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AJ Sousa of The Grain Studio
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AJ Sousa of The Grain Studio

Against the Grain: A Young Woodworker's Unconventional Path to Success

Aj from The Grain Studio
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EcoPoxy recently connected with AJ Sousa, a talented young maker whose passion for woodworking not only spawned a dynamic and successful furniture-building business but also helped motivate him in his battle to beat cancer. With support from his father (co-founder), and a close network of family and friends, AJ has developed The Grain Studio into a thriving and highly-regarded source for skillfully crafted, one-of-a-kind furniture art pieces. Here are the highlights from our conversation!

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Q: We’re so glad to finally get a chance to chat with you. Maybe start by letting our readers know who you are and a little bit about your journey as a young and accomplished woodworker and business owner.

A: So, we're from Toronto, Canada. My name is AJ, and I’m co-owner of The Grain Studio. My dad's also part owner, and we work together. We build custom furniture, whether it's solid wood or epoxy, or a combination of both. We do a lot of conference tables and custom dining tables. That's our main focus - custom. We also do have a standard line of tables and beds, but like I said, our main thing’s custom.
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I got into woodworking when I was in high school, in grade 11. Woodworking was the only class I enjoyed. I just liked working with my hands, whether it has anything to do with metalwork, welding, fixing things, carpentry, that sort of thing.

So, I enjoyed woodworking in high school, and one thing led to another, and I just started doing a little bit on the side. At home, I just started grabbing tools here and there, and just started to build an arsenal of skills, as well as machinery. Eventually, I started working for a local woodworker, and that's when I really elevated my learning, learning different tricks of the trade.

And then, on April 1st, 2021, I got diagnosed with stage three cancer - Hodgkin's lymphoma. It's a blood cancer. I already had a small part-time business at that point. I was still working, but I was trying to grow the business at the same time. I obviously couldn't work as much as I wanted to during that time, getting treatment, but I was still doing my own thing on the side.

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To be completely honest with you, working was the only thing that really kept me going when I was sick. I was still probably putting in 40 hours a week when I could. But I finished all my treatments, and I beat it. I've been in remission now for two years.

That's when I went hard, and we pushed the business. I quit working my part-time job, and we just went hard. We worked a lot of late nights, and we just really started pushing the custom stuff. We would do a lot of trade shows and a lot of custom furniture shows. We also push hard on social media.

We ship all across North America and evena little bit into Europe. Anything local will be delivered by ourselves within the Toronto radius. We’ll do anything custom. Whether it's epoxy, or solid wood, we work with our clients to do slab selections, and build their dream piece of furniture. Whether it's a table, cabinetry, or bedroom furniture, our main focus is custom.

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Q: What inspired the name of your business, The Grain Studio, and what makes you so unique?

A: A lot of the epoxy pieces we do, the wood, before we clean it up, looks like firewood. Often, we’re turning nothing into something. So, the name went well with our work highlighting the grain of the wood. We love dealing with those types of pieces because they're so unique. You know, the knots and decay add a lot of character to the finished pieces. 

And what makes us different is the custom work. We've done a lot of custom jobs where everything's custom from start to finish. We've also done a lot of intricate pieces with finger-locking joints and stuff like that. It’s all very custom, not something you'll get from your big box furniture store. 

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Q: Most people don't start their own business right out of high school. You're highly motivated. Why did you pursue your vocation so aggressively at such a young age?

A: It's just something that I like doing. I saw potential in it, and I just took a big leap. I've been around business my whole life. My dad has his own business, separate from this one, and I’ve gotten a lot of help dealing with the business and banking side of things. 

I just took a really big leap of faith and I knew it wasn't going to be easy. A lot of late nights, a lot of sleepless nights. It comes with a price, but it’s worth it.

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A: Currently, we have two 20-foot conference tables in the works. They're going to be river tables, I believe, 20 feet by five feet wide, so they're big boys. We also have a few smaller ones, eight-foot tables coming up, some solid wood, some resin.

I like the big projects. It’s where the money is; I know the average person can’t do them. It's a lot of risk. A lot can go wrong with big projects, especially when you're doing the epoxy work with ports and logos. I know the average person can't do them, so we like taking those projects on.

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Q: What made you decide to incorporate epoxy in the work you do, and what led you to work with EcoPoxy products?

A: When I started woodworking, epoxy tables and epoxy art just started coming out. So, like most woodworkers, I gave it a try - and a lot of money was wasted. But when the odd project was a success, it felt like a big accomplishment. People's reactions, especially from friends and family and people that visited the shop, were priceless – they used to trip out about them.

That motivated me to get really good at the epoxy work. The average woodworker wasn't doing the epoxy stuff, because it was very risky. There's a science behind it. We tried other epoxies, and not to bash other companies, but EcoPoxy was the best that we'd dealt with. We probably tried 10 or 12 different brands, but we always went back to EcoPoxy. I'm most familiar with it, and there's always trust when working with EcoPoxy products. 

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Sometimes trends start to fade and, you know, maybe the whole river table idea is not as original or unique as it used to be, but I don't think it's going away anytime soon. I think there will always be a place for unique and original epoxy furniture. We've been doing a lot of inlays with epoxy. Some people want logos in their conference tables. They want a solid wood piece, but always their logos cutout and filled with resin. I think epoxy tables will always be around, maybe not to the extreme it is currently, but I think they'll always be around. And I definitely think the epoxy inlays will always be around. 

Q: What new and exciting things can we expect from The Grain Studio in the coming year?

A: 2024 is going to be a good year for us. I just finished a welding course. I went to school to get my welding license. That's another aspect I’d like to bring to The Grain Studio – another tool in our toolbox. So, we're going to be working on a separate division for welding, adding custom legs and bases.

We also have a standard line of furniture, and we're going to really push hard on that as well. We're still doing the custom stuff, those orders are still coming in, but we're just trying to establish a different stream of income. So, if one stream slowed down, we have something to replace it with.

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Q: Any thoughts of expanding or taking on more staff? 

A: We have three people working with us currently, office staff and part-timer. We're going to hire another one in April. As for expanding, we just moved into a bigger facility about a year and a half ago, so we're good. But with the current facility, we're always going to be adding machinery. We're looking to get into a big wide built sander for the bigger tables. So yeah, that's what we're looking at for 2024. 

Many thanks again to AJ Sousa for taking the time to speak with us. Be sure to visit The Grain Studio online at, and check them out on Instagram (@thegrainstudio_ca).

AJ Sousa of The Grain Studio

Quality Custom Crafted Furniture Art

The Grain Studio breathes new life into wood, crafting unique pieces of custom furniture. Their collection continues to evolve, showcasing a wide array of contemporary designs and one-of-a-kind furniture art pieces.

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