By Erin O’Donnell
Founder and CEO, Dovetail Community Workshop
Max Chavez has left his mark all over New Mexico. Since the 1970s he has created custom doors, cabinets, and furniture with his signature attention to detail and workmanship. Not to mention beauty.
If you’ve been to St. Charles Borromeo church in central Albuquerque, you’ve seen the Stations the Cross carved by Max, along with some gorgeous interior doors. His shop also recently built furniture and doors for a new hotel in Taos. And he fashioned some rustic-looking doors for a convent scene in a movie.
I was invited to tour the shop at Max Chavez Custom Doors and Furniture recently with my mother-in-law, Olive; they know each other from St. Charles. Max has been supplying Olive with scrap wood since they discovered their mutual interest in woodworking.
“I’ve always been in my art,” Max told me. Before woodworking, Max’s passion was photography. In the 1960s he exhibited his photos and, later, his carved wood creations. A few years later, he turned those skills into a full-time business, and today at age 77 his business, and his art, are still flourishing.
In the shop along the railroad tracks, just south of downtown Albuquerque, we got to watch Max’s team work on their current commissions. In the middle of the workshop, a built-in cabinet for a client’s large doll collection was coming together.
This wasn’t Olive’s first visit, and Max’s staff greeted both of us warmly. One worker, Edgar, brought over the leg of a bench he’s working on because Olive has been wanting to learn how to make dovetail joints (yay!). It will have a contrasting wood slotted into the dovetails for a great two-tone look.
Edgar was also assembling a replica of the small cabinet — maybe a jewelry box? — at the back of the table seen here.
In another room, workers were refinishing gorgeous old wood furniture. Under sheets of plastic I could glimpse a mahogany table from the early 20th century; Max said it had to be stripped of four coats of red paint. What a crime!
But one of my favorite things in the shop — actually, two — were the enormous, antique band saw and 10-foot lathe. Yeah, 10 feet. These beasties, which date to the 1870s, were part of the shop in its original incarnation: as the city foundry for the railyards. When Max took over the property he inherited them. And they still work.
See the plate on the end of the lathe in the foreground? That was used to turn metal plates for the city’s manhole and water main covers. Here’s one of the molds they used:
The building itself had stood since the 1880s. It’s a fantastic piece of ABQ heritage. Like Max himself.
We plan to showcase more New Mexico artisans here on the blog, so let us know whom we should meet next! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.