Sep 17, 2023

Life events inspire health administrator's journey into woodworking

Martin Bohdal switched careers and opened Whim Woodworks in 2021

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Martin Bohdal founded Whim Woodworks in Vancouver, in 2021, embarking on a new career as a woodworker. Here Bohdal tells us about the beautiful creations he makes for people and how he came to be doing this for a living.

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Big changes can happen quite slowly, says Bohdal. At least his big change did. Bohdal says he's always been interested in making things from slabs of wood but studied life science, and before launching his studio, he worked as an administrator in public health at a desk job "responding to the illicit drug toxicity crisis" in Vancouver. Though he found this work purposeful, Bohdal says he felt the need to move his body more and had spent some time in a millwork and furniture shop and wanted to spend more time in his own workshop.

"I realized that I really wanted to work with my hands and exercise my creativity," he says.

Bohdal had a bike accident while still working in public health — a head-on collision that he luckily recovered from well but meant sitting in front of a computer for any length of time was painful. This was the final catalyst for him launching his studio, he says.

Looking back, other factors also encouraged him to work with wood, says Bohdal. Like the five summers he spent fighting wildfires in B.C.'s interior while at university. This gave him a genuine appreciation for Canada's native wood species, he says.

"It was a special experience because it brought me so deep into nature in remote places. Learning more about forests and developing a responsibility for caring for them as part of the job," he says.

Bohdal makes beautiful hand-crafted bedroom furniture — custom beds, side tables and the like — and does custom joinery. He says the wood he uses for about a third of his commissions has a special meaning for the person he's making it for.

"It's maybe a wind-down tree in Ontario that's very sentimental for the family because they grew up looking out their front window at it. And they’ve hung onto a chunk of it knowing they wanted to turn it into something," he says. This something turns out to be a bed, a table or a chair. "It's very sentimental and emotional in a way that I often don't even understand, but it's great to be a part of it."

Bohdal says if he's learned anything about designing a piece of furniture, or his life, it is that it's better to follow a path and see what comes than try and "design an ideal anything." The more flexible he is in his approach to things, the more happily surprised by the results he tends to be.

When working with wood, Bohdal says he takes the same approach. He sits with the material for a few days before diving in: "A friend might call me up because his neighbour's tree fell down, and we spend the day milling a Maple tree," he says. That wood might sit for a while, while Bohdal ruminates on ideas.

"And then it kind of finds its way into a piece of furniture, and it's special because I can tell the story of that wood to someone."

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