the Gitche Gumee 4-H Club, based in Oulu. “They are truly made from scratch.”
It all started last year when another 4-H leader asked if Johnson could design some snowshoes for her outdoor project. He took a look at what was out there and set to work.
“I can make anything out of wood or steel,” Johnson said. “I have all the toys.”
Matthew Stai, 16, has been making 4-H wood projects with Johnson for eight years.
“It’s great working with him,” Stai said. “I can tell him what I’m thinking,” and the woodworker has a design in mind almost before the teen can finish.
To make the snowshoes, Johnson built his own steamer out of a PVC pipe and a turkey roaster, and created forms to dry the bent strips of black ash. The first seven pairs were made last spring. Thinking they might be popular, Johnson made a few extra pairs — 31 in all. And each of the sets has been claimed.
Saturday, 11-year-old Chase Reijo sanded and sorted the wooden pieces with his parents.
“It’s fun,” he said of Johnson’s woodworking projects. “You make stuff and you get to use it.” To date, the Oulu boy has made boxes, a shelf, a gun rack and a bread cutting board.
Johnson works with about 50 4-H youth each year.
“We make every conceivable thing out of wood,” the Oulu man said. The main projects are different each year, based on youth interest. As they cut, sand, glue and varnish a transformation occurs.
“It’s a positive in life,” said Johnson, a former engineer. “They see their project and it’s a reminder they do good work … You ought to see the glow in their eyes when they have a finished project.”
Chase’s father, Desmond, was one of Johnson’s first 4-H students in the 1980s. He still has many of his projects, including a gun rack and an ice-fishing box.
“He’s great,” said Lisa Weiss, another former woodworking student who attended Saturday’s event with her daughters. “He always has to find things that are going to be of interest to each of the kids.”
Johnson stresses commonsense and sanding, which he said really is what makes the blue ribbon. By the time they began adding crosspieces to the snowshoes Saturday, the frames were silky smooth. They added pencil marks to show where the lacings should cross the wood and everyone headed home with 100 feet of nylon per shoe. They will return to the workshop to dip their finished shoes in varnish and let them dry.
Leaders like Johnson are what make the Gitche Gumee 4-H club so vibrant, Weiss said.
“Just about every kind of hobby we have a leader who volunteers,” she said. “There’s a spot for everybody” and a place for every kid to shine.
Not only does Johnson share his woodworking skills with 4-H youth and parents, he offers free plans online in his Finnish plain style. And every Saturday during the winter, the symphony builds at his workshop, which has been likened to Santa’s.
“Everybody working together, everybody learning, everybody doing something, really nice,” Johnson said. “It’s beautiful.”
The Oulu man is also considering steaming up another batch of snowshoes for anyone who is interested. He only charges for the cost of materials.
To order snowshoes, call Johnson at 715-372-8409 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Free woodworking plans are available at http://rodswoodworking.com or www.woodworkingcorner.com.