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Del Val woodworking students receive Golden Hammer Awards

The winners of this year’s Golden Hammer Awards, which recognize the Delaware Valley High School students who made the top woodworking projects, are Mike Casarona of Kingwood Township, N.J., Derek Schepens of Milford, N.J., and Hayden Olcott of Alexandria Township, N.J.
As in so many other arenas of human endeavor, the pandemic posed obstacles to the completion of these projects. “The common thread here is resourcefulness,” said woodshop teacher Josh Paul. “These guys used outside resources to help them.” They couldn’t just stroll into the Del Val woodshop where a full array of tools and machinery awaited them.
All of them borrowed tools from Del Val, taking some home when they left school on March 13. “We knew what was coming,” said Paul. Following up, additional tools were variously delivered by him or picked up by the boys from a pre-arranged, super-secret drop.
Family garages became workshops for Casarona and Olcott, and Schepens got to use A.J. DeRosa’s woodshop. DeRosa is a Del Val woodshop alumnus with special expertise in what Schepens was trying to accomplish. Namely making a “river table,” which has blue-dyed epoxy filling a void in the wood to create a rivery effect. The other two boys were in frequent communication with their teacher via phone and email, sending photos and getting suggestions.
For his coffee table, Schepens used “live edge” (partly unmilled) cherrywood in the Nakashima tradition. But instead of having the irregular natural edges on the perimeter, he turned them inward and filled the space between them with the epoxy “river,” which flowed down one end of the table for a waterfall effect.
Olcott’s coffee table was made of mahogany donated by Barry Heinrichs and purpleheart from Lane’s Millwork of Holland Township, expensive but deeply discounted, said Paul. Purpleheart is a dense, purple hardwood from South America, and Olcott may have exhausted the local supply.
Remembering his Wood 1 cutting-board skills, Olcott alternated the two colors of wood for a striped effect. Classmate Matt Zdepski helped him assemble the table back when school was an in-person affair, and Hayden did the prep and finishing at home.
Casarona’s poker table was made with hardwood veneers over plywood, with the play area upholstered in felt and illuminated with LED lights. Powdered-felt flocking affords maximum comfort to the poker chips in each player’s bay. Of course there are cup holders. A cabinet is built into the pedestal and, between games, a wooden table top protects the table while providing a useful surface. It was an ambitious project, but “Mike was amazingly organized” and was able to execute it beautifully, said his teacher.
“They all did phenomenally well,” said Paul. The Golden Hammer Awards, which don’t involve actual hammers, are given out each year after the woodshop’s best projects are judged by a panel of local experts.