Alain Vaillancourt leads a double life.
A video editor at CBC Montreal for 32 years, his main job is to make journalists’ TV stories look as smooth and polished as possible.
A few years ago, however, he went through a bit of an existential crisis.
What legacy would he leave to his children?
He recalled the work his father used to do, restoring furniture for Ogilvy’s department store.
“So I started, maybe too late, working and doing wood stuff. I have a lot of my father’s tools,” says Vaillancourt.
By then, his elderly father was too sick to give him advice. So he turned to YouTube for help.
“I was watching videos — a lot of videos — and none of them were in French,” Vaillancourt says. “How come in a country like France where they have 65 million people, nobody is making French videos?”
He decided to fill that void himself, launching a YouTube channel called L’gosseux d’bois — in English, The Woodpecker.
Now, he’s internationally known: he has 113,000 subscribers, and his videos have been viewed 21 million times.
A (YouTube) star is born
“I was looking for [French-language woodworking] videos, and I stumbled upon Alain Vaillancourt,” says French YouTuber, Anthony Carayon, who started his own channel, L’instant des copeaux.
“I am so grateful to him; this man has been my inspiration.”
Vaillancourt’s videos are distinctive for a few reasons.
He’s brutally honest about how woodworking really happens. There are messes; there are mistakes; there are ugly Santa Clauses.
“It’s one of the comments that I have the most — people are happy that I leave all my mistakes I made,” says Vaillancourt. “And I make a lot of mistakes!”
But there are also well-finished projects ranging from delicate carving to huge projects like a wooden bandsaw.
Peter Collin, the Absent Minded Woodworker, based in Maine, says Vaillancourt is a good role model in terms of techniques tried. “He’s a very well-rounded woodworker,” said Collin. “He’s a good person to turn to.”
Vaillancourt spends hours on the video production itself, making sure he has multiple angles of his work. He then puts about 20 hours more into editing each segment. The result is professional-quality videos of a talented amateur woodworker.
“I didn’t want anybody at work teasing me, like, ‘You made a terrible video,'” he says with a rueful laugh.
Vaillancourt is unusual, too, in that he produces every video in French and English.
“I started to make them in French,” he says, “but I wanted from the beginning to make them in both English and French.”
‘Just behind Céline Dion’
There is clearly an appetite for French-language woodworking videos. About 30 per cent of his fan base is in France.
So, two years ago Vaillancourt and his wife, Renée Gauthier — also a video editor at CBC — took their first plane ride ever and headed to France and Belgium to meet those fans.
They spent 33 days with grateful subscribers, who often gave them personalized tours and offered accommodations.
“It was pretty amazing,” says Vaillancourt. “We made a lot of new friends.”
“It’s incredible the response people have toward us,” says Gauthier.
“They think we are international stars! I think we come just behind Céline Dion.”
With retirement on the horizon, Vaillancourt and Gauthier are planning another trip to Europe.
“It’s funny because all my life I said: ‘When I retire, I won’t travel. I haven’t travelled while I was working. I won’t travel when I retire,'” says Vaillancourt. “Now it’s the only thing I can think of because of that trip I had two years ago.”
“I like to share my knowledge,” he says.
“Every day I receive several emails where people say: ‘Look at this picture, I did it because you made it. I used your plan. I modified it, but it’s mostly because you did it that I did it.'” says Vaillancourt.
“You know, it’s so nice. I have a nice feeling inside.”