Subscribe to TIC

Madison Area Technical College

A premier cabinet-making and millwork program

Patrick Molzahn, the program director of the Cabinet Making and Millwork Program at Madison Area Technical College (MATC) in Wisconsin, is no stranger to hard work. Hired in 1998, and taking on the lead teaching position by 2000, Molzahn recognized one of those magical moments in life few people are prepared for and fewer are offered—a moment where Patrick could effect a tremendous creative change in an education program, in the students who attend the program, and in his own life, too. Due to his passion and determination, and his interest in “lean” practices, Molzahn turned a bare-bones, one-year program into a much sought-after educational opportunity for students interested in fine woodworking, as a career and a craft.


All article photos are credited to Patrick Molzahn (Note: Click any image to enlarge)

Ranked as one of the top five carpentry programs in the United States, along with Cerritos College in California and The North Bennett Street School in Massachusetts, MATC continues to evolve, improve, and prosper.

“You have to crawl before you can walk, and walk before you can run,” Molzahn is fond of saying, and he did just that. He describes his career path as linear: after graduating with a Bachelor of Interior Architecture degree and a BFA from the School of the Art Institute, Chicago, IL, he began his career in architecture, hoping to put his artistic abilities to use. It didn’t take long for Patrick to realize that sitting behind a desk wasn’t the right life. He wanted to exercise and develop his own creativity. His pursuit of architecture and millwork took him around the world in search of how other cultures train their craftspeople. After living in Japan for 2 1/2 years, he returned to the U.S. to study wooden boatbuilding, achieving certification from the Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building, in Port Townsend, WA. His life-long love of woodworking has fueled his life and driven him to a current position as director of MATC program in Madison, WI.

With an eye toward “lean” practice, Molzahn and his team overhauled the MATC 13,500-sq. foot shop and classroom into a woodworker’s dream. Every tool, every accessory, every stick of material has a dedicated location and everything returns to its home after being used—as Faulkner wrote: “each in its ordered place.” Using a product called “Kaizen foam” from FastCap, Molzahn is able to easily organize all tools and accessories in drawers, shelves, and cabinets, and maintain visual control over the entire shop.


On every machine, Patrick tapes a visual example of how to use the machine and how to use it efficiently. Training materials are also taped on the wall next to each machine. Each area of the shop is organized into different zones. Each area has a team leader and job foreman that is responsible for maintaining and enforcing cleanup of that zone. Every inch of the floor, every work-surface, every machine is spotlessly clean and organized, right down to the machine manuals. According to Wikipedia, Kaizen is Japanese for “improvement.”

When used in the business sense and applied to the workplace, kaizen refers to activities that continuously improve all functions and involve all employees from the CEO to the assembly line workers. It also applies to processes, such as purchasing and logistics, that cross organizational boundaries into the supply chain. It has been applied in healthcare, psychotherapy, life-coaching, government, banking, and other industries. By improving standardized activities and processes, kaizen aims to eliminate waste (see lean manufacturing). Kaizen was first implemented in several Japanese businesses after the Second World War, influenced in part by American business and quality management teachers who visited the country. It has since spread throughout the world and is now being implemented in environments outside of business and productivity.

If a work place practices Kaizen, continuous improvement is the responsibility of every worker, not just a selected few. Take a look at this video Patrick created using his GoPro camera and notice how serious this man is!

An Evolving Program

As a part of this one-year technical training program, each student begins his “journey” into the craft of woodworking by starting with the basics: hand-sharpening three different hand tools, using three different methods. “If the sharpening machine is down,” Molzahn says, “how is a student going to know what to do? And if a student doesn’t know what a sharp blade feels like, or cuts like, how are they going to know when a blade is dull?” Patrick is determined to not only teach woodworking but to inspire an appreciation for the craft. Molzahn believes that “there is always a better way to do things” and contributes that drive to his German heritage. “A place for everything and everything in its place” is one of his favorite quotes, and is printed on the wall in the classroom.

Lauren & Roz_IMG_8524-1

Squeezing a four-year apprentice program into one year, students participate in over 30 hours a week of hands-on learning; they also spend four hours each week hand-sketching and drafting. Each student has their own computer; they work in teams of three on classroom learning, planning, and on computer-aided drafting (CAD). In 2015 Molzahn was hired to revise and update Modern Cabinetmaking, the 5th Edition to include the latest in technology, materials, and processes such as CNC, ready to assemble casework, grinding and sharpening. According to the publisher, “Modern Cabinetmaking is a comprehensive text that focuses on the techniques used by custom cabinetmakers and home woodworkers. This edition includes many new photos and diagrams showing updated technology and techniques. A chapter on employment introduces students to the careers related to cabinetmaking skills, and a chapter discussing industrial organizations helps students learn how to get more involved.” This textbook, along with Paul Akers, 2-Second Lean, is required reading for all of Molzahn’s students.

Luke G - Shaper-1

State of Art Equipment

Since he started the program, Patrick has replaced over 95% of the machinery. He works hard to bring tool companies and industry sponsors on board to help support his program. Rangate, a North American company that sells quality woodworking tools and equipment for the window, door and millwork industry, recently consigned a set of Zuani tooling. (Zuani is a family-run company located in northern Italy. They are a premier manufacturer of specialized tooling for the sash and door industry.)

This tooling allowed his students to produce European tilt & turn windows for a National Historic Landmark in Oregon, WI—the Oregon Pump House. See the full article, “Rebuilding a National Historic Landmark,” published in Design Solutions magazine. Tooling of this size and complexity requires machinery capable of running it” remarks Molzahn. Students with completed windows-1

Martin U.S.A. assisted Molzahn in acquiring a T-27 shaper which provides the teachers an ability to showcase state of the art production processes for students.” For a sneak peek into the workshop and the tools available to students, watch Molzahn’s video, Scenes from a typical day in the Cabinetmaking Lab at Madison College.

In 2014, students enrolled in the program had the opportunity to build a reception and guard desk that is now on display at the Washington D.C. headquarters of the United States Forest Service. See full article, “Wood Recycled,” from Design Solutions magazine. Patrick works hard to get industry sponsors to support his program with material, money, or time.  DSCN0629-1

Seminars are held at various times throughout the year, like the Veneer and Laminating Seminar, held in the college workshop sponsored by the Architectural Woodwork Institute (AWI). Patrick also writes a Department Newsletter called Wood Moves highlighting recent events the students participated in, thanking supporters who have contributed to the program, and seeking participation in one of the many seminars held at the college.

Open House 4-1

A Future for Students

Currently there are sixteen students enrolled in the program with an average age of 26. Most often students come to the program because they couldn’t get a job in woodworking or they were laid off from their current profession. Some are determined to become more valuable to an employer; some are drawn to the program because, like many carpenters, they like to see the results from their work. No matter their motivation, students leave with an increased knowledge and appreciation of the craft; they leave as a “well-trained worker.”


Molzahn’s belief that carpentry and woodworking skills are measurable, and that America suffers from a vast shortage of qualified tradespeople, drives him to support the Woodwork Career Alliance (WCA), an organization devoted to observable and measureable standards and evaluations for the industry. Patrick was instrumentally involved in gaining WCA certification from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

Armed with the new Woodwork Career Alliance’s Sawblade Credential, area schools and teachers are provided a grant of up to $1,000 per student for high school graduates who earn industry-recognized certification. Similar to the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), this is precisely the type of program America desperately needs. Rather than having more students graduate college with high student-loan debt and no job prospects, students completing a program like Molzahn’s, move directly into well-paying long-term careers. The MATC Cabinetry and Millwork Program enjoys a 100% placement rate. Last year, fifteen students graduated with over 300 job offers in a variety of fields, from architectural millwork to designers, trim carpenters, sales, and project management.



9 Responses to “Madison Area Technical College”

  1. Larry Schweitzer

    Great job, much needed.
    Too bad high schools don’t follow his lead.

  2. Frank Fanto

    Fantastic program. I am a semi retired General Contractor from the West Coast, Mendocino area. My crew just kept getting older as the schools decide to drop their shop programs.

    After the crash of 2008, I took a job at Alameda Unified School District, in Alameda, CA, as a journeyman carpenter. Most of the so called carpenters there had no formal training, yet the District closed the High School woodworking program because the parents did not see the value in that type of work.

    As a student of James Krenov, at the Fine Woodworking Program in Ft. Bragg, CA, I came to a place where skills and techniques were treasured and taught. The program is now in its 35th year.

    I wonder who they figure will be building their homes, furniture and cabinets in the future? The trades are one form of employment that will be hard to outsource. Not every kid has the skill or desire to be a computer programmer. We need to stress the value of this type of work before it disappears.

    • chris g

      I agree this is a fantastic program and also agree we as a nation are headed in the wrong direction. These types of skills along with many others like welders, pipefitter and machinists are nearly extinct anymore. Schools need to start teaching these things again. When i was in school, it wasnt so much for the actual woodworking as the creativity it would bring to the surface. It can lead to so many other opportunities kids don’t realize are available.

  3. Emanuel

    Great article and video. It’s nice to see craftsman teach others to be great craftsman for our future.
    Keep up the great work

  4. Anna

    Please let me know the source of: “Ranked as one of the top five carpentry programs in the United States, along with Cerritos College in California and The North Bennett Street School in Massachusetts.” Ranked by which organization?

  5. Eric

    Although I enjoyed the article, as someone currently enrolled in the Cerritos College woodworking program, I too would appreciate knowing the source of its ranking as “. . . one of the top five carpentry programs in the United States . . . “. I’d be very interested in knowing what organization came up with that ranking and what other programs were included. Thanks.

    • Lisa

      Eric-I was referring to an online article that I read on FDMC: Best Practices in Woodworking & Technology.

  6. Brad

    I have 600 BF of rough cut white Oak I cut last year air dried. I need a str8 edge on it and want to get it surface planed to 4 qtr. The shop I was using in Verona closed. Any ideas on where I can get this done?

    • Lisa

      Hi Brad. I would recommend calling your local lumberyard or perhaps a yard up in Madison. I would imagine someone there could lead you in the right direction.


Leave a Reply

Please note: Your first comment will be held for moderation/review by our staff before it appears. After you have one comment approved, all of your subsequent comments will appear immediately. Read our comment policy for more information.