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Crafting projects for young minds
Sequim resident Brad Griffith is a STEM man, steeped in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics and dedicated to encouraging students from elementary school to college to develop their skills in those areas by building craft wood projects. A visit five years ago to the Museum of Flight in Seattle and cups of hot chocolate stirred to cool sparked an idea as the stirrers became flexible in the hot liquid.
“I then realized I could do anything pretty much with craft wood and I was the first one to take it this far. I can use a variety of different bends because wood has a natural glue called lignin,” Griffith said. “If you soften wood fiber, it pretty much goes where you want it to go.”
STEM is a national initiative to drive more American students to science, technology, engineering and mathematics and steer them into careers in those fields.
Griffith founded Impact Product Developing & Marketing and began making his own how-to DVDs after experimenting with patterns for art, bowls, baskets, toys, yard art, bridges, catapults, utensils and hanging spirals — he estimates he’s made hundreds of objects from his tools of the trade — coffee and paint stirrers, popsicle sticks, yard sticks, tongue depressors, slices of cedar and basswood veneers.
“My company primarily functions to build steam for STEM. We create building science and technology projects for kids in the STEM field to engage young minds toward those careers,” Griffith said.
“I don’t use any steam or boiling, no power tools and no chemicals to bend the wood so it’s user friendly,” Griffith said. “I’m producing DVDs — 160 thus far — as how-to’s for the kids. Primarily I’m teaching people how to do wood bending for toys and tools. I also help them understand how to make their own rebar with twisted wire and how to make bridge columns. I had a class in April at the Shipley Center and showed what is possible with craft wood and where to get it — craft stores, online, at hardware stores and from trees and bushes — from easy to very complex for kids of all ages.”
Griffith always is imagining how he can do the next thing with craft wood. After much trial and error and a lot of patience, a couple of weeks ago he learned the technology to craft hollow square and round lengths for axles and hinges.
“I soaked the veneer in water so it’s pliable, flexible and will bend around something into a shape. It’s really unlimited what you can do,” Griffith said. “I also use denim to create very strong boxes with very thin material. My DVDs will change the face of toy making.”
Griffith doesn’t hesitate when asked what the best part of the art and engineering of craft wood is. “Oh, creation! I love creating new projects. It’s kind of like a maker fever. I see something and I want to see if it can be done. Then it would be going to teach, to see people’s eyes light up on what they can do on their dinner table is really satisfying. My goal really is to teach people the skills with my DVDs,” Griffith said.
“The worst part is information technology — keeping up with social media, photos that need to be uploaded to websites, all that technology that I didn’t grow up with,” the 54-year-old Griffith said. “It’s been a very interesting path.”
Griffith has made 160 how-to videos and is a one-man operation, serving as the cameraman, narrator, demonstrator, light technician and editor, all in one take.
He added he’s also part of the “maker culture,” a new movement to expose how craft wood projects are made with other makers at craft shows.
“By doing that, more people can enjoy a craft. Because of STEM, the White House is seeing the value of the movement and is going to have a maker fair this year,” Griffith said, inviting craft stick makers from around the world.
World of worms
Griffith happened upon his other passion by chance. After stumbling one too many times over a messy mound of debris near his front door, his curiosity got the best of him and he dug into the pile, unearthing scores of night crawlers. The creatures and their habits fascinated him, so he invested in better camera equipment with micro video capabilities.
“I video them eating, drinking, mating and moving objects because no one else can,” he said. “It’s very difficult. I designed lab experiments for kids in the field to find midden mounds or night crawler nests. Then I designed experiments based on what I’d learned during my videos.”
Griffith shot hundreds of hours of videos and proved a theory that night crawlers are herbivores.
“Until my footage came out, scientists thought night crawlers only ate dead and dying materials. Now, with my video, I show they are predators to crops. You can physically see them open their mouths and drag stuff with them. I can see down their throats. It’s pretty exciting. I hope to inspire young minds.”
Griffith will speak at the International Symposium on Earthwork Ecology on June 22 in Athens, Ga. He also published a paper with a German scientist about night crawlers’ herbivore behavior.
He has no plans to start offering kits for his craft wood projects, citing that the logistics would be too complicated.
Reach Patricia Morrison Coate at firstname.lastname@example.org.