Profiles in Art: Sons of Sawdust

Sons of Sawdust

Photographed by Shayna Hobbs

Brothers Matt and Ben Hobbs have certainly been building on their success, one farm table at a time. They started Sons of Sawdust, along with Matt’s wife Shayna, in 2014 and have been gaining attention ever since. It’s not just their impressive beards that are attracting folks to their workshop in Watkinsville. Their handcrafted furniture pieces made from reclaimed wood are stunning and we couldn’t wait to have them and their beards in our art issue. Though the saws never stopped running, the brothers took time to sit down and talk shop with us.

You guys have made quite the explosion into the market since you opened in 2014. What is it about your work that is catching people’s attention?

MATT: Farm tables really work well in any sort of space – modern industrial to cabins. They’re multifunctional and can go with any style. But I think people like the story behind them. Folks our age are all about the Makers Movement and want to know where their stuff came from and if it’s American made. But I think about my parents and especially older generations, and they did a lot of things by hand, and I think it reminds them of that.

BEN: I love the way they used to make things. It seems like everything today is pumped out of a factory and is uniform and identical. Back in the day, it seemed like every little thing had a bit of a soul, everything was a bit more unique.

When you say people like the story behind them, what do you mean?

BEN: Every piece we build has a story in terms of where we tore it down and what it used to be – a train depot, historic home. But then again, every piece of wood individually has its own story as well. You can see saw marks, splotches of paint, old scribbles and scratches. Pretty much anything we see on a piece of wood that might tell its story, I like to leave that so it shines through. So you’ve got these different parallels and stories that we want to keep intact. I think that helps people really connect with our products. That’s what makes it special for me, at least.

MATT: The story of where our wood comes from is important to us. We had an old man pull up at one of our deconstruction jobs and take us to his house down a dirt road in Habersham. He wanted us to look at his old chicken house that have fallen to the ground almost completely. The wood came from a schoolhouse in 1970s. His great grandfather had founded the school and when they tore it down, he used the wood to build his chicken house. So we were able to save that wood and build him some furniture pieces he could hold on to. He was just going to burn it all. So, that is what seems to appeal most to people – being able to repurpose their wood and maintain their story.

That’s just like what’s going on with the brewery in Greensboro. Tell me where you are on the project with Lake Country Brewing Co.

MATT: Yeah, we are so excited to be working on that project. They contacted us to see if anything could be done with the wood they’re pulling out. They’ve got all kinds of ideas for their bar, coffee tables, standing tables, we don’t know what all else at this point. They’re our kind of folks and we connected on a deep level.

BEN: They’re just great people of like minds. I want to use as much of the stuff in there as we can. It’s such a great space and there’s so much potential. Anytime you get a chance to pull wood from a structure and create products to go back into that same structure, that’s kind of the essence of what we do. It just makes the story of that space that much more special.

So, when you get called out to look at a potential deconstruction project, what are you hoping to find, ideally?

BEN: I’m hoping for straight boards. I’m hoping that it’s Long Leaf pine that ideally hasn’t been rained on, is not infested with bugs. A lot of the newer stuff is Loblolly or Southern Yellow pine. It’s all beautiful, but what you really want is that older Long Leaf with tight grain and less knots.

MATT: We want wood that is over 100 years old. Old wood is the best wood.

Why?

MATT: It comes from some of the first trees that were cut down in the 1800s. A lot of people don’t realize that it takes three or 400 years for the Long Leaf pine to grow to maturity. That’s what was growing in our country before the settlers came. Now the only place you’ll find those trees are on a national forest. The reason these trees are awesome is because the forests were so dense they could grow super slow, so the rings on these trees are tight, which makes the wood more dense and rot resistant. The quality of the wood is incredible. You can’t go buy this wood at a lumber yard and you can’t go cut down these trees in a national forest, so the only way is to find an old building. It’s like finding gold sometimes. We’ll take a saw and cut through to look at it and we get super excited. We’re finding these things that you just can’t find anymore.

Are you able to use all the wood you find?

MATT: Not all wood is salvageable, unfortunately, but we usually can use just about everything. Bead board can be reclaimed walls. Siding we can use for coffee table or record crates.

Reclaimed wood walls, or accent walls, are popular these days. You guys do those as well?

MATT: Yes, we can do a lot with the wood and find different pieces that work together to transform a space. We’ve been working with a couple for over a year now and have done a fireplace surround, kitchen island, a table, a barn door, coffee table, vanity, headboard. They are transforming their whole space with the character of old wood.

Tell me more about the character of the wood. Your pieces aren’t smooth and sleek but almost celebrate their “flaws.”

MATT: No two pieces of wood are ever the same. When you’re working with older wood, there are even more variation. Even wood that comes from the same place will be weathered more so in spots, painted here and not there. You just have all these variations of character and texture.

SHAYNA: A lot of people try to age or distress their own wood. You see it online all the time. We don’t have to age our wood. We like to showcase what’s already there, the beauty marks. Wood has a soul. You can feel it. It radiates. It’s just like a sweet old man when you touch his hands and they’ve got spots and wrinkles. You can tell he’s lived a full life. That’s what that wood is. There’s something beautiful about it that you can fake and you can’t force it. It happens over time.         

Do you consider your pieces “art?”

MATT: Honestly, the artistic part is the relationship with the wood. The way we pick out the wood, tell which pieces go where, that is an art, but we wouldn’t be able to create this if it weren’t for what already existed through nature. In the same way that a painter chooses which colors to use to make a painting express something, we choose pieces of wood to use in an installation and then create the art out of that. I feel like we’re working with Mother Nature together to create this art. We can’t take full credit for it. This is 100 years of nature.

SHAYNA: Ben is the lead woodworker and he really has that artistic, creative eye for what to bring out in the wood.

So what’s the artistic process, Ben?

BEN: It’s a different challenge each time, but what I try to do is take these ten or twenty different pieces of wood and make it one. Each piece is has its own characteristics, its own personalities. Some pieces are awesome and cool, some are like little assholes, just really frustrating and end up giving you all kinds of trouble. There’s an infinite amount of possibilities for these pieces of wood, but you’re going to make it a table. I don’t know, I kind of breathe my soul into it a little, and kind of speak to it, because you’re creating a new life for these separate pieces.

MATT: The whole thing is a beautiful process from start to finish. When you take a board that’s dirty and dusty, and you start sanding it down, knocking off 100 years of dust, and start smoothing it out, taking off all the roughness and splinters, it just starts transforming before your eyes. You start revealing all these etchings and saw marks and it’s so inspiring to watch this piece of old wood come back to life. Then when you internalize that and think of the ways our lives have been reclaimed as well, it’s just a beautiful cycle.

SHAYNA: We love reclaiming something, rescuing something, saving something that was otherwise just a lost cause, was forgotten, because that’s how we felt in our lives. Right before we started this business, we all three were in a very tough place and we felt forgotten and felt worthless. And then, in reclaiming this wood, we’ve reclaimed our lives. We’ve found purpose again, and there’s something beautiful about that process as well.

Why were you in a tough place before you started the business?

MATT: Shayna and I had lost our photography business during the recession. It was a really dark time for us. Then Ben hurt his knee and was told he couldn’t go back to his construction job for a few months. He was trying to figure out what to do. I had just built a farm table for Shayna and I thought we could build a couple of these, sell them on Craigslist, and probably make enough money until he got back on his feet. I’m all about proof of concept so I took a picture and threw it up on Craigslist to see if there was any interest. The next day we had people emailing us and I thought we could be on to something. Shayna jumped on board for marketing and social media and things took off from there. Three or four months later we turned around and said, this is a real business. It’s been crazy.

SHAYNA: The roles that we have just suit us so well. The three of us have always been really close. Matt and I have been married for eight years, but we’ve all kind of traveled through life together. So, it’s amazing to see that this job has been our purpose and calling. I think this is the happiest we’ve ever been and definitely the most fulfilled.

Where do you see the business going in the future?

BEN: We’ll definitely branch out as we go along. We’re slowly getting into seating but it just takes so much more time to build a chair than a table. We’re just trying to grow slowly, really, and do what we know we do well and not branch out too fast and get distracted by other things.

SHAYNA: The thing we all three share in common is a love of learning, so we’ll grow naturally just because we are always wanting to learn new things. But, like we were talking earlier about the beauty and heart of the wood, the heart of our business is family. So, we want to keep that true purpose. We don’t want to grow into something that’s different.

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