What a surprise I had when I started preparing for this interview and I found that the company is located in Toronto, Canada – not too far away from me! Yippee!
(Thanks to Roarockit for the original image and to Douglas Bordner, our pixelator, for the photo editing to include MsDebbieP)
Ted Hunter and wife, Norah Jackson, started the Roarockit company not too long ago, in an effort to make veneering accessible to everyone.
Norah and Ted, who has been teaching at the Ontario College of Art and Design for the past twenty years, were on vacation in Maui, eight years ago, when they happened upon the “Hui No’eau Visual Arts Center”, a non-profit gathering place for artists. While touring the grounds they noticed an old woodworking shop that had been abandoned and an idea started to form.
Ted volunteered to fix up the shop and to offer classes. Of course, this offer was well-received, but there was one catch: Ted and Norah would be teaching children and they hadn’t done that before. After some thought, Norah came up with the idea of teaching them how to build a skateboard deck. This project would be something the students would be interested in and so they’d have their full attention. And so the journey began.
Over the next six years, Ted and Norah facilitated many classes and students were each able to make their own skateboard in just a week’s time. The highlight, for Ted, was watching the look on the children’s faces as they watched the vacuum process work its magic.
After the success in the classes, the deck kit was born. Their goal was to take what they have created in Maui and make it accessible to everyone. The challenges included finding alternatives to using an electric vacuum pump and plaster for the molds, as these were costly and not convenient for shipping.
The result of their brainstorming was a hand pump, which has the same vacuum power as an electric pump, and making a mold from foam rather than plaster.
These alternatives to the traditional veneering technique fulfilled their goal, and with the addition of the plastic bag, the sealing tape, and the breather netting, the Thin Air Press was born. The basic kit plus 1/16th inch Canadian Hard-Maple veneer provides everything one needs to build his/her own skateboard deck.
Their contact at Woodcraft was not only excited about this skateboard kit but quickly encouraged them to create a kit for woodworkers in general, which includes a two-foot square vacuum bag, opening up the building possibilities. From here, Roarockit really took flight.
Following the success of the classes at the Art Centre in Maui, Ted and Norah are now working with OASIS, an alternative school in Toronto, and the No Child Left Behind program in Chicago. Here, the students once again learn woodworking skills through the guise of making their own skateboard, as well as develop the personal skills needed to complete such a project.
At OASIS, the students get credit for finishing the skateboard deck, an art credit if they add a design to their creation, and, now, they are able to build two decks, putting one for sale in their store. With the second deck, they not only see a profit but also receive an entrepreneur credit. The 90% + attendance rate is a clear sign of the program’s success.
A future goal for the program is to teach the older students how to pass on their skills by going to other alternative schools and student programs and teach others how to make their own skateboard deck. The benefits keep on multiplying.
In the plans for Roarockit, is the goal of increasing the availability of the kits, continuing to make them accessible to everyone. The kits are currently available through Lee Valley, Rockler, and Woodcraft and is also available through Carba-tec in Australia. (And, because the kits are available online, this makes them available to everyone around the world.)
Ted and Norah are also busy preparing for the opening of their school in Toronto, where they will be teaching children and adults how to work with their hands, creating skateboards. In one month’s time, Roarockit will be the world’s first professional skateboard deck making school!
But the goals do not stop there! No, Roarockit is always looking for new ideas for non-traditional methods of building. One idea to look for in the future is “freehand bending”. This is yet another way for Ted and Norah to draw people into the world of working with their hands.
Does it stop there? Not at all. Roarockit has developed a curriculum kit for schools; they want to provide seminars for teachers on professional development days; they want to pass on the arts of marquetry, bending furniture components, and bent wood sculptures all through the process of using the vacuum press; and they are seeking connections with Scouts and other boys & girls clubs to continue spreading the skill that will benefit children in so many ways and perhaps even use the skateboard decks as items to auction off for charities.
On the website there are a number of tutorials available. Visit the Roarockit tutorial site to learn how to use the Thin Air Press, how to make a foam mold, and many other skills.
Ted’s Favourite Product
When asked what his favourite product was, Ted was eager to say that the best moment is when a young student, having taken a class, orders some veneer to make something else. This is when Ted knows that they “get it” and have transferred the knowledge learned in the class to doing projects on their own. Although I was talking to Ted on the phone at the time, I’m sure I heard a smile!
Ted also is proud to say that the Roarockit kits makes the woodworking process accessible to all and many people wouldn’t have even tried it otherwise.
According to Ted and Norah there are a few misconceptions about the Roarockit: 1) they don’t know what it is and so disregard it, (The classes offered are definitely taking care of this) 2) the hand pump can’t possibly replace an electric pump; (it does!!) 3) the hand pump would take too long to use; (it takes less than one minute to pump out the air and create a vacuum) 4) the plastic bags will lose air before the process is complete. (Ted and Norah have returned from trips to Maui and the bags have not lost their pressure).
Many people think that the kit is too simple to believe – but believe it. The adaptations of electric pump to hand pump and plaster molds to foam have not lessened the effectiveness of the process. Just check out the blogs to see the end results.
Tips to the LumberJocks
This quick question got a quick response back. Ted’s tip is to “Keep It Simple!”
I’d like to thank Ted and Norah, at Roarockit, for taking the time to talk to me about their company’s journey as well as for all the wonderful things they are doing to help our youth develop skills to build things on their own as well as personal skills such as responsibility and self-confidence.
-- ~ Debbie, Canada (http://www.execulink.com/~yohan)