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Andy Chidwick with students from the North Salem High School woodworking program.

Andy Chidwick with students from the North Salem High School woodworking program.

It isn’t unusual for a member of the Popular Woodworking Magazine staff to spend vacation time to attend a woodworking class. Usually I go to teach, but last week I found myself in Montana learning at the Chidwick School of Fine Woodworking in Stevensville, Montana. I was there on my own dime to meet Dean Mattson and to see the top five students from his woodworking program at North Salem High School in Salem, Oregon. I did learn a thing or two about woodworking, (especially grain selection from Christopher Harding) but most of my time was spent learning how the top high school woodworking program in the country takes kids from the worst circumstances and gives them what they need to land good jobs in the woodworking industry. Mattson does such a good job that employers are lining up for the opportunity to hire his students.

Dean Mattson with his students from the North Salem High School woodworking program.

Dean Mattson with his students from the North Salem High School woodworking program.

One interesting thing about the week was the amount of attention it received. Several members of the online woodworking community and suppliers dropped in for online visits and Todd Clippinger drove over from Billings to share his work with the class. As I took pictures throughout the week, I kept seeing more cameras and more people arriving to see what was going on. Local TV station KPAX came by (you can watch the video segment by clicking here) as did the local newspaper “The Missoulian” (you can read the front page story by clicking here).

Mattson came to teaching after years in the business world, and schools across the country are anxious to apply his methods to their programs. In 2013 he was named “Teacher of the Year” by the WMIA, and this year he challenged the woodworking industry to support a national training center. If that comes about, stories about employers waiting in line to hire recent high school graduates won’t be unusual. That would be a good thing. My thanks to Dean and Andy and the kids from North Salem. It was the best vacation I ever had.

 — Robert W. Lang

You can read more about Dean Mattson and his vision for the future at my personal blog.

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Showing 4 comments
  • G5Flyr

    Ditto pmac!

    Thanks for posting Robert. I new a lot of kids who needed something like this when I was a teen in the early and mid 1970’s. Here are some notable quotes from the newspaper article and the TV News spot:

    “…they also learn about leadership and teamwork, and how to observe and draw inspiration from their surroundings”

    “What we’re trying to do is build men and women of character.”

    “What the world considered trash, we considered priceless”

    “We show them that they are valuable, not trash.” (from TV spot)

    With programs and attitudes like Mattson’s the world will be a better place.

  • R.L. Kocher

    It’s good to see that someone cares enough to connect the dots. There is a need for well trained personnel to have talent developed to contribute to the trade. Kudos to Dean Mattson.

  • joinerman


  • pmac

    Great story to start the week. Thanks.

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