Employee Spotlight: Alex Skawinski-Shearer

“We go from creating repeating geometric shapes to technically experimental projects where the components are all different.”

For the next instalment of our Employee Spotlight series, Alex sat down with us to talk about her role at Xylotek. Alex joined us in June 2022 and has worked on many exciting projects since.

What is it that you do at Xylotek? I am a carpenter. At Xylotek this means that we translate design drawings into physical realities. This means lots of experimenting with timber, problem solving and figuring it out as you go.  

What about your job do you like best? I like the experimental woodwork. The workshop isn’t a single-production space – the projects are really varied. You can bounce ideas off your colleagues and you are using your brain every day. I also like the security of working at Xylotek as I was self-employed before.  

What is 1 interesting thing you have learned recently? We are working on an advanced steam-bending project at the moment, I’ve learned to keep experimenting and not to give up when you are creating a challenging piece of woodwork.  

Describe Xylotek in 3 words.  Challenging – in the most positive sense! As we’re all learning all the time, the projects challenge us to improve our craft. Supportive – the team help each other progress and everyone wants to be there. Interesting – there are loads of different projects going on at the same time, meaning there’s so much to learn.  

Which has been your favourite project to work on so far and why? The Versailles project with Mary Duggan Architects – I liked the traditional joinery and joint making. We didn’t use any glue so it was really satisfying woodworking. More on the project here!  https://www.marydugganarchitects.com/2022/07/08/for-the-love-of-materials/  

As a female carpenter at Xylotek, what advice would you give to a woman starting out in carpentry? You have to fail a lot but that will make you better. As a minority in any given workshop, your work gets scrutinized more often than others as people may not believe you should be there. That makes it feel much harder to make mistakes. Understand that some workshops are not where you want to be – that’s ok too, call it when you see it. Never hide a mistake, everyone makes them. Everything can be fixed – before starting a project, think about how you would fix it if you messed up, that makes it less daunting if you do!  

What's the most unusual aspect of working at Xylotek? The dramatic variation in jobs – we go from creating repeating geometric shapes to technically experimental projects where the components are all different.  

As a woman in a male-dominated industry, do you find yourself navigating the industry in a different way? Yes, women are excluded culturally and physically from the carpentry industry. Women may under-value themselves and their work, despite having the same or more skills than others. My advice would be to find communities who are similar to you – although I can’t speak for other minorities, talking to others with similar experiences really helps. Also feel confident to value your work and time enough!  

Alex working on the Osnaburgh Pavilion Glulam Project.
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Osnaburgh Street Pavilions - Regents Place

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