Wood Shop co-op builds community with custom woodwork

East Van venture offers meaningful employment, education and collaboration

 

Tucked into an industrial area of East Van, the Wood Shop's cavernous interior is a hive of activity.

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Crew members pore over designs for custom furniture. A couple discusses plans for a new bed frame with one of the owners. Work is almost complete on a vast installation for a new juice bar.

It could be any one of the numerous woodworking shops across the city, but Wood Shop's approach is decidedly different.

The heart of the operation is its commitment to community and sustainability. For starters, it's based on a co-op model.

With a background in academics and critical theory, co-founder and co-owner Chris Nichol "pushes against the traditional owner/workers model."

He was already "heavily involved in the co-op sector," and after going through an entrepreneurial program at Groundswell, an alternative business school with a focus on social responsibility, he was inspired to put his principles into action.

And so the Wood Co-op was born three years ago, intended as a social impact venture to provide meaningful employment and give back to the community.

Nichols had always done construction to pay the bills but now he had an opportunity to combine his skills and his ideals.

Partners in the co-op include Jessica Valentine, Maxim Piche and Renee Michaud, each with a unique skill set.

All the wood the shop uses is upcycled. Its members build custom-designed furniture from bed frames to desks, do millwork installation for local businesses, and sell reclaimed and sustainably sourced lumber.

For Nichols, "engaging in the collaborative economy and diverting wood waste" align with his values.

Another key component to the co-op is its educational outreach. The shop hosts DIY woodworking sessions where participants learn basic woodworking skills and finishing techniques while working on projects ranging from building a trunk to crafting a table top.

It’s also expanding its company workshops and retreats, centred around team-building through woodworking. Nichols noted that on a recent company workshop, members worked together to build a big kitchen table with benches, which they then used in their office.

Plans are afoot for a Wood Shop Truck, which will operate as a mobile studio and workshop, "engaging community where they are," said Nichols.

The shop supports and collaborates with other local partners, working with organizations like Hives for Humanity, VanCity and Mattress Recycling (where they get a good portion of their wood from).

Partnering with Hives for Humanity, which seeks to build community through beekeeping, was a "natural fit" for the Wood Shop. They’re currently working together to build and install planters at the Hastings Urban Farm and also collaborated on building planters for a pollinator garden at Big Rock Brewery.

Danica Jeffery, public relations lead with the shop, points out the various projects under construction, drawing attention to the delicate details and clean modern aesthetic.

She fell in love with the products after a friend hired the Wood Shop to custom design a table and stools. Soon Jeffery had them designing a piece of her own and was impressed not only with the workmanship but with the values the company stands for.

"There's such a unique look and there's a story behind each piece," she said. The collaborative nature of the shop is also appealing. "It's a nice meld of different skill sets."

Nichols loves the days when the Hives for Humanity crew is breaking down wood for planters, workers are in the shop doing custom builds and clients are discussing projects.

"There's a vibrancy. It's a community-oriented space. We're trying to grow a collaborative economy in the heart of the city."

You can find Wood Shop products, meet the crew and try out some repurposed wood furniture at the Groundswell Community Marketplace, select Tuesdays on Granville Island.


• Amy Logan is a Vancouver writer, editor and English instructor with an ear for trends in the arts, community and environment. She is a regular contributor to Metro News, and joins the Westender for the summer to explore the artists, creatives, environmentalists and adventurers who make Vancouver tick. 

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