Chasing perfection with Mac’s Metalworks

6 min read
Ashliegh Gehl

Anyone who has ever spent five minutes with John Macdonell, founder of Mac’s Metalworks, will tell you that he’s like the Jim Carrey of the skilled trades. His infinite passion, drive, creativity and vision for his profession are matched by an electric sense of humour — he's unstoppable.

Not just anyone can run faster than Canada's fastest man Andre De Grasse in a shop coat and a welding helmet.

John’s journey in metalwork began in his youth when he first sought employment in the skilled trades. As a tool and die maker – a class of machinists in the manufacturing sector who design, create, and test prototypes and production tools – he refined his skill for absolute precision.

His impeccable knack for problem-solving has led to creating everything from parts for the International Space Station to replacement hips and knees.

“When I started Mac’s Metalworks, I was able to apply that precision to the medium I love most, which is metal, and merge it with my creativity,” said Macdonell.

John Macdonell owner of Mac’s Metalworks

"Metal and I get along very well. I like him and he likes me.”

Making metal magic

Mac’s Metalworks is a father-and-son business that has been in operation in Ontario for more than 30 years. From fine art and sculpture to elaborate gates and fencing, there’s nothing the team can’t do.

Any professional working in the skilled trades will tell you that chaos and control go hand-in-hand, and it’s John’s son who helps him focus on the chaotic nature of his ideas. Their synergy enables them to create metal magic for clients across the province, country and around the world.

The pursuit of perfection

Part of the company’s success is driven by John’s leadership style, which empowers the team to chase perfection. Those who work alongside him know that what you see is what you get, and with that comes 50% trade knowledge and 50% philosophy. The way that John frames perfection is, as one might expect, a little different.

“Perfection is accepted as an impossible target,” he said. “No matter how close you get to it, it’s going to move. It dances around. You’re never going to catch it. It’s impossible. The trick is to chase it anyway.”

Handmade circular staircase and railing

Every day, the team at Mac’s Metalworks are creating something that hasn’t been built before.

They are in the constant pursuit of perfection. Along the chase, they face their fears and embrace a culture of consistent and necessary change.

“When people realize that a goal is unattainable, they quit immediately,” he said. “Now you have a world shooting for average, and if you’re shooting for average, you always end up below average because very few projects go smoothly. There are always hiccups.

“The philosophy that we have is that we’re going to take our time. We’re not perfect. There are days when nothing seems to go right.

“If you’re willing to at least chase perfection, you have a really strong chance at getting to above average.”

Luxury container homes

The chase of perfection has led Mac’s Metalworks to expand into custom container homes. In this arena, John gives full credit to his son. Together, they customize the approach to each client, hone in on value-added elements and turn the whole process into an experience.

“There’s a lot of companies that take a prefabricated approach by cutting holes in containers, giving their clients nine styles from which to choose and call it custom,” he said. “That’s not our approach. We design our homes to the niche needs of our clients.”

If they need a rooftop greenhouse for their pet tortoise, we can do that.

Photo of a lot displaying container homes

What may start off as a company and client relationship, evolves into something deeper and more meaningful.

After all, John is creating someone’s forever-home that’s tailored specifically to their needs. It’s intimate and purposeful. It’s the place where memories will be made, where children will grow up and where couples grow old together. It becomes more than just a home; it’s a central piece in the life story of its owner.

“People say there’s not a lot of profit in passion,” he said. “In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Our approach is a little intense and it’s infused with passion, but it has been very successful.”

John attributes part of the company’s success to their website, which he created with GoDaddy. The partnership dates back to 2005.

“It’s the perfect marriage,” he said. “GoDaddy made sure I had everything I needed for my business – from my domain name to website templates." John built his first website himself on GoDaddy’s Website Builder platform. He was able to design it, write it, promote it and update it on his own. If he ever has an issue, it’s an easy fix since he only needs to call one contact, for all his needs — not spend a full day trying to track down the right help.

Basically, I’m pretty good with metal, but really bad with marketing.

I needed help. I needed something that was going to make this easy for me. Something that could help me present my work to my clients – and that’s what I’ve been doing with GoDaddy for more than 15 years.”

Growing, expanding, evolving

Photo of John’s son at work on a container home

Mac’s Metalworks is aiming to have its full Building Code Identification Number (BCIN) registration complete by the end of 2021. This will enable them to evolve into a design build firm and become a complete one-stop shop for custom design and luxury container homes.

“There are so many people interested in owning a container home,” he said. “It’s an exciting market because high-end luxury homes present a lot of great challenges. Especially for me, and the way that I want to do things. I want to make the door to the daughter’s room a hidden bookshelf – I like secret agent stuff.”

Part of the company’s development is expanding its multiphase projects.

There’s a lot of interest in container homes in a new development in Trent Hills, Ontario.

With each new addition, neighbours are becoming more curious about the company and mastermind behind them. By the end of 2022, there may be an entire street lined with John’s container homes.

“Talk about a dream come true,” he said.

More in store for Mac’s Metalworks

Five to 10 years down the road, John is looking to make a big move into his own development. He sees an upscale, suburban-style neighbourhood that reframes the way we think about community.

“We could do small insides and big outsides,” he said. “The kind of development where every home doesn’t even see the other home because it’s planned so well. I’d love to see a community of 50 container homes thriving. That would be wonderful.”