Matt Wallace: Furniture Builder and Co-Founder of Ottawa City Woodshop
"We opened the shop in May 2015 with a goal of providing a shop where people could come and build wood objects or take courses while rediscovering Ottawa’s heritage as a lumber capital."
Photos: Chris Osler
Q.1. From your perspective, why are trees important?
Trees are important for so many reasons. Most importantly they provide us with clean air and a beautiful landscape. I find treed landscapes to be peaceful and calming.
Q.2. What motivated you to become a woodworker?
With a background in design, I had always been interested in furniture design. But to be honest it was just a time in my life where I felt I needed a change. I needed to do something with my hands, as opposed to sitting behind a computer.
Q.3. How did you learn your craft?
I am 100% self taught. What I couldn’t figure out myself, I would often ask my father.
Q.4. In 2015, you and Michael Grigoriev co-founded Ottawa City Woodshop. Can you describe what it is and what it offers?
The Ottawa City Woodshop is a community woodshop located in Ottawa’s old historic lumber district downtown. We opened the shop in May 2015 with a goal of providing a shop where people could come and build wood objects or take courses while rediscovering Ottawa’s heritage as a lumber capital. We offer memberships and a variety of courses to get people involved in woodworking in ways they may not have had access to before.
Q.5. What does Ottawa’s history related to the lumber industry mean to you and how does this history influence Ottawa City Woodshop?
Ottawa’s lumber history played a huge role in the motivation for us starting this. We’ve seen community woodshops in a few other cities in the world, but for us to do it here, in the place of the original lumber district and the footsteps of the lumber barons that founded this city, means so much to us. We’re inspired by this history in the courses we teach, the prints and products we produce, and the way we position the shop as a modern extension of Ottawa’s history. As a result, we try and educate or inspire people with this rich heritage we have that I don’t think people fully realize the scope of.
Q.6. What kind of woodworking courses does Ottawa City Woodshop offer and who signs up for them?
We try and offer a diversity of courses beyond what we consider the “traditional” woodworking projects; this includes courses that appeal to the younger, urban crowd that we see coming to learn at our shop. In the past we’ve built live edge coffee tables, skateboards, canoe paddles, toboggans, carved spoons, and we’ve also tackled traditional topics like hand-cut joinery and wood theory. We’ve seen hundreds of people come through for courses at the shop and are really proud of the diversity we’ve seen. Our classes are often half male/half female and are usually most popular for people in their 30s.
Q.7. The courses regularly sell out. Why do you think there is a strong interest in the types of woodworking courses you offer?
I think it’s because of the fact that we really try and make sure people get a good mix of theory and hands-on experience that results in a physical object they can be proud of at the end of the course. I think we’re reaching a group of people that have a desire to use their hands, want to make things for themselves, and appreciate wood as a medium to do so. We try and have relevant projects that align with what people care about and their values.
Q.8. Why do you like working with wood as a material?
I love wood; it’s amazing. It’s great to work with. It feels great, smells great, and the grain is beautiful. I’m always amazed at how different the grain can be from plank to plank, even from the same tree.
Q.9. You also have a business called na coille studio dedicated to making furniture and other heirloom items. What types of wood do you prefer to work with? Where does the wood come from?
I only use locally felled lumber, and I often work directly with the land owner who needs to have a tree removed from their property. All of the trees we source have been felled with permits from the city or municipality. I love maple, cherry, walnut, elm, and beech, but my favorite wood to work with is white oak.
Q.10. Finally, do you have a favourite tree in Ottawa? If so, what species of tree is it and where is it located?
I used to; my favorite tree used to stand in Manotick, just outside the city. It was a massive, magnificent white oak, but it had to come down a couple of years ago. Over time it had been struck by lightning, reinforced with cement and then steel rods, but it finally had to come down. After it was felled, the arborist counted 223 years of growth but had to stop because close to 18” at the middle of the tree was missing and had rotted away. We figure it was at the very least 300 years old, maybe even up to 400! It’s pretty amazing to think of all the things that this tree had been around for.