Being 25 years old in an industry where a more advanced age tends to be an indicator of experience, and therefore quality, can be a challenge to woodworker Matt Kennedy, but he tries not to let it concern him.
Because the reality is, he has been mastering his trade since he was a 10-years-old. It's when he built his first staircase with his father, Michael Kennedy, who has worked more than 30 years in the field.
His father proceeded to teach him everything he knows, and Kennedy naturally picked up the skills and the knowledge. “I always knew that I wanted to do something with my hands,” Kennedy expressed, “everyone in my family did.”
After exploring other trades while at Barnstable High School, he began to work with his father full-time at the age of 18. “After I started working full time for my dad I started realizing what a specialty his hands were.”
In addition to his hands-on experience working with his father and on his own, Kennedy is constantly educating himself by reading books on woodworking, learning as much as he could by observing techniques and collaborating with others in the industry.
He strives to “make something that people marvel at,” which means he is constantly trying to bring his work to a higher level. Every project that comes his way he “has already built that piece 100 times in [his] head.”
Kennedy describes what he does as “specialty woodworking.” From design to completion, he creates a unique product based on the wishes of the customer. He can build and design a variety of things including decks and crown molding, but his favorite to build are stairways and their handrails. “When I see a stairway with a continuous hand rail, I am in heaven.”
According to Kennedy, stairways not only serve an obvious function in a household, they are a permanent piece of furniture that cannot be moved or taken away, so they have to be precise and built to last. “There is also a focus around stairways because you can do a lot of different stair configurations,“ many of which are not easy to do.”
While his father began his projects with drawing, or “laying out,” a project on plywood, Kennedy taught himself how to use the computer program, AutoCAD, to give the customer a digital visual of the project.
Once the customer approves the layout, Kennedy selects the wood based on the grain and coloring. The type of wood is up to the client, though his favorite to work with is mahogany because of the color and ease of use. Regardless of the type of wood, Kennedy always works with the highest quality materials possible.
After choosing the wood, he cuts it, shapes and squares it using hand tools. Almost every aspect of his work is done by hand, as it all has to be very precise. Once the piece is completed, a process that could take up to forty hours, in his shop Kennedy installs it on the project site.
When he is not working in his shop in Marstons Mills, Kennedy is managing his business, MC Kennedy Woodworking, that he started two years ago. Since going out on his own, he has had a steady flow of work, developed primarily through word of mouth.
Other work that he is interested in exploring is the restoration of historic buildings. He is concerned that “a lot of techniques are getting lost” as newer, homogeneous construction becomes the standard. Kennedy has worked on many of these projects on and off Cape, and is confident in his ability to completely restore all components of a stairway, “when it is worn out and has done its share of living.”