Meet the craftsman who manufactures the Oul Serving Platter & Bowls

Surrounded by forest since birth. Captivated by wood for as long as he can recall. He founded a workshop which manufactures round tableware: bowls, plates, and platters, all made of solid wood, naturally. Meet Mikołaj Pierko, co-creator of our Oul Serving Platter & Bowls.

Oul is handcrafted by Mikołaj: first, he carefully selects FSC-certified pieces of beechwood, which he then trimmes, lathes, grinds, and oils. Find out about the sources of his passion for wood, learn how his hobby turned into a full-time business, and get to know the history of a 1,600-year-old piece of black oakwood that lays safely on a shelf in his workshop.

Each piece of wood is unique. But what is the real reason for differences in color within one genre? 

A mature tree stops transporting the water and sap to its core area [ed. note: the central part of the trunk] and transports them only on the outer part. This is why the core changes its color and darkens. It is often surprising to discover that two pieces of the same wood react differently to the same process.

What kind of differences are we talking about? 

It is mainly about the hardness of the wood. One can see it during machining or planing, but it is also felt in the drying process. The harder the wood, the slower it releases moisture.

The unpredictability of the material makes the planning of the production process pretty difficult. How do you obtain wood? Do you buy pieces which are ready for processing, or do you prefer a fresh trunk that requires cutting and drying?

For the production of the Oul Serving Platter & Bowls, I use previously dried wood, which I buy at a local sawmill. I only use FSC-certified sawmills – those that harvest wood in a sustainable way (for example, in place of cut trees they plant new ones). Such certificates are renewed every year, so it is worth checking regularly whether the sawmill still holds it. Importantly, I do not import any species of wood from far away; I always source them locally. The love for this material was passed on to me by my father, a forester. As a child, I used to accompany him to work and I really liked touching wood and watching it. And it stayed with me till today. 

The love for this material was passed on to me by my father, a forester. And it stayed with me till today.

- Mikołaj Pierko – craftsman of the Oul Serving Platter & Bowls

Did you find your career path because you wanted to work with wood, or is it a coincidence that you are now working with a material that you loved so much as a child? Or maybe you forced it on yourself?

When you say forcing, I think about my earlier work with steel processing, when I was working as a locksmith. Initially, I didn’t want to build my professional path solely on dreams and fantasies [laughs]. I started working with wood in my own basement, with a drill, from which I made a lathe. This is how I discovered wood lathework. I didn’t need a very large workshop or many machines to start creating wooden forms. I simply wanted to work with this material, and I found a way of doing it via lathework. This is what I do till today and this is what makes me happy. 

To be precise, you make round tableware, mostly intended for contact with food, right?

Exactly. I mainly create bowls and plates. I also do caskets, totems like in the Inception movie, and, rarely, smaller carpentry products. I mostly focus on bowls, also because making them is a proper craft, i.e. a process in which one person is responsible for it from the very beginning till the very end, as opposed to automated production. In standard carpentry, people are excluded from some parts of the process of working with fresh wood, so I'm glad that lathework gives me the opportunity to work with wet wood from the very beginning.

Plates for serving food require special finishing if they are to be safe. The bowl from the Oul Serving Platter & Bowls which I am holding at the moment is extremely pleasant to touch. I would even say it’s soft. What oils or varnishes do you use to finish such bowls?

I use a varnish which is approved for food products. There are many producers of such varnishes, really. I have tested plenty of different solutions over the years and I chose the one that is actually the most durable. And the delicacy you feel is due to the material itself – beechwood. After applying the varnish, the structure of the wood is still very rough, even though it has already been sanded. Only after another sanding and after applying another layer of finish does it acquire this softness.

Wood can also be oiled – natural oils can be rubbed into its structure. However, be careful when choosing the type of oil: canola oil can become slightly rancid at higher temperatures, sometimes even at room temperature. Therefore, it is better to choose linseed or coconut oils.

Do natural oils and varnishes disappear in everyday use? Should they be applied regularly on the tableware we use?

I use my products on a daily basis and I admit that I do not oil them, but I eat very fatty and unhealthy food, so I am not a good example here [laughs]. But seriously, it depends on the type of wood – some rinse off faster, such as walnut. That is why I recommend maintenance with linseed or coconut oil from time to time. We should rub the surface of the plate, leave it for some time, and then wipe it dry.

It is also important to know that those products should not be put in a dishwasher as it may rinse those oils. But we can safely use them to eat our favorite porridge, pasta, or sauces.

As we have learned, the process of creating wooden tableware is quite complicated. Can you tell us a little more about the production of the Oul Serving Platter & Bowls? How many steps, time and material do you need to do it?

The first stage is a trip to the sawmill to choose the right pieces of wood. When choosing a piece for a plate, I always look for a spread grain. I never choose a piece that was close to the core, as they tend to lose their shape pretty quickly. When working on bowls, I look for pieces that were closer to the core. Such a visit to a sawmill usually takes a whole day – browsing and selecting the perfect piece always takes a lot of time. I have long stopped deceiving myself that I will be able to do something else on that day [laughs].

That’s done, I use a bandsaw to cut a shape which is similar to the size of the final product, then I use a caliper to mark a circle with a specific diameter. I cut a circle, usually adding 0.5 cm more of the material. The board can bend after being cut, so I always leave such circles for one day to observe any possible stresses.

I screw the circle to the cutting disc. I then shape the outer part first, and then I do the bottom of the bowl. This is how I create the shape, from below. Only then I cut out the center of it. It usually takes about two, two and a half hours. I grind the bowl or plate after each stage so that their surface is completely smooth. In the case of a rough beechwood, it is necessary to apply a layer of varnish, then do another sanding and then apply the second, last layer of finishing. The final step is to paste the magnet.

Wood is a material that changes over time; it collects and creates stories.

I agree. Some people tell me that they will never use my bowls or plates as tableware because they are simply too beautiful to be used on a daily basis. They prefer admiring them when they live on the shelf [laughs].

And how about you? Do you treat your bowls as works of art or simply as everyday objects?

I admit it can be tricky for me to hand away or sell something that I made. It often happens that after finishing work, I put the item on the shelf for some time to look at it before handing it over to someone else. It also depends on the specific piece of wood. Some time ago a friend gave me a piece of black oakwood. Do you know what kind of wood this is?

No, I don’t, but the name sounds great. 

It’s an interesting story – a black oakwood is a piece of wood that for at least several hundred years stayed underground, or at the bottom of a lake. Which means it did not have access to oxygen, so it didn’t rot or corrode. This is how it turned black. Such wood becomes more rocky in its structure, and is not very tool-friendly. If you want to process it anyway, it becomes phenomenal. Going back to the piece of black oakwood that I was given, it is currently on my shelf and I look at it every day. Interestingly, after research done by the University of Life Sciences, it turned out it is 1,600 years old! Just think how many things happened in that time. It’s really amazing.

What do you want to do with it?

I think it will stay as it is – laying safely on my shelf. I am too aware of the things that may go wrong with it when I start processing it.

You cannot simply press Ctrl + Z.

[laughs] Exactly, a bit of distraction and all is ruined. If you use the chisel incorrectly or when the chisel sticks into the bowl or plate, it creates a hole. And there’s nothing you can do about it. In addition, there are various surprises that can happen during the process and may force you to start it all over again. My work is not automated – it is manual, handicraft production. Thanks to this, the products have a lot of character and you can see many things in them. It is probably this uniqueness that gives them a lot of charm.

Check out products from the story:

Credits:
Video & Portrait of Mikołaj Pierko - Mikołaj Mazierski