New Westminster, British Columbia based furniture maker Felix Mckenzie on sapele, masking tape and epoxy river tables.
Q & A with Felix Mckenzie
How long have you been building furniture?
Six years. Almost two years professionally.
What sort of furniture do you specialize in?
I mostly build custom hardwood furniture.
Tell us a couple of interesting things about your personal life.
I grew up in the U.K. and moved to Canada at 24.
In order, what are the three most important items in your shop apron?
Pencil, machine square and tape measure.
Do you prefer hand tools or power tools?
My preference is usually power tools, but I like having the right tool for the job.
Solid wood or veneer?
Solid, hands down.
Figured wood or straight grain?
Straight grain matches my style more.
Inherited Vintage Stanley Sweetheart or fresh-out-of-the-box Veritas?
I’d have to say the Veritas even though I don’t have one… yet.
Flowing curves or geometric shapes?
Geometric shapes. Crisp lines all day long.
White oak is my favourite but black walnut is a very close second.
Least favourite wood?
Cherry really doesn’t do anything for me.
Demountable Desk 2.0
This black walnut desk is based on an original 1950s design by Swiss architect Pierre Jeanneret. Mckenzie’s client wanted to bring the original design into the 21st century and make it more usable. Cables run into the main cabinet, travel up through one of the hollow walnut legs along a channel on the underside of the desktop, then up through any one of three magnetized walnut cable grommets.
Sapele Entry Bench
This sapele bench was made for Mackenzie’s first official client. Fitting the drawers on wooden runners so they didn’t bind was the trickiest part of this build. From a visual perspective, Mckenzie’s favourite detail is the small back rest; the round corners soften the piece slightly.
Quotes from Felix Mckenzie
After a year and a half of working out of a co-op workshop, I’ve recently moved into my own studio space in New Westminster, B.C. It’s 1,000 square feet with a separate small room for the CNC and plenty of wood storage.
I love masking tape. Labelling parts, attaching edge banding, preventing glue stains — I can’t get enough of it.
Work out what the main objective of the product is and build the simplest version that meets that goal. You can then build the details on top of that.
I’m not a fan of epoxy river tables. There really is nothing quite as upsetting as encasing a beautiful slab of hardwood in litres of plastic.
I think the most misunderstood part of building furniture is that you get to do what you love every day. People see me in the shop making furniture and often comment on how lucky I am to be doing it every day. What they often don’t see is the logistics of running your own small business; the emails, the bookkeeping, driving for parts and materials, etc. It’s all totally worth it, in my opinion, but actually making the furniture is only one part of running a furniture-making business.
A few makers and companies that inspire me are Origins in Vancouver, New Collar Goods in New York and Nathan Day in Australia.
Tom Bensari’s wine cabinet is one of the most incredible pieces of furniture I’ve ever seen. The design is exquisite and the execution is on another level.
Woodworking came back into my life quite organically. I wanted to make a floor lamp so I bought a $20 mini table saw from the ’70s and set to work in my apartment. A week later the lamp was complete and I realized that my apartment wasn’t going to be sufficient for the other things I now wanted to make. People started asking if I could make things for them. I eventually changed careers.
I think it’s one of our responsibilities as furniture makers and designers to be creative. We are problem solvers and problems often require creative solutions. I’m a firm believer in the idea that form should follow function and that furniture should not be artistic at the expense of usefulness.
Nine times out of ten, design will come first. There are occasions when the design dictates the material whether that’s due to the visual style of the piece requiring a certain aesthetic or the strength and characteristics of the material.
Most customers don’t care about hand-cut dovetails as much as other woodworkers do. Finding a balance between quality, craftsmanship and often budget can be one of the hardest things to get right when first starting out.
The most fulfilling part of building studio furniture is the customer’s reaction when they see a piece of furniture completed and delivered. I think many people have never experienced the feeling of having something completely custom made for them and are so excited and happy to have been a part of the process and to receive exactly what they wanted.
I believe customers are becoming more educated in studio furniture and asking for pieces that will stand the test of time.
Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.
I find the hardest part of custom woodwork is people seeing the value of effort, skill, and uniqueness of what they are getting. Being in a rather depressed area, I find people would rather spend less for Walmart stuff.