This DIY shop is teaching Montrealers to work with their hands

Under the guidance of experienced professionals, visitors can use the equipment to do anything from building a bookshelf to fixing a bike.

Founder Michael Schwartz brings people together to share skills and create things built to last

Participants at a child's bicycle-making workshop held at Les Affûtés last year (Les Affûtés / Facebook)

Michael Schwartz is in the business of helping people make things.

He runs two shops in the heart of Montreal filled with tools and workbenches — everything one needs to bring a creation to life.

The shops operate under the name Les Affûtés, which means "the sharpened" in French. Here, under the guidance of experienced professionals, visitors can use the equipment to do anything from building a bookshelf to fixing a bike. The goal, said Schwartz, is to teach people to work with their hands.

Visitors can bring a photo of something and ask for help creating it, or they can attend a class where everyone learns to make something together.

This business was inspired by Schwartz's first experience in woodworking. After moving to Montreal from France, he wanted to learn something new. So he spent some time with a retired tradesperson in the city, learning what he could about the craft.

Michael Schwartz moved from France to Montreal, where he founded Les Les Affûtés to teach people how to work with their hands. (Submitted by Les Affûtés)

"It was an incredible experience," said Schwartz.

He now feels immense pride at the things he can build.

"I have a three-year-old daughter, and I created so many toys for her," he said.

Through Les Affûtés, he hopes to pass that joy on to others — especially as people are looking to take on new skills during the pandemic.

His business was closed for a while due to COVID-19 restrictions, but has since reopened at a lower capacity. He hopes his shop can be a refuge from the stresses of pandemic life. As he describes it, handy work can act as a special kind of meditation.

"Using your hands gives you the kind of concentration you see in kids when they play," said Schwartz. "You cannot think about your future, you're just in the moment."

Schwartz also wants his students to build quality items that will last a long time. And, if something does break, for them to be able to fix it or repurpose it. In a world where seemingly everything can be delivered to your door, he thinks this can help break the trend of items quickly bought and quickly thrown away.

WATCH | Michael Schwartz talks about the importance of manual skills on Our Montreal:

Michael Schwartz is teaching Montrealers to work with their hands

6 months ago
From building chairs to fixing a bike, they’ll teach you how to do it at Les Affûtés. Michael Schwartz, founder of the organization, joins Catherine Verdon-Diamond to talk about the importance of working with your hands. 6:53

Since opening its doors in 2019, Schwartz's business has helped Montrealers of all ages build all sorts of things. Some of these items are more challenging than others, but one in particular gave Schwartz pause. An eight-year-old boy wanted to build a violin.

"He knew what he wanted to do," said Schwartz. "He had a plan, he had the wood, he had everything."

And together, they did it.

As we all do at some point or another, the boy just needed a bit of help.


Eric Dicaire

CBC editorial assistant

Eric Dicaire is a CBC Montreal editorial assistant working from home during the pandemic.


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