St. Catharines, Ontario woodworker Vic Tesolin on hand cutting dovetails, making maquettes and his understandable hatred for makore.
Q & A with Vic Tesolin
How long have you been building furniture?
In order, what are the three most important items in your shop apron?
Folding rule, pencil, and Matsui scriber gauge.
Do you prefer hand tools or power tools?
I have an affinity for hand tools, but I reach for the tool that will do the job best regardless of whether it has a cord.
Solid wood or veneer?
Yes to both!
Figured wood or straight grain?
Both where appropriate.
Inherited Vintage Stanley Sweetheart or fresh-out-of-the-box Veritas?
I enjoy working with both, but to be honest some of my favourite tools are the ones I’ve made myself.
Most North American woods. Most of the furniture I’ve made has been with walnut, maple and cherry.
Least favourite wood?
Makore, only because it tried to kill me once.
Vic built this cabinet as a student to house his guitar and various guitar paraphernalia. The holder is steam-bent cherry and the door is curved and veneered. (Photo by Ray Pilon)
Japanese Tool Chest
Vic built this project for a class he taught on its design and construction. He used lightweight pine, and according to Vic, "It should last longer than I do.” (Photo by EK Bowel)
Quotes from Vic Tesolin
One of my favourite processes is hand cutting dovetails because there are so many skills that get practiced when cutting the joint. Everything needs to be spot on. Marking and measuring, sawing, chiselling, and fitting all get a good workout cutting this joint.
In terms of furniture design, after I’ve considered style, space and other constraints, I migrate to making maquettes or full-size mockups when designing a piece. This gets me further faster because I can see how various parts relate to the whole. I also get to test out joinery techniques along the way.
I’m not a fan of sanded or epoxied slabs with metal legs. I find the metal legs often miss the mark proportionally and they seem “slapped together.” That being said, if this style of furniture gets a person into working with wood, then I’m all for it. It’s just not my jam, personally.
I think we’re in a sad but hopeful state when it comes to teaching young people about woodworking. My first exposure to woodworking was in Grade 8 and it has been with me ever since. We need to keep promoting trades and craftsmanship, and continue destigmatizing working with your hands by not calling it "lower-class" work.
When I was working by commission, one of the most misunderstood parts by some clients was that it’s somehow less expensive to go directly to a woodworker to buy a piece. The truth is that commissioning a piece of furniture is one of the most expensive ways to buy furniture because it’s not mass produced.
I feel that function needs to trump form when making furniture, otherwise it’s an art piece that’s better to look at than use. The way we interact with furniture is important. It needs to be functional and comfortable otherwise you’ve missed the mark. For example, I see many chairs that are cool to look at but are extremely uncomfortable to sit in. That’s a miss in my book.
I’m not the best at sketching, and I’ve tried to use digital tools, but I find I struggle with them. You must dedicate a lot of time to learn to use them well, and that is time I don’t wish to spend. I do use my iPad and an app called Procreate to help me create illustrations for student handouts, but I don’t use it to design an entire piece.
I don’t normally start with a measured drawing or design when I work. Once I’m making, and the overall size of the piece is settled, I switch to referential measurements. The drawer must fit into the space you’ve made for it, so the numbers you planned for on the page no longer mean anything.
I think that laying out and cutting joinery is the most fun for me. I must admit, I usually start to lose interest in a project by the time I get to applying finish.
In order to understand, you must do. Aspiring woodworkers need to be okay with making mistakes. Mistakes are a sign that you’re doing something new and that’s a good thing. I still make mistakes after over 20 years at it, so don’t be too hard on yourself.
I think the most positive change I’m seeing in woodworking is the level of inclusivity. Woodworking has always been an older white-guy endeavor and thankfully that has started to change.
The piece I’m most proud of is the hall table I designed and built while I was a student at Rosewood. The walnut apron has a slight curve and the legs are octagonal and tapered. The floating top is veneered with big-leaf quilted maple. This award-winning piece represents a time in my learning that I was really pushing my skills.
I’m excited to see what the future brings for furniture making. With social media growing, the world is shrinking and we get to experience furniture from around the world. This global sharing of ideas is fantastic, and I’m inspired by it daily.
Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.
Nice job on Vic’s piece. He’s not only talented, but he’s modest and self deprecating. He’s also not one to be influenced by the latest gimmicks or shiny objects. His down to earth approach in today’s “buy more, make better” world is refreshing. He proves every day that it’s not the tools, it’s the skill of the hands that hold them, that produces beautiful, utilitarian pieces.