Cutting Edge: Using a Sawmill to Teach Life Skills


Chadwick high-schoolers Trenton Massey and Corbin Michael put on their safety goggles and adjust the log to just the right position. After about 10 minutes and four cuts, they have a piece of wood ready to create from, but more than that, they have a skill that most teenagers don’t have the opportunity to learn.

“I think it’s a cool skill to learn,” said Michael, a junior. “It teaches responsibility and it gives us another skill for life when we go out in the real world.”

Massey, who said he loves being in the outdoors, said he thinks knowing how to work a sawmill will be a lifelong skill.

“I think it’s something that you need to know,” the sophomore said. “I like working outside more than inside. I like hands-on projects.”

Michael said he wants to work with cars when he graduates high school. However, he also plans to have a farm.

“It’s good to know the skills we learn in ag class,” he said.

The Chadwick School District purchased the sawmill last fall, thanks to a matching grant that paid for half of the $10,000 piece of machinery.

Chadwick Agriculture Education Advisor Patrick Holt said eventually the sawmill will pay for itself. And while it’s rare for a school district to have its own sawmill, Holt said it just makes sense for Chadwick.

“For our area it’s important because we have two sawmills in the area that are potential jobs to students,” he said. “Other schools it might be easier to just buy the lumber, but here, we can build from scratch.

“Ultimately, we could saw all the material to build a shed. If we had the time, a house.”

For those who think safety may be an issue, Holt said students are trained and must pass a qualifications test before working with the machine.

Holt said it’s simply another avenue to teach his students life skills through ag classes and FFA.

In Holt’s ag construction class, students must complete one metal working project and one woodworking project each year. And with having their very sawmill, the options for the woodworking projects are endless.

“They can make anything from a rocking chair to a bookcase — anything they dream up to build,” Holt said.

Holt said it’s also a good lesson on where lumber comes from.

“Most people’s construction projects consist of buying materials, then making something. With this, we make the materials,” he said. “Most people think their food just comes from the grocery store. They don’t realize the actual process. With (logging), most people think their lumber comes from Lowe’s. But it goes from the forest to the sawmill to the distributor.”

Having the mill has also brought in more donations. Cory Ruggles Logging donated logs last year, giving the school a kick-start with the machine.

This year, White River Electric donated old poles that Holt plans to have his construction students square up and use to construct a building to cover the sawmill to keep it out of the weather.

Holt has also put the sawmill to good use helping the community.

The class sawed an oak floor for a resident’s bridge and used the mill to make the counter at the front office of the Chadwick School building.

Chadwick Principal David Aldrich said teaching students how to create using a sawmill gives them a cutting edge.

“They’ll be able to build some of the neatest stuff by having this,” he said. “Once a kid learns to use tools, they can transfer that knowledge to other things. It gives them a leg up.”

via Ameilia Wigton, Christian County Headliner