Working the Angles: Cabinetmaking Contest at SkillsUSA

The boards are cut and sanded, the doors and drawers are closed, and the hardware is installed. All that’s left is the waiting to hear which cabinetmaker takes home hundreds (and hundreds) of dollars in tools and merchandise from DeWalt, Irwin and Carhartt, not to mention bragging rights and a chance to advance to SkillsUSA world championships of cabinetmaking.

My money is on Maher Farag, cabinetmaker extraordinaire from Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Nashville. If you are even an infrequent visitor to BuildMeUpButtercupBlog, you are, no doubt, familiar with my boundless admiration for my construction school classmate Maher and his gift for creating beautiful structures from raw lumber.

I have seen Maher transform scrap wood into lovely tables, chairs, sofas, frames, shelves, children’s toys and a baby crib—to name a few of his off-the-cuff creations—but the assignment at the SkillsUSA National Leadership & Skills Conference in Louisville was the most challenging project I’ve seen him undertake yet. The small table—with tapered and slanted faces and hardly a right angle among its shelves, drawers and doors—looked like a nightstand from PeeWee’s Playhouse.

The two-day cabinetmaking competition started with an orientation, in which contestants learned the guidelines: Participants must wear khakis, closed-toe shoes, protective eyewear and a belt. They may not communicate with their instructors during the competition. Most importantly, they may not use cell phones.

It was the cell phone ban that most rattled Maher’s entourage—including me, my kids, and the instructor from TCATN’s Building Construction Technology program, Kenton Pleger. Because Maher’s most important tool is, arguably, his cell phone, which he uses to translate technical terms from English to Arabic.

Watching the orientation, I got the feeling that Maher, who immigrated to Nashville from Egypt about three years ago and whose English improves every day, was simply smiling and nodding through the technical lecture. But it didn’t seem to slow him down. As one spectator said upon learning of Maher’s language barrier, “He understands the plans, and that’s all that matters.”

To borrow one of Maher’s favorite expressions, the intricate angled design of the tapered cabinet appeared to be “no problem” for him, even without Google Translate.

Meanwhile, I’m on pins and needles waiting to hear how my classmate does in the final evaluation. My fingers are crossed. Winners will be announced Friday. Stay tuned.

2 thoughts on “Working the Angles: Cabinetmaking Contest at SkillsUSA

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