Minong teen's design could travel world
Wooden coasters designed by a Minong teen are poised to travel the world.
The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. sent a global challenge to students in the state's 43 fabrication laboratories — or "fab labs" — in November. They were asked to create drink coasters representing Wisconsin that state leaders could give to visiting foreign dignitaries or international business executives.
Ten students took up the challenge, including Boden Morris, 15, from Northwood High School. The junior was one of four finalists tapped to give presentations on their coaster designs Thursday, Feb. 28, in Stevens Point. Two designs will be chosen and mass-produced as protocol gifts.
Northwood technical education and engineering teacher Ben Sorensen said Morris, a student assistant in the school's fab lab, specializes in 3-D printers and adaptive technology. The junior recently retooled an Xbox Kinect into a 3D scanner. Cutting out wooden coasters was Morris' first experience with the lab's computer-numeric-controlled (CNC) router, however.
"This is my first project I'd ever done on the thing. I was learning as I was doing it," Morris said. "I actually broke it the first time I tried running it."
It took six attempts to align the wooden body of the coasters, cut on the router, with the Wisconsin-shaped cork inlay, which was cut and engraved on the fab lab's laser engraver.
"Two different machines; we had to come up with two different ways of doing it," Morris said.
There was also a difference in the degree of precision. The wood bit is one-eighth of an inch, while the laser is hairline-thin.
"The laser is really exact; this one's not too exact so it was kind of difficult to make that transition," Morris said.
And the router table had to be perfectly level to ensure the inlay fit flush.
The end result was a set of square coasters made out of maple (the state tree is the sugar maple) with a cork inlay that can be engraved with Wisconsin-themed art, like cheese, the state bird, the Capital, and its motto, "Forward."
Morris put in a lot of work on the coaster design after school and on weekends.
"Just the fact that he got to this point is pretty cool," Sorensen said.
Learning by doing lies at the heart of the Northwood Fab Lab, and this year's students are stretching their knowledge.
"We've got really cool kids that are smart and they're willing to work things out," Sorensen said.
Recent projects include upgrading the school's screen printer for work on larger-sized shirts and repairing its gas canisters. Students hope to be tapped to create cabinets for the school's new concession stand, as well.
Two fab lab grants from the state as well as continued support from the school district and Northwood Educational Foundation have provided students, and the community, with updated tools to work with. Northwood received its first fab lab grant from WEDC in 2016 to add the CNC router and a milling machine.
In 2018, another $100,000 in upgrades were poured into the shop through state and federal grants as well as dollars from the education foundation and district. About $20,000 of that went into a new door, compressor and hookups. The rest purchased metalworking machines—a plasma table and a large CNC mill—as well as a vacuum table for the CNC router to ensure the cutting surface is level. In addition, the Northwood Educational Foundation put $18,000 into upgrading the school's welding equipment.
"So we went from 1970s welding equipment to the current time," Sorensen said.
Northwood students launched their own fabrication business, Evergreen Enterprises, in 2018. It's motto is "We Build Experiences," and it offers custom product — creative design, screen printing, vinyl cutting and laser engraving, as well as wood and metal work. Visit evergreen-enterprise.weebly.com or call 715-466-2297 for more information.
The public can also stop by the Northwood Fab Lab from 4-8 p.m. any Thursday school is in session to make their own ideas a reality.