Perth furniture maker Karl Young, of Saltwood Designs, imparts firsthand woodworker wisdom in this thoughtful Q&A, with words nearly as nice as his designs. Karl has a strong affinity for recycled and sustainable timbers with perfect imperfections that tell tales of previous lives. Here the aircraft engineer turned furniture maker shares his own story – of inherited passion for the craft, appreciation for the community we’ve built, and love for creating pieces people will cherish for years to come.
Q: Has woodworking always been a passion of yours?
I studied woodwork at school and loved it. My father and grandfather were both carpenters, and from a young age I was always interested. Dad used to buy me model aircraft kits, which we used to build together at weekends, and as I got older I used to help him out when he had jobs on.
As a kid, I loved tinkering, taking things apart, finding out how they worked, and then trying to put them back together. So, when I left school I joined the Royal Air Force and trained as an aircraft engineer. I spent 10 years fixing aircraft and then 6 years fixing helicopters. But, I still maintained woodworking as a hobby in my free time.
It was only when I moved to Perth that I felt the need to start doing this for real. The Many6160 project was kicking off and things just felt right; the timing was perfect, so I took the leap and haven’t looked back.
The need to do something creative [motivated me]. I soon discovered that my love for furniture and the need to be ‘doing’ worked perfectly. Then, when you see the appreciation and enjoyment that people get from it, the human interaction makes it all worth it.
Q: Have you faced any challenges?
Having an engineering background can be a curse, but in a good way. I spend so much time planning out the details in my head, trying to figure out how to achieve a certain shape or the order it gets put together. By the time I’ve physically built something I’ve probably built it 50 times in my head.
Q: How did you decide on the name Saltwood Designs?
I’m very focussed on sustainability. I predominantly use sustainably sourced woods and love using recycled timbers; they have scars and beautiful imperfections that tell a story. So, the name Saltwood comes from the preserving aspect.
Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? What influences your designs?
My favourite styles are Danish and mid-century modern. Most of the time I either just make what feels right and looks right to me, or I read the clients brief and fix their problems for them. It’s all about it being functional and having purpose.
It has to serve a purpose and be beautiful. If part of the design doesn’t do those things it doesn’t belong.
Q: What are your favourite timbers to work with?
I love working with solid timbers with lots of character. I’ve always been drawn to Marri – it’s not every furniture maker’s cup of tea. Some of the really gummy pieces require heaps of work to get it to a usable standard, but sometimes these pieces are the ones that have the most character. Other favourites are Blackbutt and Walnut.
One of my favourite parts of the creative process is interpreting the brief into exactly what the client wants. It sometimes takes a few meetings or emails to get the same vision. But, my favourite part is the reveal. The client finally gets to see what was an idea in his/her head come to life. It’s now a real thing – something that they can cherish, and enjoy for many years.
Q: What enticed you to join the Handkrafted community? How have you found it?
I love the enthusiasm. There’s always been a woodworking community, but now they are all in one place; Handkrafted has bought us all together.
I’ve discovered so many talented makers through Handkrafted from reading the blogs to searching through the profiles.
I’ve then followed them on Instagram, and we’ve had chats and exchanged ideas.
Q: Describe your experience completing Handkrafted projects.
The clients really feel valued, I think, because of the way Handkrafted presents itself.
It stands out of the crowd in a completely different way to the other platforms – it’s not just about building things for people.
I find that you form a relationship with the client and you are starting a journey that you both won’t forget. That’s the kind of experience you will never get from the high street stores.
Recently, I was asked to turn two pieces of the old Albany bowling alley into 2x3m dining tables on steel frames with castors. It was a massive project, but the amount of conversations it inspired and the interest it got was great. I had people coming up to me telling me how they remembered bowling on those actual lanes. I won’t forget moments like that.
Q: What do you hope the upcoming year holds for you professionally?
I just love making things for people, hearing their stories, and why they want or need a certain item. As long as I can keep doing that I’ll be happy.
Handkrafted connects the right people with the right maker. I guess the customer feels drawn to a certain maker through their style or the way that they present themselves. This is great because it makes my job easier. I get to meet and work with the people that really appreciate what I do and why I do it. I hope to experience more of that and create more stories for people to tell.
Q: Any advice for fellow furniture makers?
Do what you love and for the right reasons. Keep doing that and the right people will find you.
Words and photos courtesy of the talented (and very sweet!) Karl Young. Check out more of his stunning work here.
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