Mike Schloff is a local woodworker and founder of Maplewoodshop in South Orange, NJ. A member of the North Jersey Woodworkers Association, Mike has taught woodworking at Maplewoodshop, Maker Faire, a collective school in Montclair, and as an enrichment teacher at an elementary school in the South Orange & Maplewood School District. He recently spoke with Emily Witkowski, a public librarian and member of the NJ Makers Day Marketing Committee.
Can you tell us about your craft?
At Maplewoodshop, we help STEAM educators introduce portable, hand tool woodworking. Kids learn to use a small number of hand tools to create a large number of individualized projects. We have found that woodworking makes kids confident, creative and innovative and that the wood shapes the kids as much as the kids shape the wood.
We are on a mission to train STEAM educators, librarians, teachers, and camp specialists. To enable this, Maplewoodshop provides partners with custom tabletop woodworking jig sets that turn any table into a workbench, along with hand tools, consumables, lesson plans, training, and a locking, portable toolchest. This means that partners can utilize existing staff, tables, and multi-purpose rooms such as makerspaces. We provide lesson plans and training to “upskill” existing staff.
Safety is at the heart of the training so that each student is competent and capable before starting projects. Once the students have done a few projects, they can begin to explore new concepts on their own, designing projects from scratch.
We quip that woodworking is the original STEAM and still provides a valuable analog STEAM learning experience. Woodworking is all about problem solving and those skills apply to digital problems as well as life.
Our motto is “Handcrafting confidence, building community.” -Mike Schloff
What is your background and how did you get started with Maplewoodshop?
I was always a tinkerer and started woodworking 13 years ago when we bought a home and I learned to repair many things on my own. Working with wood provided a nice alternative to my digital career. In 2014, I worked my first Maker Faire and created a project kit for kids to make footstools. We had a one-hour wait for the project and I also realized how much I loved working with kids.
So, in 2016, I left my digital career and founded Maplewoodshop the next day. We noticed that there were not ways for adults and kids to work with their hands in safe, supervised classes that use hand tools, so we started by teaching local classes.
Along the way, I realized if we could make woodworking portable, we could help more kids instead of just those in our community. That is how we developed our custom, tabletop woodworking stations. They come in pairs so that learners face each other and learn socially. It also enables any table to immediately become a woodworking table.
We piloted with a 4th grade art teacher, a summer camp, and Maplewood Library to prove that this model can work and the results have been really wonderful. Hundreds of kids have done projects at multiple locations.
You teach kids, teens and adults about woodworking, but how did you learn woodworking yourself?
I view learning as a lifelong journey and make a lot of mistakes. I ask questions to other woodworkers and learn how to improve. I think the most valuable lesson we can teach is to have a growth mentality; know that you may not know how to do something now but that you can figure it out.
What is it about this particular craft that really appeals to you?
I love that woodworking provides 100% engagement throughout the project. Wood is organic, tactile, teaches physics via joinery, and kids end up with a result that they will keep for years. Many people who took shop, still have the project they made even decades later.
How do you suggest other people learn more about woodworking or get involved in this type of making?
While we are already in schools, a library and a camp, we are looking for more partners so we can make woodworking accessible to every student in a way that bridges art, math and science using project-based, experiential learning.
Learn more about Maplewoodshop here: https://www.maplewoodshop.com.