Build Your Own

Woodworking Workshop in a Montreal Makerspace

Catherine Lafortune helps a participant measuring the plank at a woodworking workshop in Helios Makerspace on Jan. 24. Photos Ocean DeRouchie
Catherine Lafortune helps a participant measuring the plank at a woodworking workshop in Helios Makerspace on Jan. 24.

Wandering into Helios, you can’t be sure of what to expect.

It might not be the tour led by a volunteer, or the big dog jumping up excitedly at the counter—both are a welcome surprise. Any ambiguous predictions are probably representative of the reality that very few people know what elements comprise a makerspace.

Helios Makerspace, a non-profit workshop in St. Henri, is a genuine treasure for handy-people and craft lovers alike. It offers access to tools and the space for anyone to work on their DIY projects.

To use the workshop, you must become a member, but after that, you can use it and the tools to your heart’s content, so long as you bring your own supplies. Members also get to participate in workshop tutorials led by knowledgeable volunteers.

The workshop space offers many tools for its members, such as a 3D printer, laser cutters and sewing machines.

“Helios is dedicated to providing a space for people to execute their projects,” said Cedric Breton Daigle, a council member of Helios. “We want to give them the space, the tools and the expertise. The volunteers come from various backgrounds, and depending on when you come, you have different people who can help you in different areas.”

Helios is the brainchild of a few former Concordia students. “The founders used a workshop in Concordia, where they had access during their studies,” Breton Daigle explained. “But once they graduated they didn’t have access to it anymore. They wanted to provide a space just like it for the public, so they thought of starting Helios.”

The makerspace puts a large focus on building a community. “We have a big community of woodworkers in our workshop, and have many people coming back over and over,” Breton Daigle said. “By slowly gathering a big community around it, we try to make it more than a space.”

While the concept is considered a hit by those who know about it, the biggest issue Helios faces is that most are unaware of its existence. As Breton Daigle explained, someone who has an idea, but not the space or the tools to execute it, may not even know what a makerspace is.

“Maybe someone across the street is wondering how to make a library, but he doesn’t have the space or the band saw. He has the need, but he just doesn’t know that this concept exists,” he said.

“Maybe someone across the street is wondering how to make a library, but he doesn’t have the space or the band saw.”

Helios offers many workshops that focus on teaching people how to use the tools to make such visions a reality. This past Sunday, Montreal-based woodworker and teacher Catherine Lafortune teamed up with the makerspace to bring Toucher du Bois! an intro to woodworking class.

Lafortune teaches at the École nationale du meuble et de l’ébénisterie, where she also studied for three years.

With a group of six, she went through the safety-related elements of the equipment. For some, this was their first brush with a table or band saw. In the woodshop, Lafortune’s eyes were bright. She was comfortable in the setting. Her enthusiasm for the craft only served to amplify her abilities as an instructor.

“Ebenisterie means woodworking; it’s a really French word from le temps des rois. ‘Eben’ is a kind of wood. They were making really nice furniture with eben,” she said. “So really, it means ‘fine woodworking.’

“Now, there are a lot of people interested in learning things; in building their own furniture,” Lafortune added. According to her, this is how people can be more independent from industry. She said there has been a big boom when it comes to people wanting to learn the art of woodworking.

After getting the safety low-down, the group tried the table saw. Lafortune worked through all of the equipment before the group branched off to work individually.

Cutting, drilling and sanding soon began. Once everyone got into the groove of things, the process seemed fluid and fun. People chatted and worked together to create what would be small shelves with four golden hooks.

Within a few hours people were adding the finishing touches to their projects. Meanwhile, those from the next class began the shuffle into the lively workshop, looking excited as they studied the morning group’s completed pieces.

The workshop was easy to follow, and very hands-on. For anybody thinking about a project—whether it be a tea rack, an end table or even curtains—Helios is the place to go. Passionate staff and volunteers willing to share their knowledge make creating your own projects very accessible.

Lafortune’s classes sold out due to popular demand, however, Helios attests on Facebook that they will indeed be back with more. In the meantime, check out the makerspace at 137 St. Ferdinand St., suite 270.