Leigh Northrup: Maker Space Coordinator and Passionate Builder


At TotalBoat, we celebrate the passion, creativity, and dedication of our community of makers. In our Ambassador Spotlight series, we shine a light on individuals who not only excel in their craft but also inspire others with their innovative spirit and generosity. This month, we're thrilled to introduce you to Leigh Northrup, a remarkable maker whose journey from a childhood spent in his grandfather's workshop lead him to his role as an influential educator and Dean of Innovation and Technology. His story is a testament to the power of creativity, the importance of lifelong learning, and the joy that comes from sharing one’s passions with others.

Photo by Mark Adams @markadamspictures


Could you please introduce yourself and provide a brief overview of your background as a maker(woodworker)?

My love for making, building, and tinkering traces back to the deepest corners of my grandparents' basement in suburban Maryland. From the earliest days I can remember, I was at my grandfather’s side—Grandpa Jack, a tough World War II veteran, whose workbench was like Santa's workshop, but better. Everything there was meticulously cared for, from the tools to his eager apprentice perched on his knee.

School was never my forte in the traditional sense; books didn’t grip me the way materials did. Industrial arts, ceramics, and shop classes—these were my sanctuaries. They kept me engaged and far away from the usual study sessions. Creating with my hands was my escape and my passion throughout my education.

Driven by a desire to make a difference for at-risk youth, I pursued an undergraduate degree in Criminal Justice with concentrations in Law Enforcement and Corrections. This path unexpectedly steered me towards a fulfilling career as a middle school teacher (seems appropriate right?), where I have now served as the Dean of Innovation and Technology for over twenty-three years.

In this role, I’ve had the privilege of developing an amazing maker program at Cannon School in Concord, NC and have helped other programs across the country create spaces that foster creative learning for the next generation of makers.

My personal making passions lie in woodworking, resin, and digital fabrication. Sharing these interests with my students brings me immense joy every day when I open the doors to my shop. 

How has your background or experiences outside of woodworking influenced your creative approach or the projects you pursue? 

Embracing the world of education has propelled me into a role of a lifelong learner. Not a day goes by where I am not watching and learning from other amazing makers or learning from the rampant creativity that exudes from my students. My creative spirit has always brought me to make birthday, anniversary, and Christmas gifts. There is simply something so special about giving something to somebody that you have made (and hopefully they like it). 

What role do mistakes or "happy accidents" play in your creative process? Can you recall a time when a mistake led to an unexpected and positive outcome?

Mistakes or "happy accidents" play a huge role in my creative process. My lifelong journey as a maker has been one big happy accident. I've always embraced the "fail forward" approach. As a teacher and a maker, I try to lead by example, showing that the best learning opportunities often come from our epic disasters. Some of my best work has been built upon a treasure trove of mistakes.

I try to instill this mindset in my students as well. In my classroom, we have a big area labeled "Epic Fail" where we can all celebrate the positive progress and lessons learned when things don't go as planned. One memorable example was when a student accidentally added too much pigment to an epoxy pour. Initially, it seemed like a mistake, but the result was a stunning, unique pattern that became the highlight of their project. This happy accident not only salvaged the piece but also sparked new ideas and excitement in the class.

Do you have any favorite tools or techniques you frequently use in your projects? Why do you enjoy working with them?

As a digital fab nerd, I love incorporating lasers and 3D printing into my work. I deeply cherish the contrast between traditional art and high-tech tools found in the Makerspace. For example, one of my favorite epoxy pieces involves doing a flood pour over laser-cut lake shapes. Using the fine detail of the laser cutter and then enhancing it with the art of an epoxy pour adds such a unique creative flair.

As a woodworker, my lathe is my happy place. Taking a raw piece of nature and turning it into something beautiful brings me immense joy. Standing in front of my lathe is where I can turn and forget about the world around me. With a good vinyl record playing in my shop, turning a cool piece of wood becomes my utopia.

I also love the progression of woodturning. Starting with slow speeds and aggressive tools and finishing with high speeds and fine detail tools is such a fascinating process. Very few other forms of art require you to begin with a face shield and a large knife that resembles a weapon from Game of Thrones and end with extremely sharp small blades and sandpaper as smooth as 12000 grit.

How do you approach experimenting with new materials or techniques in your woodworking? Are there any materials or techniques you're currently excited to explore further?

When it comes to experimenting with new materials or techniques in my woodworking, I like to dive in headfirst and embrace the learning process. The combination of turning and epoxy is one of the next areas I'm particularly excited to explore. While I have done millions of acrylic pens, ice cream scoops, and salad tongs, I'm looking forward to working on larger vessels cast with epoxy.

The contrast between the natural wood shapes and the vibrant, shiny epoxy is incredibly intriguing to me. I recently got a TotalBoat pressure pot and can't wait to put it to use for this purpose. Living in North Carolina provides access to some amazing resources, including large burls and exotic hardwoods that will make for stunning epoxy cast wood pieces. 

As a TotalBoat ambassador, how has using TotalBoat products enhanced your woodworking projects? Are there any specific products that have become indispensable in your workshop?

As an educator and makerspace facilitator, I'm always on the lookout for ways to ignite the fire of creativity and making in my students. TotalBoat Epoxy, in particular, has become my “go-to” tool, as students are drawn to anything and everything made with it. From cutting boards and coasters to jewelry, epoxy projects are always a hit. My only challenge is when kids discover the epic 3000 dollar river table on You Tube, that took 3 gallons of epoxy to make, and want that to be their first project in the makerspace. That conversation usually goes something like, “How about we start with a coaster…”

Another favorite in our makerspace is the Wood Honey Food Safe Wood Finish. This little guy has become a staple since his first visit a couple of years ago. Everything the kids make out of wood needs to be finished with a fresh coat of Wood Honey. I always enjoy seeing their reactions when that first coat goes on—they think the bear just performed some kind of magic trick to make the wood shine.

Can you share a memorable experience where your woodworking skills positively impacted someone else's life or a community project?

One of the most memorable experiences where my woodworking skills made a positive impact was during a workshop I conducted with blind students. We used power carving tools from Kutzall and Ryobi rotary tools. In our last session, the students focused on making spoons.

It was truly incredible to watch them use the tools despite their visual limitations. They navigated the carving process with a level of precision and confidence that was inspiring. The tactile feedback from the tools and the wood seemed to resonate with them in a way that was both empowering and transformative.

The students’ determination and enthusiasm were infectious. By the end of the workshop, each of them had crafted a beautifully unique spoon. Seeing their pride and accomplishment was one of the most rewarding experiences I've ever had. It was a powerful reminder of the impact that woodworking—and any hands-on, creative endeavor—can have, regardless of one's physical limitations.

What role does technology play in your woodworking practice? Are there any digital tools or software that you find particularly useful?

Technology plays a significant role in my woodworking practice, enhancing both the precision and efficiency of my work and the work of my students. One of the key ways technology impacts my woodworking is through the use of digital design software. Programs like STinkerCad and Shapr3D are invaluable for planning and visualizing projects before making the first cut. These tools allow me to create detailed 3D models, experiment with different designs, and troubleshoot potential issues in the virtual space. 

In addition to design software, CNC machines have become an integral part of my workshop. They enable me to execute intricate designs and repetitive tasks with a level of accuracy that would be challenging to achieve by hand. This technology not only saves time but also opens up new possibilities for creativity and complexity in my projects. Incorporating Epoxy into CNC projects has become a favorite for me and my students. This usually leads to casting LEDS in the resin and at that point all creative mayhem breaks loose. 

Laser cutters are another example of technology enhancing my work. These tools allow for precise cuts and detailed engraving on various materials, adding a unique and personalized touch to my pieces. Creating precise molds and models to incorporate with epoxy is a great way to enhance your projects.

As someone who shares their work online, what impact do you hope to have on your audience or the woodworking community as a whole?

As a maker my biggest goal is to inspire the next generation. I want students and makers who might not have access to a huge makerspace or state-of-the-art lasers to feel confident taking creative risks and making awesome projects. I also want my content to inspire people who might have physical limitations to understand that limitations should not stop them from being amazing makers.

Inspiring others to see beyond the constraints of their environment or abilities is incredibly rewarding. When I post about my projects, I hope to show that you don't need a massive workshop or the latest technology to create something beautiful and functional. Sometimes, all it takes is a bit of creativity, some basic tools, and a lot of passion.

Can you describe a dream project or collaboration that you aspire to undertake in the future? What makes it so compelling to you?

A project that I'm incredibly excited about is a collaboration this summer with Jarvis Boards (@jarvisboards) and Grant Maginnis (@maginnismade) to build a custom paddleboard and wake surfboard. While the paddleboard project has been done quite a bit in the Maker community, the custom wake surfboard will be the first of its kind (at least that I'm aware of).

This project is so compelling to me because it combines craftsmanship, creativity, and adventure. I'm thrilled to share not only the build process but also the inevitable epic spills from behind the boat this summer. The idea of pushing the boundaries of what we've done before and creating something entirely new is what makes this collaboration truly exciting. Plus, it's a fantastic opportunity to work with talented makers and learn from each other along the way.


Photo above: Leigh's custom boat made for the 2023 TotalBoat Boat Race at Catskill Mountain Maker Camp 

We hope you enjoyed Leigh's heartwarming stories of how his skills have made a difference in his community, and how his dedication to his craft has not only shaped his own life but also touched the lives of countless students and fellow makers. Whether you're a seasoned woodworker, an aspiring maker, or simply someone who appreciates the beauty of handcrafted art, we hope this spotlight inspired you! 

To stay up to date on Leigh, you can find him at @thetinkerteacher on Instagram.



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