In a nondescript, tin-clad barn outside Athens, the Sons of Sawdust sat in their office, mulling the possibility of “terminal length” — the point at which a beard ceases to grow longer. Matt Hobbs’ and Ben Hobbs’ facial hair is an integral part of their brand, and their beards have stunted somewhere between Kenny Rogers and ZZ Top.
“We’re trying to out-beard each other,” joked younger brother Ben, 30. He wore khakis and a dirty shirt, slurped Jittery Joe’s coffee and bore the telltale residue of a long day in the wood shop: grimy fingernails. In this equation, he’s the obsessive craftsman, the workhorse, the artist.
“I wonder if I trim it,” said Matt, 34, stroking his blonder facial mane, “maybe it’ll grow again.” With his trucker’s cap tilted atop long hair, Matt will occasionally build a table, but he’s more the entrepreneurial engine, the broker who keeps emails answered, phone calls returned and clients happy. These days, the clients are many.
Ben stops clowning around, momentarily, and gets serious about beard regeneration: “We really need to look into this.”
This get-it-done determination is one trait the Hobbs brothers share, but that wasn’t always the case. Both are also slender and tall — Matt stands 6-foot-4, and Ben a tad shorter — with tattooed forearms. Both are relaxed, articulate and proudly salt-of-the-earth Southern hipsters.
And not too long ago, both were so down on their luck, suicide seemed like a viable option.
But today, through a confluence of skill, luck and good branding, these two restless creatives have built a reclaimed-wood craft business with backlogged orders and clients from Los Angeles to New York. “American Pickers” creator Mike Wolfe is pitching a reality TV show about them to major networks. Should Wolfe fail, four other production companies are waiting in line to pitch their own shows based on the brothers.
The irony is that Sons of Sawdust has relied on old-fashioned mediums — woodworking and storytelling — to become social media stars, which is the root of their popularity (and how Wolfe initially found them). Their relationship to reclaimed wood traces back to a garage workshop three hours south of Atlanta, where two boys once were awed by their grandfather’s craftsmanship. They called him “Pa.”
Pa had no way of knowing that breathing life into forgotten lumber would become a metaphor for his grandsons’ lives and their ticket to success.
One sunny day in January, around the corner from downtown Watkinsville, the Sons of Sawdust workshop screamed with table saws, band saws, chop saws, jointers, planers and sanders. Two flags — UGA and the State of Georgia — hung from rafters. In the back room sat a vast stockpile of boards and pillars from every structure they’ve disassembled, some pieces dating back nearly two centuries.
As usual, Ben was hunched over a project — a concrete-topped desk for State Farm offices in South Carolina. The desk’s aprons came from the Acworth train depot’s flooring, salvaged just a few months earlier. By the time a piece is finished, the brothers have expended so much effort with the wood, from nail-removal to urethane application, that letting go can be difficult. Matt’s been known to choke back tears while waving goodbye to tables. Have a nice life, he’ll say...
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