Donald Dawson

Vancouver Metal Fabricator, Blacksmith, Restorer & Artist

Vancouver Metal Shop Owner


University Career

Up until 2013, when I decided to open my studio, my career as a metal fabricator and artist had only been a dream.

I’d had a 22-year career at UBC in the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, working on stimulating research projects and teaching faculty, staff, and students.

As an Electrical Engineering Technician and Red Seal Journeyman Machinist, I built robotic, fibre-optics, nano, medical, microwave and radio science research components. These included:

  • Robotic components for the forest industry – stackers and loaders for safety in rough terrain.
  • Robotic components the space industry – a vibration-cancelling table for the MIR space station for the use of its microscopes.
  • Medical components for prostate imaging, hearing aids, and dental equipment.

In prior jobs, I worked in architectural model building, theatre props building, stage managing and cabinetmaking.

And for 5 years, I volunteered on The SS Master, the heritage steam towboat.

As Third Engineer, I machined, fabricated and restored the valves, fuel and water pumps, winches, boiler and the triple expansion steam engine.

I maintained and operated mechanical devices within the wheelhouse and galley, including cooking and hosting Wooden Boat Societies meets.

When you ask me to work on a custom metal work project, restoration or metal repair, you get 35+ years of diverse experience and years of teaching and training.

Mid-Life Surprise

As fascinating as my work was at UBC, after attending a leadership training program with my wife, I resigned.

Now it was time to do what I’d wanted to do so many years back when I learned blacksmithing from John Smith in Crawford Bay, B.C.

Perhaps I came to love metal from growing up with a mining engineering father who would take me to mines and on other field trips.

As a child, I built stuff, took things apart and had parents who encouraged my curiosity and education.

Finally, in 2016, I found a studio space at The Mergatroid Building.


“Getting Rid of Our Throwaway Society”

Diversity of knowledge and skill allows me to live my motto: Getting Rid of Our Throwaway Society.

Whether it’s restoring a seaplane model for the North Vancouver Museum and Archives’ new exhibition space or fabricating a new part for a solid wood planer machine, I consider that part of the work I do.

As a lifelong heritage and museum fan, I delight in restoring objects of all kinds as well as create art of my own.

My art and fabrication aren’t just for me.

I am also here to support my fellow artists and neighbours who care about the environment, their memories, and want to pass heritage onto future generations.

With my knowledge of metallurgy, I can restore, refurbish, rebuild, and fix functional, solid, precious items for people who want to preserve them.

And teaching is something that comes easily and is gratifying. If I can teach these skills to local industry and individuals who can delight in them, all the better.

Teaching and Training

From my earliest days at UBC, I was the one picked to teach.

As a machinist and shop supervisor, I taught students to bring their designs to life.

I applied, fixed and modified machine drawings and designs, provided precision-machining, design and assembly of complex components and small, intricate components for research.

For students with disabilities, I invented unique ways for them to access machinery, complete their projects and graduate. Many of my students became full-time professors, researchers and entrepreneurs.

To this day, I relish teaching and training.

Whether it’s people in industry who need updated skills training or individuals who want to experience fabricating, I am always enthusiastic to teach them what I love doing. (Find out about industry and personal training here.)

Diverse Custom Metal Work Projects

2019 has been a year of diverse and fascinating projects.

  • I restored a model seaplane with a 6-foot wingspan for North Vancouver Museum and Archives for their new 2020 opening.
  • I created and taught a blacksmith course for the staff of a local government facility that repairs the city’s metalwork.
  • One client bought a half-day with me as a surprise 70th birthday gift for her boyfriend and he created a marvellous gift for her!
  • In the land of model-building, I built and replicated a NASCAR hauler, repaired a model Lamborghini and a model Tall Ship. Now, that’s the kind of detail work I love.
  • An Emily Carr Institute of Art graduating student asked me to build a forge-inflated object and metal structure for her special end-of-year project.

Vancouver Eastside Culture Crawl

Mad Scientist Feature Exhibit at Culture Crawl 2018

In 2016, I opened my studio doors and I created my first piece, a massive LED lamp made from an empty steel gas cylinder that had a great sound when you banged it.

To my surprise, in 2017 the Eastside Culture Crawl’s juried panel selected it to represent that year’s theme – Sound of Light. It was my first public gallery exhibition and I was thrilled.

The Crawl inspires me to create new works and to schedule demos for visitors to see how metal can be heated and formed into any number of objects. People don’t realize that you can inflate metal, too. I’ve created many pieces by heating them and then inflating them with compressed air.

The demos are usually packed. Come visit my shop at the 2019 Crawl.

With all the research projects at UBC, I wasn’t surprised that a Culture Crawl organizer called me Mad Scientist in 2018 when she saw me with my Bicycle Powered Pipe Organ creation.

For me, it’s all a treat.

And as a solo entrepreneur, fostering collaboration with local artists and business owners so we can flourish together is the best of all.