By Cory Erickson, Hillsboro Banner
Woodworker McClenahen takes after great-grandfather
Nathan McClenahen motions to a pile of lumber in his great-grandfather’s old workshop. Surrounded by clamps, wood stains, glue and a half-dozen U.S. flags he is building from pine, the 20-year-old North Dakota State University student smiles.
“All of those boards are for flags, so it’s going to keep me busy for a little while,” said 2018 MayPort-CG graduate with a laugh. “I’d say I’m close to 20 of them so far.”
McClenahen has spent a good portion of his summer vacation in his family’s shop, assembling various projects friends and family have requested.
Between Memorial Day in May, Flag Day in June and Independence Day on Saturday, the most popular item lately has been the Stars and Stripes.
“I’m a little busier than I thought I’d be,” McClenahen admits. “I was a little hesitant to sell them, but my family saw things much better than I did.”
McClenahen got his start in woodworking at an early age.
His great-grandfather, Vernon Kaldor, was an avid woodworker, spending many days with McClenahen in his shop midway between Mayville and Hillsboro.
Kaldor passed away in 2015 at age 96, but his passion for craftsmanship is alive and well at the family’s farmstead.
“He was a very, very skilled woodworker,” McClenahen said. “There’s a lot that he did that I’m kind of following in his footsteps.
“We took on a couple of projects together,” he added. “Seeing all of the things he did, I’m not filling his footsteps, but I’m following in them.”
Since then, McClenahen has started to get more serious about his craftsmanship and building things for his family’s house.
“I’ve always kind of dabbled in it, but it hasn’t been until this last year or so where I’ve kind of taken it to the next level,” McClenahen said.
For his flags, McClenahen uses high-quality pine boards from Menards and then burns them with a propane torch.
That lumber, he said, has unique grain patterns, which provide a high-contrast design when burned.
After the boards are burned, he stains 13 slats of wood red and blue, leaving the other portions unstained to make the flag.
After gluing the project together, McClenahen applies 50 star-shaped white vinyl decals to the wood and lets everything dry.
“I get those vinyl stars from Canada. I’ve tried a few different suppliers, but they’re the best I’ve found,” he said.
McClenahen has made U.S. flags in various sizes and also altered the design to create Thin Blue Line American flags, which honor law enforcement.
McClenahen began advertising his projects on Facebook weeks ago and received a lot of support.
With orders coming in from around the area, McClenahen says he’ll be busy for weeks to come.
“Taking on projects is definitely something I’m interested in doing,” he said. “I’ve been taking orders from people these last two weeks since I started advertising a bit more.
“My grandma and grandpa saw the flags and told me, ‘Hey you got to sell some.”
McClenahen hopes to branch out and work more with epoxy and 3D printing in his future projects, but he’s busy pursuing a degree in industrial engineering at the same time.
While he’s not sure what life has in store for him after college, he hopes he can turn his craftsmanship into a regular business at some point in the future.
“I’d love to run my own business someday, whether it involves woodworking or not – I feel like that’s something that’s in the ballpark.”
To order a sign, contact McClenahen on Facebook.
Near retirement, Erickson taking on wood projects
With retirement approaching, Lee Erickson is feeling like a kid again.
The 64-year-old Hillsboro insurance agent has spent the past five years building an arsenal of woodworking tools and will soon have a woodworking shop built in his backyard.
After spending many of his formative years around lumber and carpentry, getting to do fine craftsmanship has been a dream come true with his Lee’s Wood Shed business.
“It’s in my DNA,” Erickson said with a laugh. “This is something I’ve wanted to do for years.”
Woodworking has been a pastime that Erickson simply hasn’t had time for in the past.
While he owns The Erickson Agency in Hillsboro, he also has spearheaded prevention work as the head of Students Against Destructive Decisions across North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota.
He is the head of Northern Lights Youth Services, based out of Hillsboro, which leads efforts to provide positive resources for young people in the area. It hasn’t been until recently, however, that Erickson has had more time to pour into his hobbies.
“I like to go downstairs into the basement, crank up the tunes and just immerse myself in the project,” he said. “I love to bring out the natural beauty of the wood in my projects.”
Erickson is no stranger to engineering and design.
In college, he studied architectural drafting and owned a lumberyard in Wimbledon, N.D. for eight years.
Erickson sold the business, called The Wood Shed, in 1988 but brought back his old business name for his latest adventure in made-to-order craft projects.
“It kind of harkens back to some of my roots,” he said. “I was in and around building materials and the construction industry for many years, and I’ve slowly been accumulating the tools.”
Erickson purchased a scroll saw in 2017 and began to experiment with intricate cutting projects.
He’s expanded into intarsia woodworking, where different colored woods fit together like a puzzle to create one design.
“Most of the work I do right now is scroll-saw based, until I build my workshop,” Erickson said. “I’m looking to expand and do some more stuff, too, with slabs of wood.”
In the past year, he added a wood lathe to begin turning wooden and epoxy pens.
As he’s taken on new projects and challenges, he was approached about making a U.S. flag this spring.
Erickson glued the stained pieces of pine together for the flag and carved out 50 stars with a Dremel and router bit.
After he posted the finished design in June, he received four more flag orders within a week.
“I’d never done (a flag), but I figured I’d certainly try,” Erickson said. “I’ve received a lot of compliments about it.”
Typically around this time, Erickson is designing items to show at craft fairs around the area, but due to COVID-19 concerns, many of those have been canceled.
Still, Erickson has a small inventory of items on display at The Erickson Agency building at 502 W. Caledonia Ave. in Hillsboro.
He also welcomes new challenges people toss his way.
“I’ve taken a lot of special orders from people,” Erickson said. “I like new stuff. That’s why, when the flag order came in, I said, ‘Sign me up.’ I’ll do my best.”
For orders, customers can contact Erickson at his insurance agency at 636-5852 or check out Lee’s Wood Shed on Facebook.
(Editor’s note: Erickson is the father of Banner publisher Cory Erickson.)