A way with wood — and teenagers
Sebastopol woodworker Tom Segura, whose handmade furniture graces wineries and homes throughout Sonoma County, has been sharing his woodworking skills at Analy and El Molino high schools since the beginning of the year.
“I’m just helping kids with basic woodworking, things like cutting parts and demonstrating woodworking techniques. And I’m trying to keep them from hurting themselves,” he said with a laugh.
Segura has been friends with local woodworking teachers Brent Gorris at Analy and Brian Phillips at El Molino for many years. He started volunteering in their classrooms because he believes it’s important that high school students have a path to enter the trades.
“I know industrial arts programs have been hammered by budget cuts,” said Segura, who volunteers six to eight hours per week. “I came up through the public schools and took woodworking classes there. I just wanted to pass that on.”
For the last several years, Segura has also helped local students get ready to participate in the Bodega Bay Fisherman’s Festival’s Wooden Boat Challenge, in which teams of four students build a boat from scratch in just four hours and then race it in the bay.
On Saturday, April 27, three students from Windsor High — brother and sister Tobias and Sable Booth and Jackson Whiteley — showed up at El Molino to make a practice boat with Segura and Phillips.
For the wooden boat competition, students are given two big sheets of plywood, some hand tools and an electric drill, and then it’s up to them to build a seaworthy vessel.
The teens were looking forward to getting some expert advice and hands-on practice, because they sank last year.
“We got to the turnaround point — in other words, as far out as possible — and then the boat came apart, and we had a long swim back,” said Whitely.
Segura’s advice must have paid off, because the Windsor team — along with all other boats — made it back afloat, finishing second to El Molino at his year’s Fish Fest on May 5.
Segura said he enjoys teaching woodworking skills to high school classes, but said he’s also learned things from the students — like how to operate his iPhone.
“I had to get one for work, but using it is a headache,” he said. “I’d rather go out in the shop and start making some sawdust. But the kids are naturals with the thing, and I’ve learned a lot from them about how to do different things with it.”
For his part, both Gorris and Phillips are happy to have Segura’s help in class.
“Tom brings years of professional and practical experience which he is able to convey to the kids,” Gorris said. “His input shows in the quality and variety of projects that leave the shop. He is able to answer questions and give suggestions that would otherwise fall on me as the teacher. Each volunteer I have brings a different skill set to the class, but ultimately they significantly reduce the teacher/student ratio.”
Phillips agrees. “Tom makes fantastic, beautiful furniture, and he’s a master boat maker. He’s a real wizard with curved wood. Plus, he’s incredibly intuitive and comes up with out-of-the-box solutions to things. In class, he provides another pair of hands and another pair of eyes,” Phillips said.
In a room full of teenagers operating large and potentially dangerous equipment, another set of eyes is a very good thing.