4-H woodworker turns project into business

Evie Ribbing has turned her 4-H woodworking skills into a new business called Sawdust & Sparkles by E. The seventh-grade entrepreneur has started selling her handmade cutting boards, rivers, and other items at local craft shows.

From her perch on a stool and behind the glint of safety glasses, 12-year-old Evie Ribbing has a good view of her dad's workshop. But the buzzing table saw she's operating has her full attention, as it should.  

“Measure twice, cut once,” is a rule this Clinton County 4-H member and woodworking aficionado knows by heart along with the 4-H pledge.

What started as a new 4-H project for Evie became a business fittingly dubbed Sawdust & Sparkles by E.

This seventh-grade entrepreneur’s approach to her new side hustle is as precise as the custom cutting boards and trivets she sells. She spends hours researching how something is made before sketching, measuring, and cutting perfectly symmetrical pieces that fit seamlessly together.

The best part, she says with a grin, "is watching people react when I told them I made it.”

Evie and her younger brother, 8-year-old Henry, have been members of the Aviston Aces 4-H Club since 2017. Evie has a lot of interests that 4-H allows her to explore: cooking, visual arts, quilting, forestry, fishing.

“I love that 4-H is real-life stuff,” says their mom, Mandy Ribbing. “It’s more in-depth. 4-H gets you ready for life.”

Woodworking requires both precision and creativity, two skills Evie has plenty of. So, her parents weren't surprised when the then 10-year-old tried a woodworking project in 2017. However, they are surprised she's stuck with it.

“I got pictures of her building a lot of this stuff because I figured nobody would believe she’d do it,” says her dad, Dominic Ribbing, who owns a woodworking company in Breese and supervises Evie as she works.

It was even more of a surprise when her first woodworking project, a stool with an intricate multicolored seat, won a best overall ribbon at the Clinton County Fair and a blue ribbon at the Illinois State Fair.

“I encourage everyone to start small at the beginning, and I remember she didn’t,” says Aviston Aces Club co-leader Kimberly Wolter. “She goes all-in on a project.”

Woodworking is popular in Clinton County 4-H, thanks to a group of volunteers who lead several hands-on workshops throughout the year. Every 4-H members leaves with a completed project and the encouragement to keep learning at home.

“It’s one of the largest project area categories at our show and there are some amazing projects that show up,” Wolter says. “Evie’s proven herself to be a champion.”

A 4-H alum from Hancock County, Wolter makes sure their club is a flexible, low-stress environment with something for every member. “We try to promote how broad 4-H is and that there is a project area for every interest,” she says.

The most difficult project Evie has made was her entry for the 2019 4-H show, a cabinet with a fold-down front that turns it into a desk. In the fall, Evie started sketching out designs for cutting boards with handles to make them easy to carry around the kitchen. After selling a few to friends and family as Christmas gifts, she made a few for a vendor’s fair, and Sawdust & Sparkles by E was born.

Now, Evie plans to enter her company as a project at the Clinton County 4-H show in June, exploring the business side of costs and marketing efforts. Evie knows her enthusiasm for woodworking is something that sets her apart from a lot of her friends. “They think it’s too much work; that they have to put down their video game and go do something,” Evie says.

Illinois 4-H is provided through University of Illinois Extension and is open to youth ages 8 to 18. Youth learn skills for living by participating in individual or group learning experiences related to more than 200 project areas.

If you're interested in learning more about 4-H or joining a club in your area, fill out a survey to get started. 

WriterEmily Steele, Media Communications Coordinator, Illinois Extension