Tyler Harrison, Jacob Jackman, Lukas Garcia and Christopher Moon crowded around the box-like thing in the center, not taking their eyes off it.

On the table at the back of the seniors' computer-aided design class at Del Norte High School, the brand new Ultimaker turned a cord of yellow plastic into a mold for needle-nosed pliers.

"I just like watching it print," Jackman said, listening to the printer's soft robot-like whistles and beeps.

Del Norte High has acquired what may be the first 3-D printer in the county and plans to use it as a learning tool for its computer-aided design students, shop students and ultimately its business students, said Principal Coleen Parker.

Del Norte County Unified School District is also partnering with the Humboldt County Office of Education to apply for a five-year $6 million California Careers Pathway Trust grant. The school hopes to set up a career pathway focusing on business and marketing, Parker said.

The computer-aided design students would design and create a model, she said, and those models could be used for casting by kids in metal shop or could be made into items by the wood shop students.

"The business group would figure out marketing and how to sell it online," Parker said, adding that the printer cost about $2,000. "They would have a business license and all of the pathways that we have would feed into the business pathway in terms of developing products to sell."

Brett Lauble, who teaches the computer-aided design course, said he and Parker talked about the possibility of getting a 3-D printer when he started teaching at the high school last year. Baird andJean Rumiano of Rumiano Cheese donated the funds and the contraption arrived atDel Norte High about a month ago.

Lauble said the school had a choice of getting a pre-built computer for $500 more or a kit with the essential parts. He said he decided to have his students assemble the Ultimaker. He and his students began testing the printer on Friday.

"If we have problems at least we know how to fix it," Lauble said.

Before the printer can turn plastic cords into plier molds, cubes or other 3-D items, Lauble said, his CAD students must design it on a computer. The design is then placed on a memory card, which feeds the data into the printer. The first thing Lauble's students created was a plastic cube.

The plastic material comes in $40 coils, Lauble said. The printer itself works in layers of 0.06 milimeters, he said. It takes two and a half hours for one pair of plier molds. The metal shop students will cast the pliers in aluminum, Lauble said.

"This is pretty rare for a school. This is one of the few, if not the only one in Del Norte County."

Dylan Jennings, another one of Lauble's students, designed the model for the needle-nosed pliers using the 3-D program SketchupPro.

"I never used Sketchup Pro, but the concept of 3-D drafting I have used before," Jennings said. "It's very user friendly."

California sets aside $250 million for the California Careers Pathway Trust grant, Parker said. The school district will not have to contribute any funds to get the grant, she said, but no funding will be provided during the grant's last two years.

"It's a typical start-up grant," she said. "You have to figure out how you're going to fund the ongoing costs."

Lauble's students noted that learning how to work a 3-D printer will be powerful in helping them gain enough experience to get a good job following graduation.

"This is a great time to be alive for nerds," Harrison said. "Ten years ago you'd be beat up and thrown ina trash can. Nowadays, people can't do anything without some sort of computer jockey."

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com.