Let’s celebrate the hardest workers we know. At OXX our products are built tough to get the job done. We are inspired by the people that put in the time and effort to do things the right way. Whether they’re in the shop, on the jobsite, or in the field they continue to define hard work. We want to know what fuels them, how they got where they are now, and uncover what happens behind the grind. They are the leaders of the Herd, and these are their stories.
There’s nothing glamorous about being out in the sweltering heat and demolishing an old barn. The reward for that rugged work? The wood. Sons of Sawdust brothers Matt and Ben work day in and day out to repurpose reclaimed wood and turn it into something beautiful again. Their journey hasn’t been an easy one, but everyday they continue to redefine hard work. Matt revealed to us the story behind their team, the effort that goes into every project and his advice to aspiring makers.
A lot of your pieces work with reclaimed wood from where you’re located in Athens, Georgia. How does that influence your work as makers?
We stumbled into this business in a great spot. Wood workers from around the world see what we are doing and what we are working with and they say, “Oh I wish I had that.” We feel very fortunate. Inspiration for our work comes from the wood and from the parallels we see in our own lives. Before we started doing this my wife Shayna and I were in a tough spot. To take this old wood that is dusty, dirty and abandoned then bring life back to it has a special significance for us.
Who inspires you?
Our grandfather passed away 8 years ago from alzheimer’s but when Ben and I were kids he would teach us. He was a master craftsman. He could do anything with wood and we were always building stuff. Pa would take us on treasure hunts and we’d go knock on doors. If we saw someone had an old barn that was falling down, we’d ask if we could take it down for them and keep the wood. We would make bird houses, and some of them are still in our family. They reminds us of when he would give us hammers and nails and teach us how to be men of integrity.
How did you become the makers we know as Sons of Sawdust?
The business began, really out of necessity. Ben had a knee injury and wouldn’t be able to go back to doing really intense manual labor in construction. I had just built a table for my wife and we were standing on the porch next to the table and I said “I bet we could make more of these.” I thought maybe we could sell enough so he could pay his bills until he got back on his feet. It turned into this business. It began out of necessity but we ended up going back to what we learned as kids.
What does a typical day look like for you?
We are so busy, there are always moving parts so each day is just picking up where we left off the day before. The wood we have recovered is kiln dried to get rid of any bugs and moisture. We bring it in to remove nails and then sand it. The sanding process is my favorite part because that is when you start to see what you’re really working with. The story of the wood comes out. That’s when life comes back into it. After we start assembling the pieces and varnish them, then we get to make the call to the client and deliver the piece.
What is the best part of your job?
I always tell the guys that work for us, there’s not a lot of glory in what we do. People see what we do on social media and tell us, “Wow that’s a dream job” and it is but it doesn’t feel that way when you’re breaking down an old barn, you’re sweaty and covered in dirt and dust. But when you get to deliver a piece after lots of anticipation and see the look on their face when you bring in the table, that is the most glorious part of this job. When they ask, “Where did the wood come from?” and you have the experience or the stories from taking the house, or the barn or the train station down, and you can tell them how old the wood is and the stories that came from the place it came from and see how excited they are. Allowing that piece to tell a new story, back in the day the table was the center of the home. That’s where people come together and have amazing memories and to put the work in to deliver that to them is worth it.
What was one of your proudest moments as makers?
We did a project for one woman who had moved down from Wisconsin. Her grandfather was a dairy farmer and she had brought some of the wood from his old barn with her. She had looked for a while to find someone who would be able to take it and make it into new furniture for her. She found us, loved our story and said “I want you guys to take on this project.” When we finally delivered the pieces to her, there were tears in her eyes after having this on her mind for 6 years and seeing it come to life. That was definitely a proud moment for us. Bringing out the sentimental value of that wood and taking on the challenge.
What do you aspire to accomplish in your lifetime?
We spend a lot of time taking down houses and barns and saving wood, and one day it’s our dream to save some of them. Take the entire house and move it to new property where we can renovate and refurbish it, to save that space and fill it with our furniture and the pieces we have built. That would invite people into our story and show what we do.
How do you define hard work?
Hard work is doing something no one else is willing to do. Taking down houses is hard. Running a business is hard, but you’ve gotta find a way to make it happen. There’s people that contact us and ask us how we do what we do, and I tell them, you just gotta go for it. There’s no manual. There’s no right way to tear down an old barn. You just have to follow your heart. My wife Shayna always reminds me, “Entrepreneurs are the people that jump off a cliff and build a plane on the way down.” You just have to make the jump. It’s not easy. Hard work is doing something that no one else is going to do and not being afraid to fail.
If you had to give advice to aspiring makers what would you say?
There have been so many opportunities that we’ve had and doors that have opened for us that we never expected. So my advice would be work hard and don’t give up no matter what comes your way. Don’t be afraid to jump off the cliff. Don’t let failure keep you from taking the first step. Follow your heart, and follow your passion and do what you were made to do. You won’t always know what you’re doing. Sometimes Ben and I will look at each other and laugh and shake our heads because we have no idea. That’s okay. Just start right where you are with what you know and don’t be afraid to take the next step. Learn something new. I learn something new everyday in the shop. You’re going to learn along the way too.
How do you take your coffee?
Black. Usually because we don’t have sugar or cream in the shop, but black is just fine.