The annual contest, which returned to Conestoga after Humber College hosted it for the past two years, gave apprentices from across the province the opportunity to compete for cash prizes and attend the AWMAC national convention in Canmore, Alberta from May 30 to June 2.
According to Martin Grinwis, a professor in the college’s woodworking technician program, Conestoga’s Woodworking Centre is a perfect venue for the event, as it is home to more than 100 pieces of equipment and serves as the largest woodworking training centre in North America - both in physical size and in the number of students it puts through.
The objective of the one-day event was for the woodworkers to construct a cabinet from start to finish based on a set of drawings and a limited arsenal of supplies. The finished products were judged by three industry representatives for both appearance and salability: each component of the cabinet was graded on accuracy and overall quality.
Grinwis, who organized the event, said it tested everything from time management to attention to detail.
“It’s a contest to test their skill and their abilities,” he said. “They have to be able to work under pressure and get their project done on time. They’re using hand tools and getting marked on their accuracy, their quality of workmanship and their ability to read and interpret a drawing.”
While the competition was open to all AWMAC members, including colleges such as Humber and Mohawk, all five competitors at this year’s event do their training at Conestoga.
Jeremy Ronnenberg of Kitchener won the event, with Brad Van Bakel of Kippen, Ont., finishing second and Brampton’s David Buchanan rounding out the top three.
Ronnenberg’s cabinet will be sent to Alberta, where it will be judged by a panel of national AWMAC judges against the other provincial winners. If selected as a finalist, he will be in the running for the top prize of $500 and appear at the association’s annual convention at the end of May.
Grinwis said an invitation to the annual convention is a huge honour within the industry.
“It's a bit of a competition among the provinces, for who’s got the best student. There's definitely some bragging rights and pride in there.”
The event provided great exposure for all five contestants, as evidenced by the job offer Francesco Abate received from one of the judges following the competition.
“The competition is a great opportunity to meet people in the industry, talk with them about new work, past work, and try to learn by asking questions,” said Abate, 23.
Abate, who is in his third year of apprenticeship, attends Conestoga eight weeks per year for the classroom portion of his accreditation. His final session will be this May.
Abate said the event was an opportunity to gain experience and learn from others.
“The competition is a fun way to test your skills against some of the best young cabinetmakers in the area,” he said. “It’s a great way to learn many different techniques in cabinetmaking. You can then adapt your own technique or use a combination of those techniques to achieve the best you can.”
The greatest obstacle of the event, Abate said, was working in an unfamiliar atmosphere.
“I always find the biggest challenge with these competitions is getting used to a new shop, because you don't know the machines or haven't worked on them yet.”
Abate said his training at Conestoga went a long way in preparing him for the event.
“There is a lot of knowledge within the faculty at Conestoga - that makes learning easy.”
Story by Ryan Bowman, second-year student in Conestoga's Print-Journalism program.
For more images from the event and information on the importance of apprenticeship programs, view the video below: