Gill Benzion was going down the path of becoming an electrical engineer, when he took a woodworking course because he wanted to build electric guitars. “I fell in love with furniture making, and never looked back,” he said.
He also pursued further education in woodworking, including as a winner of a 2011 Furniture Society scholarship. Gill used his award to attend a two-week seminar on steam bending with instructor Mitch Ryerson at the HaystackMountain School of Crafts in Maine.
“It was something completely and totally new, that would take me out of my comfort zone, and force me to explore new ways of building,” he said. Plus, Gill noted, “I was able to learn so much, not only in terms of woodworking, but also the new culture I was exposed to,” where, instead of the busy city life in which he grew up, the preference was for a simple life, steeped in craft.
While at Haystack Mountain, Gill built his first sit-down dining chair — with a rather condensed timeframe. “The second week I was there, I decided, maybe a little foolishly, to build a chair in that one week.” He built the chair with the intention to donate it to the school’s end-of-semester auction to fund scholarships, “and I finished it moments before. You could still smell the polyurethane on it as it was being carried in to have it set up for the auction.”
The chair remains his favorite piece. “There are so many amazing memories associated with that chair,” he said, including the people he met and who gave him assistance on the project.
Back home in Montreal, Quebec, Gill says he continues to learn something from almost every project. He pursues a variety of them, because he says he gets bored very easily and wants to “explore as many options as I can” — but he also notes that “the heavy and repeated use of jigs” is a strong characteristic of his work.
“I’ve learned time and time again: if it’s worth putting in the time and investment to make something, it’s worth making it repeatable. If it’s worth building, it’s worth building twice.”
He used one particular shaper jig for the legs of some bar stools. The legs seem to have through tenons, but in actuality, after using the jig to mortise the legs and the rails at the same time, Gill was able to insert a tenon from outside, to give the appearance of a through tenon. The jig is still in his shop, “waiting for the day I revisit that project,” Gill said. “The best tool is one you make yourself, in my opinion. Everything can be modified; if you have the knowledge and are brave enough, by all means do it.”
As for the best woods, in his opinion, Gill said, “I like using local woods as much as possible. If I know where it came from, I feel like I have more of a connection with the wood.” With easy access tolumber mills in and around the rural parts of Quebec, he noted, “There’s so much lumber here in my backyard, why would I go anywhere else?”
It’s an interesting time to do studio furniture work in Quebec, Gill says: the generation of European immigrants with training in specific, traditional skill sets is retiring, and the younger generation, while acknowledging that there is much to learn from their elders, is adapting these techniques into current interpretations, both technically and stylistically. “It’s a dynamic scene,” Gill said. “It keeps you on your toes; you can’t be satisfied with ‘good enough.'”
Gill undertakes a variety of projects — including refinishing guitars that he coats in comic books — but personally, for the moment, he finds himself focusing on smaller woodworking projects. Without ashop for a while, Gill focused on making wooden jewelry, “which turned into a full-time job.”
That’s gratifying, he said, both for him and for other woodworkers. “It’s uplifting to see that there’s still a market for custom-made, or for handmade furniture.”