Entrepreneurs raise the profile of metalworking


Visitors of Forest Hills Northern High School are greeted by a metal sculpture of the school’s mascot, a husky, created by students with help from EA-Craftworks. Courtesy EA-Craftworks

A 2½-year-old company is doing its part to boost engagement in the skilled trades.

Mark Schentzel and Alex Kallio, co-owners of EA-Craftworks — which they founded in May 2017 and the Business Journal featured in 2018 — recently began offering adult education classes after a sculpture project with a high school reignited Schentzel’s love of teaching.

EA-Craftworks is a custom design and metal fabrication company that makes limited-run industrial products, signage, fine stainless-steel work and sculptures out of a shop at 957 Leonard St. NW in Grand Rapids.

In late January 2019, Schentzel received an email from Kendra St. Antoine, art instructor at Forest Hills Northern High School, seeking to commission him and Kallio to help with a student project.

The task was to create a large sculpture of the school mascot (the Huskies) that could be put on display outside the high school. St. Antoine asked Schentzel and Kallio to involve three to six preselected FHN students during the design and fabrication process.

“With limited budget for materials and no metalworking equipment at the school, we had to get creative,” Schentzel said. “We took their original idea and developed it into a collaborative learning opportunity for the students. We did all the welding at our shop but allowed the students to work with pre-cut, malleable material in their classroom.”

Schentzel and Kallio suggested a few pieces of equipment FHN could buy that would allow students to do “cold-forming” metalwork. Over the course of a few months, they went to the high school on Mondays to work with the students and critique their design and process.

The students fabricated the pieces of the husky sculpture from a steel rod and used tie wraps to hold them together.

Schentzel and Kallio then brought the sculpture to their shop and did all the welding, then transported it to be powder coated and, ultimately, installed in the roundabout in front of FHN, where it has been on permanent display since May.

The school is now in the process of adding a metal shop to its facilities to continue to provide learning opportunities to students.

After completing this project, Schentzel was reminded of how much he enjoyed his prior experience teaching welding classes at Kendall College of Art and Design, and he decided to start offering adult workshops at EA-Craftworks.

The first workshop was in June, and Schentzel has since held four more with plans to offer them on a monthly basis at least through 2020.

The classes, which cost $395 per student and include all supplies and equipment, meet on four consecutive Saturdays per month for 3½ hours per session.

Some students are looking to “beef up” their skills to get a better job, some are looking for continuing education and others consider it a hobby they can do in retirement, Schentzel said.

Small class sizes allow Schentzel to work with each student individually and tailor the workshops to their specific interests and skill sets.

St. Antoine signed up for her first class this month after witnessing what EA-Craftworks could do.

“I’m excited to learn and hone new skills to bring back to my students,” she said.

Eric Baird, industrial technology teacher at FHN, currently is taking his third workshop with his son.

“Mark takes the time to get to know each student and their expectations for the class to ensure they get the most out of it,” he said.

Baird and his son made sculptures from scratch in the October workshop, Schentzel said.

Both Kallio and Schentzel said they see the project with FHN and the adult workshops as a prime way to increase the profile of skilled trades, including machining, welding and fabrication.

“This project with Forest Hills Northern was not only a fun experience, it was an eye-opening experience. This thing that we do and our passion for it is somewhat of a mystery to the general public,” Schentzel said. “We noticed the art instructors and parents of the students were just as enthusiastic about learning the welding processes as the students themselves.”

Schentzel said the FHN students offered “great feedback” after completing the sculpture project.

“Everybody was really impressed and surprised with what we were able to accomplish and create in that timeframe,” he said.

“I know a few of those students that we were involved with, they were curious about possibly doing the welding workshop down the line, as well, because they got kind of engaged and excited about that process.”

Kallio added: “It opened the door to us as something that we would enjoy doing more of, working with the community and educating people to get them interested in welding and to share that art world, as well as the welding world with anybody who’s interested.”

Schentzel and Kallio said they are in the process of launching youth workshops for 16- to 17-year-olds in addition to the adult workshops.

They also plan to begin offering open shop time for alumni of the workshops to come and practice their craft.

More information about EA-Craftworks and the metalworking workshops is available at bit.ly/eacworkshops.

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