READFIELD – Gary “Wes” Boynton has been around lumber most of his life. He has built cabinets and clocks, shelves and stools.

Now, he can add a rustic early New England-style bed to that list.

The eighth-grader at Maranacook Community Middle School has worked more than three months to complete the piece of furniture as part of a project that has given him insight into what life was like for Maine’s early settlers.

In the process, he has created a family heirloom and a memorable Christmas gift.

For Wes, 14, staying focused in a classroom never came easily, and he never really liked school.

That changed this fall when he started work on a class project meant to challenge him academically and give him an opportunity to perform hands-on work at which he excels.

“Wes was the kind of kid who had a lot of intelligence, but he didn’t know how to apply it,” said Todd Park. “He’s very skilled, and he’s driven.”

Park, an alternative education teacher, and Wes agreed on the project that allowed the boy to construct the bed, along with completing a report that examined the obstacles faced by Maine’s settlers and how they confronted them.

“We try to differentiate for each individual kid,” Park said.

Park and Wes set some ground rules for the bed’s construction. As much as he could, Wes would use only hand tools — a saw, hammer and chisel — “which is probably what made it most difficult,” he said. “That’s the only way to keep things kind of natural.”

It didn’t take long for Wes to get hooked on the task.

“Once I got started, I really couldn’t stop,” he said. “I skipped lunch a few days.”

Wes started by stripping the bark from wood Park brought from home for the bed frame and letting it dry for two weeks. When the time came to fasten the various sections together, he used the chisel — his first time using the tool — to taper the ends to fit into the holes he’d drilled.

Wes doesn’t consider math one of his academic strengths, but he put his number sense to the test in building the bed.

“I think the whole bed is a number,” he said.

Wes probably doesn’t realize the full scope of advanced math skills he relied on to complete the bed, said Sally Beaulieu, Park’s colleague on the alternative education team and Wes’ adviser.

“That math isn’t going to translate to a test score,” she said.

But it did translate into a changed attitude toward school.

“I’m not a big fan of school,” Wes said, “but being able to work on (the bed) every day, I kept coming.”

As the bed started to take shape, Park began to see the potential for a Christmas present for his 8-year-old horse-loving daughter Ellie. On the headboard, Park burned a picture of a horse into the wood.

“I’m so excited as a dad,” he said.

On Christmas Eve, Park planned to tell Ellie to go upstairs to bed, then “it’s going to be all set up for her in her room.”

“It’d be great if she could pass this down one day to one of her children,” he said.

All in one, the bed became a tool for keeping a student engaged at school, a Christmas gift bound to be remembered and an heirloom.

“Something good came out of it any way you slice it,” Park said. “That’s going to make this Christmas so special.”