Carving a Niche

Chris Zumkeller’s Journey as a Craftsman




Working with wood has been a long-standing family tradition that I almost overlooked as a career choice. In fact, I tried to avoid it. Now, a third-generation carpenter, my passion for working with wood has become a huge part of my life and identity. For something I originally thought wasn’t for me, woodworking has become my main focus.

While earning a Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Victoria, I started my carpentry apprenticeship working for my dad. I thought it prudent to develop a skill as a backup plan. Looking back, I was done a huge favour by my dad because, at the time, it enabled me to pay my way through university; but more importantly, it gave me a glimpse into what a career as a carpenter would look like. Looking back on those long, backbreaking days, it seems an odd twist that this was the beginning of my passion for working with wood.

I was fortunate to have good teachers throughout this period who not only excelled in their craft but were generous enough to take the time to teach me. I learned a lot, but the overarching lesson that has stuck with me is the level of pride they took in their work. From careful and thoughtful planning to precise and methodical execution, each job was done to the best of their ability. It’s my hope that those same principles can be seen in my work today.

Still a family affair, my dad, brother, and I are very fortunate to work together every day, building timber-frame homes and structures. That’s what we do, and have done for many years, but nothing ever stays the same. The woodshop itself has evolved from our roots in construction to include bespoke furniture and art. Although timber framing is, and always will be, the heart of our business, our growth as craftsmen has led us to explore other complimentary avenues and artistic passions.

chris working on his next wood piece

For each of us the creative avenue has been different—sculptural art for myself, functional furniture for my dad, and metalworking for my brother—but in general, each new endeavour has given us greater insight and has made us better carpenters, better builders, and better craftsmen. Together, our complimentary skill set has allowed us to take on anything, from custom home builds, to boardroom tables, to decorative wall art. We are usually excited to get to the job site on Monday morning, but there is always a little extra excitement when we are scheduled to be in the shop pursuing our creative interests. It really is fun to go to work.

For me, personally, woodworking will be a lifelong process and an ever-expanding and evolving journey as a craftsman. I am constantly trying new avenues of woodworking to push the envelope of what I am capable of creating. I am currently exploring more sculptural pieces through power carving, as well as traditional hand-tool work. It has shown up in both my furniture and art. It has been quite a change from the more modern linear designs I have been drawn to in the past. Through this I have gained much respect for curves and freeform shapes and those who work with them. This small shift in focus has opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for me. The thought of being able to combine these new skills to create something that will far outlast me, one hundred years or more, is something that excites me, and drives me to continue learning and experimenting.

I never saw myself working with my hands, but now, I have a hard time seeing it any other way. There is a quality of life that comes from creating things, a satisfaction from seeing a vision come to life. I’ve gained so much knowledge, experience, and confidence through something I just about missed out on. My life has been forever shaped by wood.