Why restrict education to academics only? In Al LaFountaine’s furniture design class, high school students are learning to apply geometry concepts and are putting their problem-solving skills to the test as they design and construct actual pieces of furniture to use at home.

But learning to work with their hands is a skill in its own right, said LaFountaine, even without the ties to academic subjects.

“Every year I run into graduates who work for construction,” said LaFountaine. “I ran into three this year. Maybe college isn’t right for everybody; it’s nice to see that they’re prepared to go into the trades. And the knowledge of machines and tools prepares them to work on their own houses.”

LaFountaine and his students are grateful to the Cohasset Education Foundation for providing a $20,000 grant to replace five major machines in the workshop over the past two years.

The first year, they got a new band saw, two table saws, and jointers. This year they got a new planer, which is used to bring raw boards down to the desired thickness. The class was previously using portable planers that just couldn’t work as fast, and couldn’t accommodate an entire board at once.

“The machines we had still worked,” said LaFountaine, “but they were from the ’60s. Getting new parts was hard. It was time to put those to rest and bring in some new equipment.”

For many students, this is the first time they’ve built anything that wasn’t made of Legos.

“It started off really tough because I hadn’t done anything like this,” said freshman Joe Klier. “The drawings were the hardest part, and calculating how much wood to use. But then, as I got the hang of it, it got a lot easier. I’d do the class again.”

Students were surprised how much work (and how much wood) went into building a basic chair. The geometric elements posed a bigger challenge than expected.

“The four legs don’t stand up straight,” said sophomore Brad Albanese. “Otherwise, if you lean back, you’d just fall over. You need supports and angles.”

“I had to calculate a lot of angles,” agreed sophomore Lindsey Beiche. “If you erased one line, you’d have to erase others or have to restart.”

Even though freshman Jack Fitzpatrick had done some building before, he, too, was challenged by the drafting process.

“You have to figure it all out beforehand,” said Fitzpatrick. “If one measurement is off, then it’s all off.”

Despite that, most of the students said they hoped to take the single-term class again. Students can take furniture design as many times as they want (or as many as they can fit into their schedule), and the process goes a little more smoothly each time.

Freshman Jake Cosentino loved the class so much that he could even see himself going into architecture after taking it. “It was difficult, but worth it,” he said.