The Oak Men are truly engaged in their craft, where wood, especially oak wood, is the focal point. We visited them in their workshop and office space near Aarhus to have a talk about the poetry of wood, including knots.
”I’m an oak man.”
The line is said by Harvey Keitel playing Mr. Wolf in the 1994 neoclassic Tarantino movie ‘Pulp Fiction’, when he advices the two protagonists about what furniture to buy for making good things again with a friend. The line also inspired the two Danish cabinet makers Peter Hensberg and Anders Buchtrup Jensen, when naming their company, The Oak Men.
“To me, wood is whole lot more poetic than metal. Wood revolves around the knots, grains and ding and dongs. Depending on how you treat and cut the wood, it has different capabilities and looks. That’s quite fascinating. And poetic, you can say. I can’t tell if a blacksmith has the same experience with metal, but I couldn’t imagine it,” says Hensberg, when we enter the workshop of the Danish design brand that designs and manufactures furniture pieces out of oak wood.
Hensberg and Buchtrup Jensen believe that wood is alive, even when they have cut it all to pieces. And according to them, it is also material that everyone has some kind of experience with. It’s a material that people are used to see in their surroundings; there is a whole tradition of using wood, especially oak, in the Nordic countries.
“We have a design culture that is Nordic, which revolve around simplistic design, clean lines and good materials. Wood fits this culture perfectly. We don’t make a lot of ornamented details in our products – we are more obsessed with sharp lines in our designs. And then wood is a very rewarding material to work with. It can adapt in many ways. At the same time, you have the opportunity to follow the process from the beginning to the final product – from the cutting of a four-meter-long board to a fine box with a lid measuring 10×10 centimeters,” states Buchtrup Jensen.
Their popular wooden products span eight categories, including boxes, trays, small furniture and even Christmas accessories. All with an element of oak wood, and almost all designed by The Oak Men in their own joiner’s workshop.
“We sometimes get ideas without minding the rest of our collection, and a couple days ago we were encouraged by our sales agent to design more products that are in the same category or idiom. That often makes the products easy to sell for a shop. An aspect, which is all part of the thing about driving a business. That took some getting used to for craftsmen like us. But oak will always be a central ingredient to us, like it has been for the late greats of Danish design. Untreated oak has a beautiful “dusty” glow to it, and if you treat it with oil, it gets deeper and more golden. At the same time, oak is hard and strong, which makes it suitable for our designs,” says Hensberg.
The business part of The Oak Men takes up a lot of time for the two men, who drive their business by themselves, only including a handful of sub-suppliers and a cleaning maid. In between business tasks, Hensberg and Buchtrup Jensen spend a lot of time of time with their professionally dearest; the oak wood. Time, that has made them look at wood with different eyes than most other people. They see details, which are almost invisible to ordinary people.
“There are many manufacturers who have inured consumers to neat plastic products. So, if they spot a little knot in our products, they call it a mistake. But these “mistakes”, which are actually not mistakes, are some of greatest things about wood. An old knot is sign of a branch, it’s life. The more perfect it is, the duller it becomes,” says Hensberg.
Quality, simplicity and aesthetics are keywords, when the two guys design wooden furniture pieces at their workshop in Brabrand, a suburb to Denmark’s second biggest city, Aarhus. Their passion for wood ignited, when they got to know material. Like a new world that was opening in front of their hands, they explain. The passion, or passions, wasn’t just something that was there since childhood. It had to be adopted – they had to learn how to love wood.
“I had an urge to do something with my hands, create stuff. Furniture and design were great interests of mine, before I became a cabinet maker. And in the beginning, it didn’t had a lot to do with the material. But during my apprenticeship the passion sort of evolved as I achieved more crafting skills. The boundaries of wood’s possibilities got clearer and suddenly I could get totally excited about a knot in a board, because I thought it was beautiful. That excitement wasn’t present in the beginning,” Peter Hensberg states.
Buchtrup Jensen dreamt of becoming a carpenter, when he was young, but was scared off, when several people in the business told him that there was a lot of plasterboards mounting.
“That affected me quite a lot, but I’ve always thought it was cool to use my hands, so I decided to try out cabinet making. It started out with an internship at the joiner’s workshop, where Peter was a cabinet maker,” says Anders Buchtrup Jensen.
Today, The Oak Men are represented in almost 100 shops and present in more than a handful of countries in Europe.