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Montana carpentry teacher raising money for classroom materials in unique ways

James Sigl is crafting unique, custom wood topographic maps
Red Lodge High School teacher James Sigl talking about his topographic maps
Posted at 9:34 AM, Nov 25, 2022

RED LODGE - Lumber prices, like many commodities, have gone up significantly in price over the last few years.

And that price increase impacts more than contractors.

“The biggest thing has been lumber. Prices are high, so that’s always our biggest challenge is being able to get some hardwoods into our shop and getting some different things to build. Whether that’s hockey benches or a shed, and having that material around, or even just scraps for them to practice on,” explained Red Lodge carpentry teacher James Sigl.

Red Lodge High School opened a new career training education center (CTE Center) in January, focused on teaching students with an interest in the trades.

“To have something like this, from welding to automotive to carpentry to robotics, it says a ton not only of Red Lodge High but also the community of Red Lodge,” Sigl explains.

But these types of classes often require more physical materials for students to work with than core classes such as math and science — and with the price of lumber continuing to rise — Sigl has had to get creative.

Sigl decided to start selling custom wood topographic maps to raise money for classroom materials that he makes in the CTE Center at the school.

He uses a machine, known as a CNC, to create a design on his computer and has the machine carve out the designs on a wood block.

Topographic wood maps by James Sigl
Topographic wood maps by James Sigl

“I think everyone in Montana is kind of connected to the land, and specifically the mountains. To be able to blend those two worlds of woodworking meets CNC technology with something that you can physically hold and have in your house, and show people, this is where I’ve been, this is the trail I’ve done. That's pretty cool," Sigl says.

A customer stopped by the school while MTN News visited on Tuesday to pick up her custom order.

Lisa Baird and her family hiked a trail in Washington state, and she had Sigl make her a custom map of the trail.

“It’s so cool. And I could tell where everything is, like, I know what I’m looking at,” Baird said. “Yeah, it’s there right? You can see it, you can go back to it. You see the valleys and are like, I know exactly where that is,” Sigl responds. “Yeah, I climbed a rock right there. It was 400 feet,” Baird exclaims.

Lisa Baird and James Sigl looking at Baird's custom topographic map
Lisa Baird and James Sigl looking at Baird's custom topographic map

The maps are available by custom order, and prices range from $100 to $200, depending on the size and wood type.

Sigl explained these maps make great gifts for Christmas to help commemorate a special memory, like a hike with family or a wedding in the mountains.

“For some people, they’ve got married near one of these peaks, so having that to be able to hold is pretty cool and they end up looking pretty sweet. A lot of people have been liking them," Sigl explains.

All of the proceeds directly benefit Red Lodge High School woodshop students.

To place a custom order, or to learn more, email Sigl at james_sigl@redlodge.k12.mt.us or message him on Facebook.

“I just applaud Red Lodge High and Red Lodge for giving these kids these opportunities," Sigl says. "And for kids taking a chance and trying something new, I think it’s a pretty neat idea."