Woodworking whiz kid

Steve Bartlett sbartlett@thetelegram.com
Published on March 10, 2012

Matthew Agate is just 10, but he’s already built a miniature rocking horse, a folding step stool and a five-board bench.

And the Placentia youngster has an opinion on what might be the coolest thing of all to build.

“A mansion,” the kid says, matter-of-factly.

While Matthew hasn’t yet made the fortune needed for his castle, he has built a following on YouTube.

On Feb. 12, he and his father, Michael, posted a how-to video of the boy making a rocking horse.

In it, Matthew takes the project from start to finish, explaining what he’s doing at every step.

“We don’t have a scroll saw so we’re going to be using a coping saw, but we’ll get through it,” he tells viewers at one point.

The video didn’t go viral and get a million views, but it caught the attention of the woodworking world and drew rave reviews.

Excited, the Agates decided to keep doing videos of their projects.

They’ve since posted two more and have launched their own website, thenewfoundlandwoodworker.com.

Matthew has long liked woodworking.

He enjoys it more than playing video games. The nail gun is his favourite tool and he has shown a particular skill for cutting dovetails by hand.

“(He’s) interested to the point where if I’m at something, (he’s like,) ‘Dad, can I help? Dad, can I help? Let me do that. Can I use the hammer?’” Michael says.

“He’s always been interested, but it’s a bonding thing.”

The idea to turn that interest into how-to videos came about while watching other woodworkers online.

Matthew wondered if young people were posting projects. They couldn’t find many and decided to go for it themselves.

The first video was of the rocking horse, at Matthew’s suggestion.

He wanted to take part in a fundraiser where woodworkers submitted a photo of their rocking horse and a dollar was donated to Woodworkers Fighting Cancer by Marc Spagnuolo, a popular craftsman known as The Wood Whisperer.

More than 4,000 people watched Matthew’s video in the first few days, and the comments poured in from woodworking circles.

Among them was a comment from The Wood Whisperer himself.

“Excellent work Matthew!” Spagnuolo wrote on YouTube. “You are on your way to being a talented woodworker! Congratulations on the completion of the rocking horse!”

The Agates have produced and posted two more videos since then.

The response to those has been strong, too, and a number of woodworking websites have posted them or linked to their home on YouTube.

As well, a guy in Maine is sending Matthew some tools and Spagnuolo’s mother mailed him some Wood Whisperer swag, including a measuring tape, pens, pencils and stickers.

“Some people who are talking about it are the big people,” says Michael.

Little people in the Placentia area have been talking about it, too, especially Matthew’s Grade 5 class at St. Anne’s Academy in Dunville.

Matthew says his schoolmates have watched two of the videos on the classroom’s SMART Board.

He’s kind of shy about it and admits blushing “at the funny parts.”

“The teacher says it’s excellent and he sent Mom and Dad home a note, saying I’m a wonderful speaker,” Matthew says.

The Agates aim to put that speaking ability on video with at least two projects a month.

They do them on Saturdays using basic hand tools.

For the most part, they’ve been using the kitchen as a makeshift shop. They’ve got a new workshop in the backyard, but it lacks a wood stove and they need to get a few more tools.

“We try not to make too much of a mess, but what we miss, Mom will clean up. She is fantastic,” Michael says of his wife.

It was Mom’s request for a porch bench that prompted the latest video. Matthew and Michael found a five-board bench on famed craftsman Charles Neil’s website and built it.

Neil saw it and linked to the video on his site with the comment, “Excellent work Matthew. Very proud of you.”

Neil also tweeted about it, and responded to an email from The Telegram about his interest in what the boy was doing.

“We really enjoy seeing young folks take an interest in the creative process and work with their hands, it’s a great skill builder, and to see Matthew at 10 years of age have such a passion and noticeable skills, is simply amazing,” Neil wrote.

“I was delighted to see he chose one of my projects to make, and I must say he did it masterfully. This young man has a bright future and is a pleasure to watch.”

Neil also said Matthew is an inspiration and he offered a “hearty well-done to the parents.”

“It’s interesting that Matthew has discovered a world beyond electronics,” he noted, “something perhaps more of our youth need to look at, after all not everyone is destined to be a computer programmer.”

The videos are filmed by Matthew’s 15-year-old brother, Timmy, on a Canon PowerShot.

Michael edits the footage and posts it.

“It’s a weekend production, trust me,” he smiles.

They appear to have a lot of fun though, as is evident from the tone of the videos and from the stories they tell.

For instance, it recently took 52 takes for Matthew to get one line right because he kept laughing.

It’s an enjoyable endeavour and the father and son have no idea where it will take them.

Their goal is simple: to turn more kids onto woodworking.

“We would like to promote ... children in the workshop, parents or guardians and children getting to together and doing something constructive,” Michael says, adding that at the very least Matthew is acquiring new skills.

This weekend, the father and son are building an infinity mirror, a plan they got from popular Florida-based craftsman Laney Shaughnessy. (Matthew did a Q&A with him on the phone earlier this week and posted a transcript on the Newfoundland Woodworker site.)

Michael, a machinist by trade who has been woodworking for many years, is thrilled with what has transpired and says he can’t describe or quantify his pride.

“It’s unmeasurable,” he says.

To watch some of Matthew's videos click HERE , HERE and HERE, or visit The Telegram's YouTube channel and click on the Community playlist for Matthew's videos, and more.


Twitter: @SteveBartlett_