In this digital age, being able to sit down at a workbench for hours and build something with your own hands is a special feat. Patience and craft are certainly not lost on Zach Chilson, a Long Beach, California-based woodworker by trade who also dabbles in acting, modeling, and writing/performing music. A trade passed down to him by his father, Paul Chilson, woodworking has become an indelible link between the two generations. Though Paul still lives in Cape Cod, Massachusetts (Zach’s childhood home), the two run Chilson Woodworks together, and build together whenever Zach visits home.
We caught up with Zach to hear about the process of giving new life to a piece of wood, his windy journey towards the family business, and the perks of his side gigs (including hanging out with George Clooney and Danny DeVito).
Where are you currently located?
Right now I am at home in Long Beach. Making an attempt at some downtime before flying out to New Orleans tomorrow.
What is your occupation?
By trade, I’d have to consider myself a woodworker. It’s taken me a long time to take up the mantle of the family business and to admit it, but I’m finally there pushing my company, Chilson Woodworks. I mostly build custom furniture, but I definitely wear many different hats.
A recent table made by Zach. | Photo Credit: Zach Chilson
Your dad taught you woodworking and exposed you to a very creative environment growing up. How did that shape who you are today? Do you two still work on projects together?
Besides teaching me his incredible skill, I feel like my dad’s artistic nature paved the way for my endeavors. Both of my parents have that trait, and that kind of opened up the door for all things creative. Picking up a guitar, writing, or taking photos all somewhat stemmed from watching my dad just walk into his shop and build something out of nothing. Any time I would want a toy gun or an airplane, whatever it was I saw on TV, he would whip it up in no time. It was pretty amazing.
We still get the chance to build together any time I head back home to Cape Cod. I’m working on getting the old man out here for a West Coast project. Time to switch it up!
What inspires you when you’re designing a table?
It all immediately starts with the wood. As soon as I look at the shape and the grain, I start to see what its next life is going to be. Because I work a lot with live edge pieces, the wood itself can dictate the design.
But everyday things also filter their way in. A couple of my favorite tables have been inspired by surf. This walnut coffee table I made a few years back had an amazing, wave-like grain to it, so I somewhat shaped it like a fish board, while maintaining the natural live edge.
Photo Credit: Christopher Patey
You also have a lot of side projects, like acting, singing/playing guitar, and modeling. How did you get into those respective fields?
So many side gigs. Sometimes they take over and act like main gigs. I can almost never keep up. The acting/modeling thing was a total accident. I feel weird even saying those words. I did a commercial shoot for Yamaha Motorcycles about 5 or 6 years ago and that sort of opened Pandora’s box. From there, I got representation and some opportunities presented themselves.
I’m incredibly thankful that I sometimes get paid to ride motorcycles or stand in front of a camera, I just never would have thought that it would be a thing.
I’ve been playing guitar for years. I’m pretty sure it started around 6th grade. I actually just recently found a piece of notebook paper at my parent’s that had Blink-182’s “Dammit” guitar tab written on it and I’m pretty sure that’s the first thing I learned to play. I ended up playing in bands throughout high school and even quit college to go out on tour. Like everything at 20, it didn’t quite go according to plan. But it did get me out of Massachusetts and on to the west coast.
You’re currently writing and recording music on your own. Any plans to release a solo album?
I’ve always toyed with the idea. I much prefer playing in bands but there are a lot of egos that get thrown into the mix. I think I need to lock myself in a house in the woods or the desert to finally just do it.
What’s one interesting thing about yourself?
I once shot a commercial with George Clooney and Danny DeVito. A strangely hilarious couple days of my life. So that was pretty rad.
Who/what influenced you to grow a beard? How long have you had a beard?
I worked at the Beverly Hills Hotel for 5 years and had to shave every day. Since I quit, I have not touched my face with an actual razor. It’s been about 6 years. Sure I’ve trimmed it, but I’m not joining any shave clubs anytime soon.
Photo Credit: Simon Lee
Do you have any tips for beard growers?
When in doubt, grow it out. Cliche, but it’s true. If you’re ever thinking about trimming but you’re not too sure...don’t touch it. Don’t make my mistakes! If you must, watch a YouTube video from a professional. It won’t hurt. Also, invest in a beard shampoo and a conditioner. The hair on your face is different from the top of your head. And it needs tending.
What is your greatest fear and have you conquered it?
Falling through the sky. Not yet.
Where do you see yourself in the next year?
In an Airstream. Anywhere.
Right now, I’m obsessed with:
Ozark on Netflix. My new Harley-Davidson, Gloria.
The first website I log onto every morning is:
Unfortunately I open Instagram habitually.
My favorite Instagram accounts to follow are:
@thrashermag - can’t skate like I used to, but I can live vicariously.
I’d love to visit:
Thailand, and I’m going in November.
If I wasn’t doing this job, I would:
Totally be down to be a travel photographer/blogger.
Photo Credit: Yamaha