When Brett Ottinger of Lehighton was a young boy, he liked following his dad around the house helping him fix things. He especially liked tinkering around in his dad's workshop.
Now 20 years old, he's a national award winning wood worker, having just won second place in the Skills USA competition.
That's quite an accomplishment. It looks like all that tinkering around paid off.
"My dad always had a work shop in the basement and I liked working with him in the shop," he says.
When he was about 12 years old he remembers making a little wooden box and from there progressed to bigger and larger wooden items.
In Palmerton Area High School shop classes, he made a corner shelf, a cutting board and a grandmother's clock.
He even built a vanity for his parents' master bathroom.
One summer he worked for Dynamite Woodworking as a cabinet maker. He also worked for Lynn Byerly of Forest Inn Kiln.
Brett thought he wanted to become a cabinet maker after graduation and learned one of the best schools in Pennsylvania was Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology in Lancaster. When he looked into the school, he really liked the furniture making aspect and applied.
After he graduated from Palmerton in 2007, Brett began his studies at Thaddeus Stevens learning about joints and structure. In his second year he was involved in building a kitchen for a house which included architectural millwork from baseboard to trim.
For his senior project, Brett made a Chippendale partner's desk. He had seen a picture of one and really liked the design. When he made his desk out of walnut, he added some of his own designs such as the veneer desktop's intricate four-way book matching. He hand carved a gadrooning design around the desk bottom as well as hand carved ball and claw feet. The veneering and gadrooning he had never done before and it took lots of practice. He stained it with Mohawk Medium Walnut. The project took him over 250 hours to complete.
The beauty of the piece led people at the school to encourage Brett to enter the Skills USA competition which is held for high school and college students.
In April of 2009 he competed with 14 other students, some from high school, some from colleges, on the state level. The competition was held at the Hershey Convention Center.
"We were given blueprints of a night stand with a false drawer front with an open shelf beneath. We all had to make the same piece. We had to compose a material list and turn it in. We were given seven hours to complete it. None of us did," says Brett.
Each entry was graded on workmanship and the written material list.
Brett won first place in the Post Secondary category which qualified him to compete at the national level to be held in June in Kansas City, Missouri, which he attended.
For this competition the 22 entrants received blueprints to make a table top writing desk and again had to submit a written material list. They had seven hours to complete the project.
"About of us finished this one. Mine included," says Brett.
Not only did he complete the project, he won second place.
"It was a good experience. I wished I had won first place but at least I got a second," he says.
Besides having the honor of saying he won a national contest for his woodworking skills, he also won a bag of Irwin tools, small hand tools, a $500 Carhart gift card, a saw blade, a router and a sander.
While Brett has been honing his woodworking skills, he has become an inspiration to his father.
"I'm really proud of what Brett's done. I'm tickled pink he's in a field I always wanted to be in," says Chuck Ottinger.
The home he shares with his wife, Kim, a secretary at Towamensing Elementary School, is filled with his own woodworking talents in the form of a Grandmother's clock, a deacon bench and a hutch. His love of woodworking also began in his father's workshop.
Today he is currently attending Lehigh Carbon Community College studying kitchen and bath design with hopes of working as a cabinet maker or as a kitchen and bath designer.
Both Chuck and Brett, share a love of working with their hands to create something beautiful when completed.
"I enjoy woodworking because I love the accomplishment of a project being finished after all the steps of getting there,"says Brett.
Currently Brett is working for a contractor in Schuylkill Haven while trying to get his own business, Brett's Custom Cabinetry and Fine Furniture, (484-464-1859) off and running.
His dream is to have his own shop, his own land and to have a successful business.
He's constructing that dream one nail, one project at a time.
And being a national award winning woodworker can't hurt.