LOS ALTOS (KPIX 5) Very few schools today give students a chance to take a woodworking class. But at one small school in the Bay Area, every eighth grader looks forward to the time when they can pick up a block of wood, and make something with their own two hands. It’s all thanks to Richard Winslow and Peter Pipe. The close friends and woodworking enthusiasts have been volunteering their own time for the past 16 years, teaching young people at Miramonte Christian School in Los Altos how to sand, cut, and drill wood. For two hours every Friday, rain or shine, it’s woodworking time for the eighth grade class.
Winslow, who is 78, and Pipe, who is 93, agree: there is more to woodworking that sandpaper, glue, and a drill press. Both see it as a dying art, and their mission is to show their students how cool it actually is to take a block of wood and turn it into their very own “something.”
“As a child you may not be interested in woodworking at all but it does teach you,” explained Winslow. “Some new things, hand – eye coordination that you would never develop maybe or you can see opportunities how it ties in with other types of work.”
The men have collected the tools for the class over the years. In the beginning, storage was a bit haphazard, with cabinets full of tools and supplies all over the school. But just this year, space was made for a permanent woodshop location on campus.
Like the tools, and class space, the wood is also donated, so the program runs on a tight but efficient budget. Each child only has to pay a ten dollar fee for the year. Everyone makes a pencil holder and a race car, with end-of-class races held yearly. Students also get to choose a third project. Over the years, the kids have built their own book shelves and wooden puzzles. It’s an experience many students say they know they are lucky to have.
“I’ve never known that I’ve been able to do something like this,” said student Elizabeth Holderman. “And I’m really excited to try things out and learn something new.”
The students also know the classes would not have been possible without the determination of Miramonte teacher Ronna Sato. She got to know Winslow through church and she saw in him both talent and teaching potential. But Winslow was still working at his day job then. Sato never gave up on her woodworking class idea, and when Winslow left his engineering career, she made her pitch.
“As soon as he retired I swooped in and asked him if he thought that that might be a possibility because I’d seen some of the things he’d made,” Sato said with a laugh.
That was 2001. Soon after, Winslow talked his old friend Peter Pipe into joining in him. Neither gentleman has looked back since.
“I enjoy seeing the kids achieve things, explained Pipe.” I tell them ‘You’re going to show this to your grandmother one day and you’re going to be so proud.”
The students this pair have taught are both proud and lucky. More than 250 students have gone through the class. And both men do other volunteer work. Pipe has made hundreds of wooden toys for the Ronald McDonald House. Winslow works for “Rebuilding Together,” an organization that helps local homeowners having trouble keeping up with the maintenance of their homes.