Nathan McClenahen holds a pine U.S. flag

Nathan McClenahen holds a pine U.S. flag he built for a customer. The 20-year-old North Dakota State University student has built around 20 flags so far.

Nathan McClenahen motions to a pile of lumber in his great-grandfather’s old workshop. Surrounded by clamps, wood stains, glue and a half-dozen U.S. flags he is building from pine, the 20-year-old North Dakota State University student smiles.

“All of those boards are for flags, so it’s going to keep me busy for a little while,” said 2018 MayPort-CG graduate with a laugh. “I’d say I’m close to 20 of them so far.”

McClenahen has spent a good portion of his summer vacation in his family’s shop, assembling various projects friends and family have requested.

Between Memorial Day in May, Flag Day in June and Independence Day on Saturday, the most popular item lately has been the Stars and Stripes.

“I’m a little busier than I thought I’d be,” McClenahen admits. “I was a little hesitant to sell them, but my family saw things much better than I did.”

McClenahen got his start in woodworking at an early age.

His great-grandfather, Vernon Kaldor, was an avid woodworker, spending many days with McClenahen in his shop midway between Mayville and Hillsboro.

Kaldor passed away in 2015 at  age 96, but his passion for craftsmanship is alive and well at the family’s farmstead.

“He was a very, very skilled woodworker,” McClenahen said. “There’s a lot that he did that I’m kind of following in his footsteps.

“We took on a couple of projects together,” he added. “Seeing all of the things he did, I’m not filling his footsteps, but I’m following in them.”

Since then, McClenahen has started to get more serious about his craftsmanship and building things for his family’s house.

“I’ve always kind of dabbled in it, but it hasn’t been until this last year or so where I’ve kind of taken it to the next level,” McClenahen said. 

For his flags, McClenahen uses high-quality pine boards from Menards and then burns them with a propane torch.

That lumber, he said, has unique grain patterns, which provide a high-contrast design when burned.

After the boards are burned, he stains 13 slats of wood red and blue, leaving the other portions unstained to make the flag.

After gluing the project together, McClenahen applies 50 star-shaped white vinyl decals to the wood and lets everything dry.

“I get those vinyl stars from Canada. I’ve tried a few different suppliers, but they’re the best I’ve found,” he said.

McClenahen has made U.S. flags in various sizes and also altered the design to create Thin Blue Line American flags, which honor law enforcement.

McClenahen began advertising his projects on Facebook weeks ago and received a lot of support.

With orders coming in from around the area, McClenahen says he’ll be busy for weeks to come.

“Taking on projects is definitely something I’m interested in doing,” he said. “I’ve been taking orders from people these last two weeks since I started advertising a bit more.

“My grandma and grandpa saw the flags and told me, ‘Hey you got to sell some.”

McClenahen hopes to branch out and work more with epoxy and 3D printing in his future projects, but he’s busy pursuing a degree in industrial engineering at the same time.

While he’s not sure what life has in store for him after college, he hopes he can turn his craftsmanship into a regular business at some point in the future.

“I’d love to run my own business someday, whether it involves woodworking or not – I feel like that’s something that’s in the ballpark.”

To order a sign, contact McClenahen on Facebook.