Eliot McDonald Contributed photo

Woodworking teen crafts fine boards from local woods 

By Holly Camero   Correspondent
December 23, 2023

At 10, while most kids were spending their time playing video games or hanging out at a friend’s house, Eliot McDonald was learning how to make things with wood.  

Now, at 13, he has a thriving business.  

He created his first woodworking project while attending a YMCA summer camp in the Berkshires. He was hooked.  

“I did it for a month. There was this really nice woodshop teacher, and I would go to the woodshop every day and make stuff. It was during COVID,” Eliot said.  

When he returned home, his parents helped him set up a woodshop in the garage.  

“It’s something I have to do all the time, which is really nice,” Eliot said.  

He made charcuterie and cutting boards, and eventually had so many he didn’t know what to do with them. He began contacting stores in Concord to see if anyone would be interested in selling his boards. Comina in downtown Concord agreed to carry his products.  

They took the first few on consignment, selling them all in a month, Eliot said. Now they buy his work outright.  

“The women at Comina have been fantastic. It’s been good all around. They’ve been very supportive of his work,” said Mike McDonald, Eliot’s father.  

At a recent pop-up shop at Comina’s, Eliot sold nine of 10 boards ranging in price from $50 to $220. He donated 10% of the proceeds to Buddy Dog animal shelter in Sudbury.  

Function and creativity 

Woodworking appeals to Eliot on many levels.  

“I feel like I’ve always had a creative side. Woodworking can express that in a technical manner, where you actually get something out of it. You have a product afterward that you can do something with,” he said.  

He particularly enjoys the freedom to create a functional item in all shapes in sizes.  

“It can be in your kitchen and that really appeals to me,” Eliot said.  

Most of the wood he uses comes from a local sawmill in Winchendon, where “they only cut down trees that have fallen, so they are not cutting any living trees.” 

The remaining wood comes from New Hampshire, he said.  

Most of the money he makes from the sale of the boards is used to purchase new tools.  

He started out with the basics — a bandsaw, miter saw and sanders. Since then, he has added a planer, a biscuit joiner, and other tools for fine woodworking — quite the setup for a 13-year-old, said Mike.  

Eliot is always trying to learn new things to add to his repertoire, finding most of what he needs to know on YouTube.  

“There’s a ton of content on YouTube that can walk you through these things. The rest is trial and error,” he said.  

Woodworking classes remain out of reach, as most require him to be at least age 16.  

He recently began experimenting with resin, which adds more detail to his work — and another layer of difficulty.  

“I’ve started to move into that recently. I’m trying to expand my interest and what I’m good at, so I’m trying to find more things to do,” he said.  

He would also like to get into wood turning, “where you make all sorts of cool stuff,” he said.  

Fitting it all in 

Eliot hopes someday to have his own website, so he can sell directly to customers.  

“Even though a store is great, it would be cool to take custom orders,” Eliot said.  

He also wants to sell bigger items, noting he already has a table for sale at Comina’s.  

With school and other extracurricular activities — he plays lacrosse, takes a math course outside of school and takes part in the music program at school — it can be difficult to find time for woodworking, but he can make one to two boards during the weekend. He amps up production during the summer.  

Safety is top of mind, particularly for Eliot’s parents. Eliot is not allowed to use the table saw unless a parent is in the garage with him.  

“He has a 50-year-old table saw. It was handed down from his grandfather. It’s also meant for industrial carpentry. It’s not meant for fine woodworking,” said Mike.  

Safety goggles, noise-cancelling headphones, and a mask — so he doesn’t get dust in his lungs — are part of his regular attire when he is making boards, too.  

The garage is ventilated specifically for woodworking.  

“Noise and eye protection was important to us as parents,” said Mike.  

Looking ahead, Eliot wants to major in quantum physics in college and continue with his woodworking.  

He hopes to be able to hire someone to manage the woodworking business while he’s in college.  

“It’s a pretty high expectation of myself, so I’m not sure I will get there,” he said.  

Right now, he’ll continue to sell at Comina’s and accept custom orders.  

“It’s what I’m passionate about,” Eliot said.  

To learn more about Eliot, search “Eliot McDonald” on Facebook or email eliothandcrafted@gmail.com.