From Tree to Table with Matt Cremona

This week we are chatting Matt Cremona.  Find out how Matt went from using a beer pong table in college for his furniture assembly to custom building a saw mill in his backyard.


Brandon: All righty guys welcome back to the Make or Break Show. We're hanging out with Matt: Cremona today calling in from Minnesota bright and early. He is an amazing maker of all kinds of things especially with trees. But we want to welcome you to the show. Thanks for hanging out with us today.

Matt:: Thanks for having me.

Brandon: Well I wanted to kind of get into your backstory and how you got into making because I know you didn't really have any formal education as far as college all that concerned. But like was making was that something like when you were a kid were you always kind of tinkering with stuff or was that something that kind of came a little bit later in your life?

Matt:: I think I've always been a tinkerer just kind of you know making things right. I don't know, exploring that side of things for sure. Like when I was a lot younger not many things would stay put together. So all of my toys would be taken apart for whatever reason. I have no idea why I took everything apart but I was one of those kids that I guess like remote control car like no battery car better toy or whatever take it apart take the motors out. This random motors connected to a 9 volt battery because that seemed like a cool thing to do.

Matt:: And it kind of went from there I guess but I guess early on just kind of had that little bug inside of me and look at me now, I guess.

Brandon: Yeh, so was like a mechanical stuff you kind of lean towards like as far as like electronics motors and batteries growing up?

Matt:: Back then like, this is like when I like under-10.

Brandon: Yeah.

Matt:: It was like I stuffed mostly because it was accessible. But like I would go outside and build tree force and tree houses and the forest and things like that as well. As I got older when I was in high school I was into computers and electronics build computers and I did a lot of mods on Xbox's back then and that was a big thing.

Matt:: And I did a lot I think by the time I was like a sophomore in college. I had modeded like everybody's XBox on my floor in my dorm. I'm pretty sure. It's like once they saw what it could do....they were like like maybe you want me to do that for me too?

Brandon: When I was in college, we definitely had that guy that we'd go to cause that was I guess I started college in 2005. And so we can do like any online X-Box stuff it is all like local area network stuff. And so there would be like this one guy he could mod everything up to we're like the whole campus be connected and he was like the go to guy which is which is really cool.

Matt:: That's what I did that same time too in 2005.

Brandon: Oh yeah. You were the go to guy then. So you went to University of Wisconsin is that right?

Matt:: Yeah in Lacrosse.

Brandon: And you were a business major like finance?

Matt:: I majored in finance minored in information systems and I never finished my photography minor.

Brandon: Cool. So when you were going through college like when you graduated were you still kind of like hey this is the direction I want to go. Or did that kind of like maker or bug... was that something like you're still always doing kind of as a side project or hobbies.

Matt:: Yeah I was a side thing photography kind of took over that aspect of my life for a while. I was really into just doing this like for walks as kind of going out and taking pictures of whatever I saw wherever I was walking. And I was a pretty big hobby of mine.

Matt:: That's kind of making in a sense you're kind of making pictures out of light. I guess when I was in college I also started woodworking as well as another outlet to make things and to have some kind of tangible stuff as opposed to the digital things that I was doing in photographery. And even the print stuff I was doing in school. It's a little different than making something actually like usable for something.

Brandon: Yeah yeah. What was your first wood project that you remember working on?

Matt:: [00:06:33] So the first thing that did to get into woodworking was refinish this old hutch that was in our house or renting a car. And then that drove me into had to do some repairs on that so I guess there's someone working on that and then that drove me into my first real project which was like a basket holder that my wife wanted. She was my girlfriend back then. [18.0]

Matt:: We had seen something similar at IKEA and I thought I could make something a little better so I made like plywood cube basically and baskets in it. Pretty basic. But that's kind of what started it all I guess.

Brandon: Was there a project that I like really drew you in. Like where you still kind of doing a little bit of everything or at what point were you like the wood side of things like this is what I'm really passionate about?

Matt:: I don't know if it's one particular project but as I kind of kept making things within a year I was pretty much hooked and didn't do anything else with my free time.

Matt:: I guess besides video games I guess I played those back then but I don't much time for those anymore. But yeah I just kind of over the over like a year or so and then when I when I graduated a couple of years after I started woodworking I have more money and it really went downhill from there.

Brandon: Yeh, yeh you were working for like a medical records company. Did I see that right?. Once you got out of college?

Matt:: Yeh, I started there before I was actually graduated but yeah.

Brandon: So how did you transition from that into after that did you... was it full time making like was kind of your next step?

Matt:: After the software job?

Brandon: Yeh.

Matt:: I got laid off from that and then I was like shat do I want to do with my life. I had that kind of moment.

Matt:: And decided to take a chance and do what I'm doing now which has paid off quite well. I'm very happy I made the decision not to get another job like that because I'm way happier now.

Brandon: Was that 2014?

Matt:: Yeah I got laid off like December 15th, 2004 right before Christmas. Yeah.

Brandon: Because it's going through your YouTube like all the way back. What's the earliest video? And it was like a weekly update from like all the way back in 2014.

Matt:: Yeah I started the weekly updates as a way to kind of get better at talking and just be comfortable with communicating.

Brandon: Yeah yeah.

Matt:: I guess some like how hard could it be to sit in my shop and just tell people I did this week.

Brandon: Yeh.

Matt:: Very very hard by the way.

It's like you got to be like more animated and you can't just be like they're talking like you normally would with someone.

Matt:: For whatever reason you put a camera in front of people and suddenly you can't talk anymore. I don't understand.

Brandon: Yeah. So your girlfriend, where you were you married at the time when you went full time.

Matt:: Yeah we were.

Brandon: What was that conversation like with her.

Matt:: Well you know she was oddly OK with that.

Brandon: Yeah.

Matt:: We were expecting our first child so she kind of figured that if anything will save money on child care.

Brandon: Yeh.

Matt:: I would be in charge of watching this child which I was for until he was eight months old and I trying to do with the content creation as well with a infant.

Matt:: Oh wow. So it was taxing.

Brandon: Yeah.

Brandon: What's your wife do?

Matt:: She's an attorney.

Brandon: Ok cool. So once you had started in 2014 was there like any early moments when you're like hey this like this can actually work like this is it just me kind of testing like this is I can do this as a career?

Matt:: Other people were doing it so I figured that's enough validation for me. That it's aesthetically possible and it's all to me at that point to kind of find a way to make it possible for me.

Brandon: Gotcha let's cool.

Brandon: Who were the people you're watching like at that point?

Matt:: David Pacciuto and Bob Clagett, April Wilkerson, who else was around back then? There's a bunch of people who started around that time... Nick Ferry, Jay Bates. I don't know the people that are like established now. They were kind of like younger back.

Brandon: Yeah yeah.

Matt:: There wasn't as many people bavk then as there are now. That's for sure.

Brandon: I'm trying to remember the project, it was like a dovetailed like a small small cabinet. It's like one of your first like build videos.

Matt:: Uh, my tea chest.

Brandon: Yeah. Did that one just kind of take off as far as people seeing it and viewing it.

Matt:: Yeah that's the one I kind of put me into the upward movement that I'm in right now or I've been in. So before that I had just done my shop update I was just trying to I was really doing this to have found my voice and I wasn't really sure why I wanted to do with my channel.

Matt:: I did that video and I first build video and that was featured on David Paccuito's.. itt was the Weekly Woodworking Wrap Up Review back then.

Brandon: Oh yeah.

Matt:: [00:11:44] I had started in January and from January until June I had got up to 100 subscribers. And then overnight doubled and then it just kept going from there. So I really owe a lot of my early success to David's showcasing of my work and sharing my work with his audience. [17.8]

Brandon: That's cool, that's cool. What was it like once you saw that share and like stuff started taking off.

Matt:: Well it was incredible because I watched that show every week and I love it. And I still love it even though he doesn't do it anymore. Still nostalgically.

Brandon: Yeah.

Matt:: That's what I would do. It came out on Tuesdays or Friday I forget what day it was. But it's like I wake up in the morning and it would be there and I'd lay in bed and watch it. And I'd be like this is so cool and I'm going to watch all these other videos.

Matt:: I found a lot of people's videos through him and I thought that was just a really cool medium. [00:12:36] And then one day he's like's a video about you.

Brandon: So you didn't know it's going to be on there. Like you actually watched the video and it was there....

Matt:: He didn't say it ahead of time. So I mean you can cheat by going to that video and looking at the description first before watching it to see who was featured but I didn't. And then he said he was talking about how, like this video only has like 50 views or 100 views something like that and was talking about it as I said always really nice things about me. And it's amazing what someone that you look up to is saying that those things about you can really do and motivatate you to do even more and really drive you to even more success. [39.5]

Brandon: That's cool. That's really cool.

Matt:: Yeah.

Brandon: Alright so you've got a mechanical background, you've electronics background, you've got a photography background. What kind of drew you to more of the traditional like early on?

Matt:: Yeah I have no idea.

Brandon: Was it just like I need stuff around the house like my wife wants me to build something?

Matt:: [00:13:37] I think the projects that I choose are definitely there's like two sides of things that we actually need.... and then there's things that I think would be interesting to make. And a lot of the things that I make of the way I make them are specifically there to challenge myself to be a better worker to gain new skills because I'm just not comfortable doing things the same way all the time and constantly I need to be challenging myself so I get better. Otherwise I'm stagnant. So a lot of things I do are kind of driven by that idea. [30.8]

Brandon: Gotcha. So getting into more traditional joinery and traditional woodworking so you're like this is a rabbit hole that can learn a lot of stuff up.

Matt:: And it seems a lot more challenging than whatever it was during that time.

Brandon: What was one of the harder techniques or skills like you remember learning like was there one you just like really struggled with for a while before you kind of got it down?

Matt:: I don't know maybe dovetails. But I think everybody kind of has that same kind of thing at first with them. I mean I used the router jig at first and then actually I used I did hand-cut then I did router jig and then I went back to hand-cut and I haven't gone back again.

Matt:: I don't know, I think my actual problem was I didn't understand how to sharpen a chisel or like what a sharp chisel was. So I think that really didn't help me in my learning because it got frustrated because I'm like why is this not working?

Matt:: Oh because you've never sharpened his chisel, you used right out of the box and you've been using it for six months and you've never sharpened it. Hmm... I wonder why it's not working like people's videos show.

Brandon: Yeah yeah yeah. Yeah. I just recently tried to cut joinery for the first time, like doing some mortise and tenons and I had some beater chisels and then I was like.... I should probably like try sharpening these.

Brandon: I'm like wow this is a lot easier when they are actually sharpened.

Matt:: Oh yeh.

Brandon: [00:15:32] How did you get into then going from a raw tree to lumber to furniture. Was that another just kind of natural... like you just kind of wanted to get... what's kind of the next step.

Matt:: I was a poor college student and the thought of spending hundreds of dollars on materials when I could spend hundreds of dollars on tools didn't really appeal to me. [21.5]

Matt:: So very early on I need to figure out a way to get my material costs down as much as possible. Because I was working like a part time job, I think I'm making $7 an hour and working like 12 hours a week. That's not much income to do do much with.

Brandon: Yeah.

Matt:: So yeah just definitely a cost savings thing. [00:16:16] So one of the first investments I made was a little jointer planer combo machine and that thing paid for itself like so many times over. I think I paid $300 for it and in two projects it has paid for itself because I was able to go buy some rough sawn lumber from a guy on Craigslist.

Matt:: I think I bought was like oak and Cherry I bought it for $1 a board foot. When comparatively I was paying $7 a board foot for surface lumber at the home center for Red Oak.

Matt:: So my material costs dropped drastically. And then from there I'm like I get it down even further. So I started buying wet lumber from a mill and then drying it myself so that saved me more money and then eventually started milling my own.

Brandon: Yeah.

Matt:: So I have zero direct material costs now. [43.9]

Brandon: Yeah. So when you were, you said you mentioned you started that in college. Did you just have lumber just like in your room like with stuff stacked up, drying?

Matt:: [00:17:10] We had [0.3] rented a house. So there was four of us in our house. And then my last year I moved to another house which is me and one other roommate. We had detached garage at both places and the first house we had the basement which was like kind of took over as my shop as was the one car garage outside. But that wasn't heated so it was like terrible out there in the winter. I had my table saw out there so I like raw so I made quick quick and then ran back inside and like warm up again because it was so cold all the time.

Matt:: Wait and [00:17:45] my assembly table with a beer pong table. [2.6]

Brandon: OK. Just move the stuff over, thats awesome.

Brandon: So when did you.... you started getting I guess lumber as far as like trees had fallen down or like you're cutting down trees. At what point like hey I should start working on my own bandsaw mill. Was that something you always knew or hey I want to build this like crazy big out of my back yard.

Matt:: No I always thought that would be a lot harder or impossible to do.

Matt:: I looked at that like a long time ago even when I saw some mills like in person that are manufactured I like I have no idea how it goes together or how it's even possible. So there's always that thing holding me back.

Matt:: But what was it like last summer. I'm like maybe I should do this and see how it goes a big a learning experience if anything. And people will probably like watching it. So that's kind of how that happened, I guess. Not so much because I needed it more so I wanted to challenge myself and a whole new area and see how entertaining it could be.

Brandon: Yeah. I think that's what I started to see some of your stuff especially on Instagram. Was like there's videos of you like when you're pushing the sliders are when it first started and I'm... what is this guy doing like this is this is insane.

Brandon: And then I started watching your stuff. And it was fun to when you were learning to weld it was like.

Matt:: Oh yeah.

Brandon: You were like you were kind of like a big project and like yeah I'm learning the weld right now, here's my first one. And I'm like what this is so cool.

Brandon: What is it... you don't seem nervous at all. Like to try like those big things that you just kind of dive in. Like if you're interested.

Matt:: Yeah. What's the worst thing that happened? You fail and you lose some money but you learn a lot in the process. I'll tell you what I paid a lot of money to learn things that don't use everyday anymore. So by comparison spending a few thousand dollars to practice while welding and mechanical engineering in your backyard even if it doesn't actually work. It's cheaper than going to school for it. Yeah. Oh yeah probably retained a lot better.

Brandon: Yeah yeah. I went to school for engineering for like aerospace engineering and I'm like Man I still remember building rockets when I was like a kid like that's I remember more of that versus school stuff. So like I could make a rocket that I can't now. So as you've got to like mechanical stuff, do you see yourself doing more of that in the future or are you still kind of like I love like traditional furniture.

Matt:: And that stuff all a means to an end for me. It's just a way for me to you know make lumber rather difficult to get turned into furniture.

Matt:: But I enjoy it. I think I'll keep challenging myself to do something out there with that with the lumber stuff that you know improves efficiency or makes it more interesting. The mill will be getting hydraulic log handling at some point. That's the next thing on there. And then I'm going to teach myself some stuff but automation so I could just have a split lumber out for me.

Matt:: And then from there we'll see how I can make some kind of crane thing at some point to lift the whole logs off the trailer and drop them right on the mill. So I don't know I have a lot of things in the back of my head so no time more than anything.

Brandon: Yeah. That's really cool. Man the automation stuff. And the crane would be the very last week I was actually going to ask you may have just answered it. Is there a big means to an end project you have out there that you want to make or is it just kind of add on stuff that you've you've already got.

Matt:: As far as the mill?

Brandon: Or if there's another like a big a mechanical type project that you're like hey this would be great to add to my arsenal.

Matt:: Nothing at the top of my head my sides just like the material handling stuff.

Brandon: At this point but who knows.

Matt:: That's cool.

Matt:: Well what's also I really like about your specialty your YouTube channel is like you started with like the weekly updates and then I was watching your most recent video which was like a weekly update and whats been really cool you see you're like personality. Even always way back into the first one of 2014 like all the way to today day like you just don't know. You just seem like you're just downhome. Not in a bad way but like you enjoy what you're doing and it's cool.

Brandon: Looking back on these I guess what three years, what's kind of that journey been like for you?

Matt:: The whole thing.

Brandon: Yeah. Looking back on it did you think the 2014 Matt: would be where you're at now?

Matt:: Oh heck no. Well and back then I just kind of started it for fun and just kind of self-improvement and I just kept getting like more and more of a thing and then it just kept growing and I don't know I just really just kept drawing me in. And I don't think that me back then would like fully understand that you know in a few years this would be your living.

Brandon: Yeah.

Matt:: You'll literally just be in your shop talking to yourself and answering comments and emails on the Internet. That's that's your job. I don't think I would believe that if I did it like I'm proud not make am I doing it.

Matt:: So yeah I don't think I believe Oh I would definitely believe that story.

Brandon: Yeah. That's crazy. So you have two sons is that right. J.R. and Max?

Matt:: Yeah. Yeah.

Brandon: Are they getting old enough or I guess your oldest is getting old enough to like to be able to do stuff around the shop...?

Matt:: Well he's two and change. So I mean when he goes in the shop it's like how much of a mess can I make.

Matt:: OK. Yeah.

Matt:: Let me dump all these screws on the floor and then run away. So he's good at making a mess. There's that I guess he like's helping me burn scraps in the around the yard and climbing on the saw mill. He likes that a lot. His mom was not like that part. He likes climbing a thing a lot so I think he'll be pretty comfortable with the stuff going on here.

Brandon: Yeah yeah. Well one thing I definitely wanted to talk about before we kind of wrap up is just your approach to lumber... from raw materials especially folks that may never have experienced that.

Brandon: Is there a good gateway drug so to speak that you'd recommend? If folks want to be like...hey I really want to get into like getting my own sourcingmy own lumber and drying it, is there like easy ways you recommend folks kind of stepping into that?

Matt:: I guess it depends on how much you want to spend. And I guess how much you do.

Matt:: I mean sourcing material, depending on where you live if there are trees growing there are source material is probably you know pretty easy. People are always cutting down trees for various reasons and they're always looking to get rid of them because they need to get rid of them.

Matt:: So most time you can get the actual raw log tree for free usually. And then from there I mean depending on how big it is if you're just doing some small stuff you might be able to do some small boards on like your bandsaw your table saw in your shop. If it's that small a little bigger than that a chain saw and you can always do some freehand chain milling if you want to try that.

Matt:: Your yields can be as great unless you are somehow super precise with your ability to cut a log into slabs by hand or otherwise chain saw mill attachment for a chain saw is fairly inexpensive and kind of help guide the stock through the cuts and that's the way I kind of went with the lumber production here on my property.

Matt:: And you can always have someone cut it for you. There's no there's no shame in that. You can bring that log to a sawmill or have a portal not come up to you if you have enough there for them to come to you and cut it up that way.

Matt:: And then air drying is probably the easiest way to go. It's very hard to screw that up and all you need time for that. So it's pretty easy.

Brandon: Do you have any good just ballparks for how long it takes to dry. I know it depends on like where you're at and whether or not like of stuff.

Matt:: Um... man it really it varies a lot.

Brandon: OK.

Matt:: Depending on how it's stored and the conditions. So the stuff here in my basement I can usually do about an inch every three or four months. The pan time of year. And then it was like out, like in my garage if it wasn't heated for instance or my shed... it would probably take like eight nine 10 months per inch because there is no air circulation in there and it's a lot more humid most of the year and all that stuff. So it does vary quite a bit even just in this one you know property.

Matt:: Yeah. I know you've got a great series on that whole process. I'll make sure to fix or different when I dive into the weeds on on how it works.

Brandon: So as far as a couple questions I would like to ask folks that come on. So this is the make or break show and so kind of split it up until like I may question a great question. So of all of the projects you've worked on does it have to be a video or if like that. Is there one that really stands out as you're like hey this is what I this is my favorite project was the favorite one that I made.

Matt:: It's definitely going to be the secretary desk thing that's going to change for the foreseeable future.

Brandon: So what about the desk. Like why was it your favorite.

Matt:: It was so far above my skill set at the time when I started it. That...I didnt...

Matt:: [00:27:54] Well I figured I'd finish it. But I didn't know how much work it was going to be and how challenging it was going to be just from a learning perspective because I had I literally hadn't done most of that stuff and the scale that was on that desk is a huge project.

Matt:: And I came out with you know a nice piece of furniture but I came up with something way more valuable which is all the experience and knowledge that went into building that big piece of furniture. [26.2]

Brandon: Yeah that's cool. All right so then on the break side of things I'm sure you've had a few things go wrong at times. Is there is there one that really stands out and maybe Is there a lesson you learn like because of it.

Matt:: I've been lucky. I haven't had anything super crazy go bad on me.

Brandon: Yeah.

Matt:: [00:28:44] Well I guess one thing that I like to tell for something like this is I built a bookcase for my sister a long time ago. I don't know when I was... 2012 maybe it had glass doors on it and then some drawers beneath it. So it was kind of a tall unit thing.

Matt:: And I hung the doors on the hinges I got from the homes that are some really crappy hinges. Probably the biggest mistake ever made in my life. So I spent all this time making this piece of furniture and the hinges end up saying and the gap from the doors was perfect and now it's like touching at the bottom and it has this giant gap to the top. So putting crap hinges on your project because they're all like $3 a hinge spend like $12 $15 on a hinge if you're going to put 40 50 60 hours into a project.

Brandon: Yeah yeah that's good. [54.0]

Sometines you've really got to sweat the small stuff because it really does Matt:er.

Matt:: Yeah.

Brandon: That's cool. And one thing I forgot to mention. So you're also one of the co-hosts of Wood Talk podcast.

Matt:: Oh that thing.

Brandon: Yeah. Yeah. How long have you been on that with him.?

Matt:: Almost two years already. Two years in January.

Brandon: What is that process because you mentioned like your job is like to talk to no one like on camera. What's it like to sit down and talk to people on a consistent basis that are doing the same thing you're doing?

Matt:: It's awesome.

Matt:: And that was another thing in my life where when they... first of all they asked me to be a guest on the show. I was like this is kind of scary because I don't know I go in the show for like six, eight years whatever I had been. Something ridiculous. I was like I listened to every episode every week and now you want to be on the show what is what is this going on here what does how is this my life?

Matt:: And I don't know if it's been so much fun and just being able to connect with a couple of other people who do the same thing that I do and have the same struggles that I do. And we kind of share in the little things that maybe our spouses might not understand because they're not with us every day as much. Well Mark kind of has Nicole and there are a lot more than any of us do for our spouses but even that there are certain things that are challenging for the people that are actually doing all that work and all that content creation that you can kind of appreciate from getting together and talking to people that do exactly the same thing.

Matt:: That's why I really like like the meet ups where are the advance where is a lot of other people who do the same thing that I do because really cool is talk to them learn about their processes and we can learn a lot from each other and the community is just amazing. Everyone is super supportive and really open about everything so it's just it's great. I love it.

Brandon: Yeah that's really cool. Well I appreciate your time and jumping on a call with me.

Matt:: It's fun.

Brandon: Early morning is there other than YouTube. Is there a good place that you'd send folks if they want to check out the stuff that you're doing?

Matt:: I go to my Web site that and you can get links to all my stuff there and there's some stuff there.

Brandon: Make sure and support Matt: on Patreon and they'll be link in the shownotes for that as well.

Brandon: And Wood Talk you guys have a Patreon for that too?

Matt:: Oh Yeh.

Brandon: OK. I make sure and include a link as well. So be sure and check that one out guys.

Brandon: But Matt: I appreciate your time. It was a blast chatting with you.

Matt:: Thanks for having fun.

Brandon: Yeh it’s my pleasure.

Brandon Cullum