Today, we had the chance to ask some questions to Michael Martin who build beautiful home décor and furniture out of recycled wood pallets. If you think you deserve to be featured in the next interview, please, drop us an email.
Tell us a little more about you. Who you are? Where are you from?
Why do you craft?
We started our business, Reclaim Design, as a way of changing what we both did for a living. Nikki was a photographer and I was a musician/music producer. I felt the need to do something practical, so woodwork seemed like a good choice as it’s always something I’ve wanted to try my hand at!
How did you learn to do wood crafts?
By myself with the help of YouTube and lots of trial and error! A friend of mine (thanks Matt!) hired me to help him with the build at Boomtown Fair in the UK in 2015 which was also a great learning curve as there were many talented woodworkers there.
How long have you been working with pallets?
Since 2014, so I’ve got a lot of experience of pulling out nails ;)
Why did you choose to work with pallets instead of purchased wood?
Since I was teaching myself woodworking I didn’t want to worry about making a mess of things on expensive shop-bought wood. Pallet wood was the obvious choice for practice. And as Nikki and I both wanted to live more sustainably, it was the obvious choice for the choice of product material too.
What are your can’t-live-without essentials?
As my tool collection has grown so has my view of what is essential. I would say the basics like a decent hammer and drill are essential. You can do a lot with those.
Are there any brands or products you use that are your favorites? Why?
I try to buy the best tools I can afford rather than go for the cheapest options. I have found Triton to be a good, mid-price brand – I use their circular saw, work center, router, and sanders. Bosch professional is also very good, as are the usual suspects like Makita.
How would you describe your crafting style?
I’d describe our style as “elegant simplicity”! I tend to avoid “rustic” as much as possible since most people equate that with cheapness or being poorly made, and as we are selling our products we want to distance ourselves from that association.
Are there any crafters/artists/designers that you particularly look up to?
There’s a lot of amazingly talented folk out there. For handtools tutorials Paul Sellers is hard to beat! It’s fascinating to watch him in action. Izzy Swan has some great tutorials on YouTube which have been most helpful for making my own jigs. And fellow South African Robin Lewis’ channel is worth checking out too!
Where do you do your wood crafts? How would you describe your workspace?
We work from home. I built a workspace (out of reclaimed wood) in the back garden. Space serves our needs – it keeps the sun and rain off my head, keeps the dust away from the house and I’ve soundproofed the panels with polystyrene sheets to minimize noise for the neighbors.
Where do you look for inspiration, or what inspires you for a new wood craft?
I don’t so much look for inspiration as it finds me. I have no idea how the process works. I can see something in passing and it will trigger a thought and it goes from there… Or I might just wake up with an idea and the motivation to manifest it! Often making something for our own house is a great inspiration to try out new techniques and/or furniture/products. I enjoy making for our house as there are no expectations – I can do what I want and without a time limit.
When do you feel the most creative (are you a night owl or a morning person? Or weekend warrior as examples)?
I’m definitely not a morning person. It takes me a couple of strong coffees to get going! Due to COVID-19, I have spent these last few months working on our website, and I find the peace and quiet of night helpful for that process. However, woodworking at midnight might not go down too well with our neighbors…
We live in such a mass-produced, “buy-it-now” society. Why should people continue to make things by hand?
Yes, we certainly do. There are all sorts of reasons why it’s good for people to by handmade goods vs mass-produced goods. Here are a few – a handmade product will have had a lot more time, care, and personality put into it. A machine can’t provide any of those things. If you buy handmade you are supporting local small business vs a global conglomerate. With the advent of coronavirus, supporting small businesses in your locality is now more important than ever. Small businesses also have a much smaller footprint and impact on the environment than do their global counterparts. We all need to become conscious consumers if we are to break this insane cycle of more, more, more, and perpetually damaging our planet. Who wants to live in a world with seas of plastic, land poisoned by agri-chemicals and air composed of smog, soot, and other hazardous air pollutants? I certainly don’t. Multinational corporations (and our unquestioning support of them) are the cause of these things.
What is your favorite medium to work in (other than pallets)?
I don’t have experience of working with anything other than wood, but as we would very much like to build our own small house at some point, I will have to learn a variety of mediums and techniques to do that. So there will be some good challenges in store for me.
What are your tips for people who’d like to start crafting?
Be patient. It takes time, a lot more time than many YouTube videos would have you believe. You won’t dismantle a pallet in 3 minutes or build a greenhouse in 5 minutes, guaranteed. So forget the time component, and enjoy the process. Keep a beginner’s mind as they say in Zen.
What are your most important safety tips when woodworking? Have you ever had any injuries or close calls?
Safety first for sure. I’ve had a few close calls with bits of wood flying off the table saw into my face, which would have likely lodged in my eye if I hadn’t been wearing a face shield. So a face shield is a good idea. I tried safety glasses but they kept misting up when wearing a dust mask, so I abandoned those in favor of the shield. Gloves are fantastic too – I’ve had more splinters than I’d care to count, and gloves definitely help in that regard. As I don’t have an extraction system, as mentioned, I also wear a dust mask when sanding (or doing hectic cuts on the table saw which can also kick up a lot of dust).
What is your guilty pleasure?
These days, my (not so) guilty pleasure is coffee. I love a decent flat white.
What are some of your other hobbies or favorite things to do (other than crafting)?
I enjoy being quiet (if you can call that a hobby?), and walking is great too. Nikki and I walked the Camino De Santiago a couple of years ago from Portugal to Spain, and really enjoyed that. I also enjoy a decent movie, although lately, I haven’t found many that are.
What are some of your best tips for breaking down, prepping, and cleaning pallets before you build with them? Do you have a specific tool you use, or a technique for cleaning the boards/removing nails, etc.?
Speed-wise a reciprocating saw is for the win. We’ve done a tutorial on how to take apart a pallet if anyone is interested in the details.
Have you designed any special tools or jigs for wood crafts?
I’ve made several jigs over the years – some have been more successful than others, so let’s focus on those ones ;) I made a jointer sled which I use regularly, and several larger sleds that can be used with dovetail clamps to achieve a variety of cuts on the table saw with boards of differing lengths and thickness. I also made my own router table which is used regularly too.
What are some wood working skills you really want to learn?
I’ve never tried dovetail joints. They always look super fiddly and time-consuming (and to be honest, totally unnecessary for our work requirements), but they do look beautiful when completed, so I’d like to give those a try at some point.
What is the one project you’re the proudest of so far?
I made a shoe rack that looks good and does the job at the same time – we’re going to be doing a tutorial on our blog on that soon. Nix helped me build a carport for our VW combi van which works really well to keep the weather off of it and has withstood the Cape Town gale force winds over the last few years. And a friend of mine (thanks Martyn!) helped me make a large decking area for Nikki’s Mum which is still holding together well.
What else would you like to share with the pallet community – do you have any of the following social media sites?
Our site is https://reclaimdesign.org – we’re working hard to put out useful tutorials and other content, so take a look and see if anything appeals!
Editor’s Note: Thank you for your time and for sharing your story with us, and with our fellow Crafters. Your work is beautiful and inspiring to all of us, and we truly look forward to more from you in the future! Keep those gorgeous pieces coming!
Thanks Michael for this interview :)
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