Dawson Vanderwiel has been working with wood for most of his life, and in June he’ll get a chance to show off his cabinet-making skills against the nation’s best.
By winning gold in his category at the provincials in Abbotsford in April, the Grade 12 Timberline Secondary student has qualified for the Skills Canada National Competition in Edmonton, Alta., which takes place June 3 to 6. A few other Timberline students attended the provincials, as Kaleb Link won silver for electronics and Ben Bellosillo and Bryan Gabutan competed as a team, finishing with the bronze for 3D computer animation.
Vanderwiel is now getting ready for Edmonton. This is the first time he will go to the nationals, though he did qualify for the provincials last year. He admits he was nervous the first time and felt more relaxed this year.
“I knew that I could just breathe a bit more,” he said.
He was more patient and paid greater attention to detail, or as he puts it, he measured twice and cut once.
“I was more accurate on all my cuts,” he said. “The first time at the provincials, I felt quite rushed.”
Timberline teacher Paul Klein agrees.
“He kind of knew what to expect. It helped a lot,” he said. “I think he thought it through this time.”
Klein found out Vanderwiel managed to outscore post-secondary students also taking part in the event. As a teacher, he is impressed to be sending a student to the nationals for the first time – one he describes as responsible and mature, often looking for answers on his own, though willing to ask for help when he needs it.
“For him to go to nationals is pretty cool,” he added.
Vanderwiel does not necessarily have any expectations of winning while he competes.
“I never like to assume that I do really well,” he said.
At the provincials, he had little information to work with before the event started and did not know what he would be building.
“We don’t know the project until about half an hour before,” he said. “You have to follow the plans as close as you can.”
At that point, the competitors get blueprints and a demo model to help them complete their project, which turned out to be a medicine cabinet to be made from white oak and measuring one-and-a-half feet tall by one foot wide and six inches deep.
“White oak is fairly nice wood to work with,” he said, describing it as hard but also pliable.
In Abbotsford, he finished his final sanding with five minutes to spare out of the allotted six hours, leaving him just enough time to grab a towel and wipe away the sawdust.
When it comes to the nationals in Edmonton, he will compete for 12 hours split over two days.
From his youngest “Lego” days, Vanderwiel has always like to build things and took his first wood class in Grade 8, finding he had a knack for the work.
“Tables are my favourite thing to build,” he said.
At school, he even helps mentor Grade 9 students as a teaching assistant.
“He helps us out when necessary,” Klein said. “It’s great.”
As far as for Vanderwiel’s plans after school, he is surprisingly not considering woodwork, which he sees as more of a hobby. Instead, he plans to study as an electrician at NIC next year and is also look at joining the RCMP a few years after that.
For now, he is working on joining methods and other techniques to help prepare himself for Edmonton. He admits he is still a little nervous about competing on the national stage but thinks he is now better prepared with another year under his tool belt.
“In that time, I’ve had time to refine skills and get better,” he said.