Sons of Sawdust ™ is a woodworking business located in Athens, Ga that specializes in building custom farm tables, furniture and transforming entire spaces with reclaimed wood. Here is the story of how Sons of Sawdust ™ came to be:
The Hobbs brothers started Sons of Sawdust ™ after a series of unfortunate events that lead them to desperation and brokenness. A few years ago Matt and his wife, Shayna, lost their once successful photography business during the recession. In early 2014 Ben was working in construction and had a knee injury which left him unemployed and broke.
“In our deepest, darkest moments financially, there were thoughts of suicide,” Matt says. “There were thoughts that we could never rise out of this. I definitely had thoughts of ending my life—the utter despair I felt when we were going through all that.”
Shortly after Ben’s knee injury, he recalls, “I got really depressed, because that was my only source of income. And Matt, being the good brother he is, sits down with me and says, ‘How can we make some money for you? You don’t have to despair, there is a solution out there.'”
Matt had recently built Shayna (his wife) a homemade farm table as a gift. While building the table, Matt had the idea that Ben could build tables and sell the tables on Craigslist to make money until he could get back to his construction job. Matt shared this idea with Ben while sitting on his back porch just feet away from the freshly built farm table. This idea was the catalyst of the Hobbs brothers venture into woodworking as a profession.
Within a few days Ben got a call from a guy who was tearing down an old house and wanted to get rid of the wood, so the brothers jumped on what looked like a good opportunity. ”We just put two and two together and got the load of wood, built a table or two, put them on Craigslist and orders just started flying in. It didn't really start slowing down, so we figured we were on to something,” Ben says. And thus, Sons of Sawdust ™ was born.
The business may have originated from a stroke of luck in a desperate situation, but the Hobbs brothers' story as woodworkers has been much longer in the making. Sons of Sawdust ™ started in May of 2014, but Matt and Ben started working with wood as children with their grandfather, who they credit, their primary influence when it comes to craftsmanship as well as character.
Our grandfather was an amazing man, a true craftsman. He started teaching us at a very young age how to build things, and how to build them well. "Pa" as we affectionately called him, always said, "a job worth doing is worth doing right". I don’t remember him specifically telling me 'yes, do this' or 'no, don't do this,' but he would instinctively coach us so well that we thought we were doing it on our own. It’s interesting how intuitively it comes to us years down the road now. When we're building something, and we come up to a problem, we just solve it, and I know It was our grandfather's coaching that gave us that ability. We’re carrying on his legacy through the woodworking we're doing, and I think that's a powerful story." says Matt.
"When we were kids we would go out with Pa and tear down old barns, and build birdhouses with the reclaimed wood. Now we're doing the same thing except we're building out entire spaces with reclaimed wood. It's crazy to think that the seeds of Sons of Sawdust ™ were planted in us so long ago, now they are finally growing into something amazing," says Matt.
Matt and Ben's grandfather passed away in 2008 with Alzheimers, but they are sure that if he was still alive, he would be in the shop with them every day, having the time of his life.
In addition to telling their own story, Matt and Ben also want to tell a story with each table they make. According to them, the best stories are waiting in their own city, in the bones of buildings built generations ago.
"Most of our wood comes from houses or barns that were built in the 1800s. We always try to aim for stuff that's at least older than 100 years. We also try to keep it local. Keeping it right here in town makes it even more special. It’s like, this wood was from a tree that was probably 100 years old when it was cut down right here in Oconee or Clarke County, and it was part of a house where a family lived for 70 years and then it got torn down, and then we went and got it and turned it into something that's going to go into another house for maybe another 70 years and just kind of keep it alive,” says Matt.
Each piece of wood Matt and Ben use has a unique history of its own, as do the People they get it from. In their hunt for old houses and barns they often get to experience the rich family histories of their community. They encountered one man who sold them the wood from an old, rundown chicken shack on his property. After getting to know him. Matt and Ben learned that the chicken shack had been built with the wood from a schoolhouse built in the 1890s, of which the property owner's grandfather was the founder. In their hunt for good wood, the Hobbs brothers have found many great family stories like this, and by recrafting the wood they find into tables, they are able to connect with those families and continue to tell their story for several more years.
The rough textures and age-worn shapes of the old boards are what Matt and Ben value most about their tables, and they're what best tell the story of the wood it came from. "Part of our vision and our aesthetic is the character and imperfections of the wood, and letting it speak for itself as opposed to just completely wiping it clean,” says Ben.
It's this raw quality of their tables that draws new customers to Sons of Sawdust ™ each month. In the short time they've been in business, Matt and Ben have expanded their clientele from a small group of friends and family to customers from all around the country and even Canada who share the Hobbs' affinity for well-crafted furniture that has significance beyond its functionality. “The customers that we're looking for and that are looking for us are the ones who just love and appreciate old wood. Those are the people that are always going to be happy because they love the story, and they love where the wood came from” says Matt.
Matt and Ben’s own story is as good as the ones they tell through each table they make: two brothers treasure-hunting for old wood to make tables with their grandfather’s tools. It’s a simple story, and they intend to keep it that way. Because, like the wood they use, good stories just get better with age.
Check out this short documentary that Randy Schafer at Flagpole Magazine produced about Sons of Sawdust ™.