The blade on Matt Cremona’s giant saw squealed as it ripped through the girthy maple tree lying behind his house. Then it hit something big, something metal.
“Now it gets exciting,” Cremona said as he started to replace the 26-foot blade on his homemade sawmill.
More cuts revealed bolts and nails lodged in the tree, which had been salvaged from a yard in New Hope. That would be a headache for most sawyers. But for Cremona — and his scores of online followers — it’s compelling content.
Cremona is far from a household name in Minnesota, but the 31-year-old Brooklyn Center man has quietly become one of the state’s social media stars. His YouTube videos have racked up about 29 million views in five years. About 245,000 people subscribe to his YouTube channel and 141,000 follow him on Instagram.
But instead of food pictures and fashion tips, Cremona’s fans tune in to watch salvaged Twin Cities trees being cut and crafted into fine furniture.
“That’s how I make a living, is doing what I love and taking people along for the ride,” said Cremona, who is among the top echelons of an ever-expanding group of woodworkers filming, photographing and podcasting about the craft.
His videos bring viewers on a journey from tree to table (or whatever he is building at the moment), combining the backbreaking work of milling massive logs with the patience of hand-cutting dovetail joints. They detail his old-school methods of moving trees with winches, chains, even his body weight and show his love of the majestic grain patterns hidden inside — from “spalting” to the “crotch” figure formed by branches. He seems relentlessly jovial about it all, peppering his videos with so much laughter that it’s earned him the nickname “hairy giggler.”
“My mission ... is to really inspire people to look at these trees differently and to create something from them,” Cremona said.
Though teaching expert-level woodworking online is the core of his business, his most popular current videos feature the other star of the show: the 9-foot-tall, 16-foot-long bandsaw mill towering over his backyard. It can cut logs 6 feet wide, creating slabs that he stacks and dries next to his shed.
Cremona designed the sawmill himself. His viewers watched online as he built it over the course of several months, unhampered by his limited metalworking experience.
“The whole time I swear I’m [thinking], ‘I’m spending all this time and money, this thing better work,’ ” Cremona recalled. “There’s thousands of people watching. And there’s lots of people that tell me it won’t work.”
It worked — so well, in fact, that he sold the plans online. His DIY sawmill can be built for about $15,000, compared with the $50,000-plus cost of a professional mill. Several hundred people around the country and as far away as Germany and New Zealand have snapped up the $95 plans.
One of them is Craig Pearman, who’s building a mill in British Columbia.
“He seems to be a bold guy,” Pearman said of Cremona. “He backs himself. And you don’t see enough of that in the world today.”
His work has earned him plenty of fans, many of whom send photos of their projects for his weekly “shop update” videos. One New Hampshire fan made a wooden toy dinosaur for Cremona’s children. Another drove from Mississippi with pecan trees in tow to see them cut on the mill in Cremona’s yard.
“Minnesota is pretty lucky to have him,” said Seth Carlson of Dakota Timber Co. in Fargo, which is building the mill, “because not many other people would take the time and energy to put the knowledge out there that he puts out every day.”
Hobbyist to ‘content creator’
Cremona got hooked on woodworking in college, when he built a simple plywood box to mimic one that had caught his wife’s eye at Ikea.
At the time, he was designing software for a startup medical records firm, but his spare time was devoted to the wood shop and devouring woodworking texts to hone his skills. Unable to afford buying quality lumber, he began making his own from cheaper, rough-cut boards.
He practiced filming himself woodworking for years before posting his inaugural YouTube video in 2014. That same year, the startup laid him off and, in early 2015, he became a full-time “content creator.”
The setting for that content is the garage workshop, driveway and yard of the modest home where he lives with his wife, Lindsay, an attorney, and their three children. Every corner of their home is filled with Cremona’s work, from an elaborate Queen Anne-style highboy to a walnut sideboard featuring swirling, stormlike grain patterns.
So far the neighbors seem accommodating of Cremona’s unusual occupation. Alexander Koenig, who lives two doors down, said the occasional sawing noise isn’t any more bothersome than a neighbor with a leaf blower.
“He has had some stuff back there that’s kind of fascinating, but never obtrusive,” said Koenig, who once brought his YouTube-obsessed grandson over to visit with a “real YouTuber.”
That “real YouTuber” occasionally gets recognized at places like the Friday fish fry or the grocery store. But Cremona said that being a content creator is “overglamorized.”
“It’s definitely more of a desk job than people realize,” Cremona said. “Editing, communications, doing the articles, website stuff. … I’m not a furniture company, I’m a digital media company.”
He publishes two or three videos a week on average, one of which is for a premium site that charges for detailed digital classes on building fine furniture. Cremona said he earns about four times more as a content creator than he did in his fresh-out-of-college job with the startup. That’s primarily from selling the premium classes and advertising in his YouTube videos. He’s sponsored by United Kingdom-based Triton Tools.
Salvaging the urban forest
Cremona is doing more than just teaching woodworking skills. He’s also part of a growing movement to reclaim urban trees from the woodchipper.
The most prominent local example, on a larger scale, is Wood From the Hood in Minneapolis, which makes lumber and furniture from trees that are cut down in the Twin Cities.
“It’s pretty big right now ... people harvesting their own lumber,” said Matt Collins, a supervisor at Castle Rock Contracting & Tree, which cuts trees for public projects around the state. “If they’re going to have to take a tree down to put a new street in, at least you may as well use it.”
Cremona said he remembers the origins of every piece of furniture he builds, down to the stump. He recently made an intricate tool cabinet, combining elm from Inver Grove Heights with birch from Oak Grove and his neighbor. The walnut vise on his workbench was salvaged after the 2011 north Minneapolis tornado.
To illustrate the connection from tree to finished product, he trucked a cherry secretary desk he built to the forested spot on a northern Anoka County farm where he got the wood and shot a video.
Some viewers tell him they’ve been inspired to follow suit, learning to make their own lumber.
“It’s exciting for me to be able to think that everywhere around the country, around the world, people are inspired to do this, and it brings them joy,” Cremona said. “Just like it brings me joy.”