Fine Woodworking Talent Glimmers in Vegas

January 3, 2024
Fine Woodworking Vegas Show 2023 Group

Under the bright lights of North America’s foremost showcase of burgeoning woodworking talent, Selkirk College alumni shone bright in Las Vegas with stellar results in the Fresh Wood Student Furniture Competition.

Every two years, the Association of Woodworking & Furnishing Suppliers (AWFS) holds a massive fair at the Las Vegas Convention Centre that brings together all elements of the global industry. Woodworking professionals, suppliers, manufacturers and innovators from around the world gather for an event that takes up more than 300 football fields of space.

One of the focal points of the fair is the Fresh Wood competition that throws a spotlight on outstanding work from both high school and post-secondary students. A Canadian leader in training and education, Selkirk College’s Fine Woodworking Program was well represented with six graduates being accepted into the final 20 post-secondary projects featured in the competition.

“I was happy to have a chance to show my work at such an important competition, it’s something that I am proud to have created,” says Shep Zambonelli, a member of the Class of 2022 cohort who was entered in the Case Goods category. “I didn’t really think it was going to win, I just thought it was cool that they partially paid for a trip and I could go down there to see all the different projects.”

Zambonelli did win, capturing first place in his category and also receiving the prestigious Judges’ Nod for his beautifully crafted apothecary cabinet. Also bringing back accolades from Nevada were Selkirk College grads Julian Hengesbach who nabbed second place in cabinets and Alex Morrison who captured second place in the tables category.

An Inspiring and Creative Training Ground

Zambonelli grew up on Toronto Island in a small vehicle-less community a short ferry ride across from Canada’s largest city. Encouraged to pursue his creative interests—his mom is an artist— Zambonelli was drawn to design and working with his hands from a young age. After high school, he headed east to Dalhousie University in Halifax where he started a post-secondary pathway in business. After two years of classroom learning, he parted ways with his initial pursuit.  

Fine Woodworking Vegas Show 2023 Shep Zambonelli
Shep Zambonelli is one of six Selkirk College Fine Woodworking Program alumni who had their student work showcased at the 2023 Fresh Wood Student Furniture Competition in Las Vegas.

“I found myself in university taking a program that didn’t really line-up with what I wanted to do, which was to work with my hands,” Zambonelli says.

In search of powder-filled British Columbia winter ski days, Zambonelli moved to Fernie where he started working with a company that builds timber frame homes throughout the East Kootenay. While he worked through earning his Red Seal in carpentry, a colleague told him about Selkirk College’s Fine Woodworking Program and in September 2021 he started the nine-month program.

A standout student, Zambonelli appreciated learning a branch of woodworking that takes extra levels of patience, skill and creativity. With encouragement from the uber-talented instructional team and access to the top-notch shop on Nelson’s Silver King Campus, he took full advantage of the program’s learning environment. 

“You need to hone something to where you feel you can repeat it with confidence, then you can push yourself a little bit,” Zambonelli says of what it takes to find success in the trade. “You need to execute to a degree of precision, so you need to know where you are at and respect for what you are building.”

Fine Woodworking Vegas Show 2023 Finished Cabinet
Shep Zambonelli’s apothecary cabinet won first place in his category and received the prestigious Judges’ Nod at the event that attracts student work from across Canada and the United States.

For the project that caught the eye of judges in Las Vegas, Zambonelli harkened back to his days growing up amongst his parent’s fondness for antique furniture while creating a stunning piece that is functional. 

“I’m an organized person and a little bit obsessive about it,” he says with a smile. “Everyone has a junk drawer, so I wanted some place to put everything so that you know where it is. It was meant for a place in our cabin and I loved building something that we can use. The design was pretty simple, but I think the legs made it stand out because it feels like they are floating down so you don’t see how it’s attached. That brings a lot to the piece, giving it a mid-century modern-esque feel.”

Currently a self-employed contractor with a wealth of skills in carpentry, cabinet making and fine finishing, Zambonelli’s time at Selkirk College has added important depth to his chosen career. As for his achievement in Las Vegas, the award-winning apothecary cabinet sits at his front door where it is well used.

“I don’t want it to be a delicate piece, I want it to be used just like an apothecary cabinet would have been traditionally been used,” says the 30-year-old. “I like the look of unfinished, antique furniture because that is what I grew up with. There is finish on it to protect it a little bit, but I want to the wood to be seen.”

Learn more about the Selkirk College Fine Woodworking Program.

SDG 4 Quality Education

 Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all