The Designer Who Listens to Trees

The Designer Who Listens to Trees

Olof Davidsson’s woodwork videos are a montage of ASMR porn.

His latest features a number of peculiar joineries—pieces of wood fastened together without nails, sliding closed with satisfying clicks with grainy surfaces running the same direction. Tiny mechanical feats of engineering that strengthen furniture and cabinetry. Some feature right-angle triangles. Others dovetail seamlessly into place. And some joints lock together with pegs seemingly borrowed from a sequential puzzle box.

Davidsson, a woodworker attending the Capellagården school on an island in the south of Sweden, feels that some joineries are less practical and are more intended to spark curiosity. Take, for instance, the kawai tsugite joint created by Shinobu Kobayashi. This three-way joint involves two square pieces of lumber, each face carved the same but with a rotated orientation. “It’s amazing,” Davidsson says, laughing, “but I’m not sure how to use it.” One option, though, might be to create a standing lamp that can transform into an L-shaped reading light.

But marvel and exploration are part of his journey.

Olof Davidsson sits in a chair made for escaping the world

As a plumber for several years, Davidsson made okay money, but he never was fulfilled with the job. “I felt empty,” he says. So he considered other paths, like engineering—anything he could feel passionate about. In grade school, he wasn’t attracted to woodworking. But after taking a design class at a university in the late 2010s, he fell in love with wood. “It was winter, and I read about all these wood pieces and trees. So I began to look at trees and know their characteristics of the branches.”

His first exposure to Japanese woodworking was through craftsman Natsuki Ishitani, whose minimalist and sturdy designs seem to take direction from the trees he sculpts.

“When I work more artistically, I find a piece of wood that wants to be something specific. A plank might tell me what it wants to be.”

So the Swedish woodworker began scavenging the forest for woods that spoke to him and began transforming them. “Elm was one of the first ones I began to turn [i.e., spinning and carving wood on a lathe],” he says. Swedish elm begins light but has deep and darker colors towards the center. “It was so beautiful.”

Much of his work centers around Japanese and Danish design. One chair he made this year was especially Scandinavian in design. Built with a tall, airy frame crossed with a baby’s crib, the chair is giant—enough to sit cross-legged and drink coffee (for which there’s a tiny table). “I created something you could crawl into and feel safe,” he says. “Something to keep the outer world away.”

Olof Davidsson puzzle box cabinet

Conceived overnight, his designs usually begin with paper and pen, and then move to CAD using the Shapr3D design app on his iPad. It’s a necessity when executing more complex designs, like the puzzle cabinet that’s solved in three moves, made using alder woods and wenge, an African hardwood.

“Sometimes I’ll work with the physical wood and just see a box or imagine it being a cabinet,” Davidsson explains. “When I work more artistically, I find a piece of wood that wants to be something specific. A plank might tell me what it wants to be.” The grain and patterns in the veneer help dictate the final result. Wood-turning bears some similarity to shaping clay.

Olof Davidsson lathe work

“Maybe that’s what I’ll return to this summer,” he says in preparation for his final year at Capellagården. Rediscovering the origins. Listening to the grain and shapes of branches. “Going back to my passion for woodworking. … Put a piece in a lathe and let the wood be what it wants to be.”

See more of Olof Davidsson’s woodwork on Instagram @od_form.

Words by David MacNeal

Images courtesy of Olof Davidsson

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