Admissions of a Fine Woodworker
What do you get when you cross a logger, a fisherman and a fine woodworker? DOC Wildwoods, that’s what!
Daryl O’Connor – DOC were the initials on his time card when he worked in the woods – builds custom kitchens, distinct fine furniture and impressive interior and exterior doors, completely on site at his South Island Highway woodworking shop. He’s built Morris chairs, sideboards and dining room suites; entertainment centers, bedroom suites and office units. His favourite job so far? A complete library made from jatoba wood with rolling ladders and drawers completed to perfection. Daryl loves what he does, and it shows.
As a youth Daryl was always finding wood, hammering stuff and building things. He recalls "working with wood as long as I can remember” and could always find a log to utilize. Living in Port Hardy, an ‘old -school’ Danish carpenter and cabinet maker would encourage Daryl to explore wood and create things with it. Good advice for a future fine-furniture and cabinet maker!
In the early 70’s Daryl worked as a log scaler in Bute Inlet, until fallers were paid a day rate and the demand for log scaling diminished. Considered too young to be a faller, Daryl worked on rigging and ran equipment; logging would occupy his working life off and on until 1997. He worked in Atlin, B.C. placer mining gold and also spent years fishing, both as engineer on his brother’s seine boat and later, buying a gill-netter and running his own. Daryl says, though, "The more I fished each year, the less money I made.” He eventually sold his boat and went back running loaders and hook tending.
For the family home Daryl built his first full dining room suite made of western yew wood, interior doors of fir and a solid western-maple floor "ship’s deck style, not tongue-and-groove” – a.k.a. labour intensive! He also built twig furniture when it was so popular in the late 80’s and early 90’s, designing a more comfortable chair, fiddling with dimensions, shapes, size and configuration until it was stylish and comfy. "There was no shortage of wood,” he says and scouted around for alder, bitter cherry, willow and cottonwood which "really bends nicely”. He built twig chairs and love seats, coffee tables and end tables, tall, funky corner stands and even a bedroom suite from larger sapling branches. These were consigned to interior design stores: Designing Women in Campbell River, The Garden Gate in Courtenay (now Home and Garden Gate) and a high-end crafts-style furniture and art store in Victoria. Daryl says, "Fashion dictated the design, but then with more competition, the local market became saturated with twig furniture.”
So onward he went… back to school in 1997 for fine woodworking and furniture making. Daryl found the structure of classes and practical information useful. Although at the time he had no drafting instruction and was "not literate in that language” he had good woodworking technique, and schooling polished these skills. Daryl says, "When you’re interested in something you pursue it and become proficient.” School gave him the structure needed to proceed with his skills.
Daryl has been building kitchens – mostly Arts and Crafts or Shaker style – for about nine years. He started with custom furniture and doors, but because "furniture was a harder sell” than, perhaps, more "practical” custom jobs, Daryl began to look at kitchens as the principal focus for his product. His
specialty, though, is custom doors – interior and exterior, usually solid fir or yellow cedar; cherry or red cedar if requested
by the customer. If doors can be magnificent, these doors are. And if you think a door is a door, you haven’t seen these ones! Everything is made on site and only door slides, hinges etc. are ordered in. He’s strong on quality and not big on indoctrinated standards, preferring to "have things a little different and have control of the product” – for example being able to match grain patterns; getting different looks by using different grains of wood.
DOC Wildwoods’ dining room suites call for more organization and intricacy. Daryl says, "Chairs are lots of fun” – who would have thought? – as there are many parts and pieces that must be indexed and organized. The coffee tables, his own design, are simple, striking and elegant all at once; as are his unique turned tables, one for any occasion!
Working with employees, doing paperwork and dealing with people in a service/customer fashion are skills Daryl has developed. He says "marketing is a hurdle,” but his work is known mostly by word of mouth. In the beginning he put a large ad in the yellow pages but had to reduce the size of the ad, saying, "I got more work than I could handle!” Daryl now has an employee to keep up with the workload. In the early days of his business Daryl was subcontracted by another cabinet and furniture maker, Buschlen, to work on the Kingfisher Inn. Down the road he, in turn, was helped by Buschlen, enabling Daryl to stay in business. He was commissioned to build locking night tables and dressers that were "smallish, solid and good quality” for a private intermediate-care home, creating more opportunity to hone his craft.
Daryl finds his work particularly satisfying, saying, "When you build something that works out right, you get a good feeling and the customer is happy.” He says he made mistakes, then recovered and learned from them, "turning the mistakes into something.”
Daryl sells his products in Victoria, Duncan, Campbell River and Courtenay and will eventually have a showroom for furniture and kitchens that will be open part-time, adding, "I’m a builder not a shopkeeper!” He’s always on the lookout for wood: fir, maple, eastern maple, cherry, yellow and red cedar. He even has beautiful, instrument grade red cedar and white pine with no imperfections, that is "milled stacked and dried. I just have to find a use for it.” He buys wholesale, from local mills and sometimes buys wood from retired loggers or fisherman who have piles in their yards! Daryl claimed some Acacia wood, removed when gas lines were being placed, and made a fine-looking sideboard and dining room suite from this.
The work is ongoing: Putting all the wood in properly conditioned storage; bringing it inside in a heated environment with low humidity of 9-10% (any higher, the wood will shrink, any lower than 6-7% the wood will swell, so moisture levels are always checked), maintaining equipment;, and doing light millwork, as all the wood comes in rough and is not straight until machined, jointed, then planed. There are plenty of tools to keep sharp, and there’s lots of dust. "It takes a lot to put up with someone who makes sawdust and mess as much as I do,” Daryl says,
speaking of the support of his wife, Margaret. Her response to my questioning look was, "I agree!” Next for Daryl is completing his shop and getting the insurance needed to bid on government contracts.
Now I know where the fine in fine woodworking comes from. And if I want to learn more about wood I know who to ask. DOC
Wildwoods uses skill and creativity to construct almost anything (he probably could create anything of wood!); taking pride to manufacture masterpieces you don’t hang on the wall – although he most likely could do that too!
That beautiful instrument-grade wood, in the long-term future,
may become a guitar – a project that holds implicit meaning for Daryl and his family. Happy woodworking Daryl!
DOC Wildwoods can be reached at 250.923-7785 or by e-mail: