University of Michigan apprentice Cabinet Maker Mike Mattila dedicates his days to the skilled trades for its simple pleasures.

He likes working with his hands — a pastime handed down to him from his grandfather, a farmer in Byron who taught Mattila about woodworking when he was a kid.

In honor of the university’s bicentennial, Mattila and his Construction Services colleagues have created a unique gift for U-M staff — slightly more than 10,000 gifts, to be exact.

As part of the upcoming MSTAFF200 bicentennial celebration, which will honor U-M staff contributions, staff members who present their Mcard will receive one wooden cube slightly smaller than a Rubik’s Cube that can stand on its axis on a blue acrylic base. The gifts will be available at any one of three information booths at the event.

Staff members will be able to pick up one of the engraved, wooden mementos at the MSTAFF200 bicentennial celebration June 27 at any one of three information booths. One per person. A valid MCard is required. (Photo by Peter Matthews)

Created by the university’s Construction Services department in Architecture Engineering and Construction, each cube is emblazoned with six illustrations on its sides: the U-M bicentennial logo, the MSTAFF200 logo, the year “2017,” the year “1817,” the iconic Block M and the phrase “Always Leading, Forever Valiant.”

Tina Jordan, MSTAFF200 co-chair and project manager, said the memento is a unique giveaway that will only be available at the event. MSTAFF200 will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. June 27. Voices of the Staff helped sponsor the gifts, and MSTAFF200 volunteers wrapped each one.

 “Each of these 10,000 gifts is very special,” Jordan said. “The gifts were designed by staff, made by staff, wrapped by staff — all for staff. We hope this memento reminds staff of their special bicentennial event, but, more importantly, we hope it reminds them that they are valued and appreciated.”

U-M’s skilled trades experts, from cabinetmakers like Mattila to sign-makers, worked from March to early June to create the cubic mementos.

Apprentice Cabinet Maker Mike Mattila uses a mitre saw to cut 10-foot lengths of wood into cubes. (Photo by Peter Matthews)

The U-M team was responsible for all aspects of production that transformed raw pieces of poplar into smooth, uniform cubes.

Richard Wilding Construction Services senior supervisor, oversaw the project.

Paul Guttman, director of Construction Services, said it was a rewarding project for his team to make the staff gift for the bicentennial.

“It’s incredible,” Guttman said. “It’s like all of our projects, but this one’s special just because all of the people at the university that receive this will have something either on their desk or their bookshelf that not only ties them to the university but ties them to the bicentennial year.”

Employees at Construction Services walk through the process for creating the cubes.

To make the cubes, U-M cabinetmakers graded the lumber for variances and then fed it into a straight-line ripsaw, which gave the wood a straight and flat surface. The product then went through a swathe Profimat machine, which further planes the wood to specific dimensions.

Eventually, the wood ended up at a mitre saw, where team members cut 10-foot lengths of wood into individual cubes.

Among his responsibilities during the project, Mattila used a mitre saw to create thousands of blocks.

“It’s very time consuming but it’s one of the simpler (projects),” Mattila said. “In the end, you’re just making blocks. But there’s days of work into making those blocks.”

Besides staying safe on the job while handling machinery, Mattila said one of the project’s challenges was making sure each cube was dimensionally the same.

“You can’t have mismatched blocks,” he said. “They all have to go in the same laser (engraver) and they all need to be almost exact dimensions. You don’t have much wiggle room.”

Sign Maker Nick Scott picks up several of the MSTAFF200 mementos from a laser engraver. (Photo by Peter Matthews)

Once the blocks were created they were placed in a laser engraver, where a laser burned images into the wood 338 cubes at a time.

Sign Maker Nick Scott oversaw the engraving process. He said because each side of the cubes had a slightly different dimension, he placed dividers between the cubes so the images would not run off the faces.

Construction Services will have a display table at the MSTAFF200 event, where U-M community members are encouraged to stop by, chat with team members and see an early prototype of the gift.

“We can’t thank staff like Mike and Nick enough for their enthusiasm and excellent work,” said Tim Kennedy, MSTAFF200 co-chair and building automation services manager. “We hope staff will stop by their table at the event and help us say thanks.”

Scott, who’s worked at U-M for about three years and has been in the sign making business since the 1990s, said he’s proud he helped create the bicentennial staff gift.

“As a sign-maker, you don’t expect that you’re going to be a part of something so big,” Scott said. He added the project presents “a very special” once-in-a-generation opportunity for his department to contribute to the university’s heritage.

Mattilla said he feels the same pride in knowing he significantly contributed to the bicentennial event.

“It gives me job satisfaction — knowing that (I’m) being part of such a historical event and knowing that thousands of people are going to take home something that I spent hours working on.”