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Finnish wood transforms into artisan products – The story of Jäskepuu

Juha Jäske, the owner of Jäskepuu company, attaches a stick of curly birch into a turning lathe. The machine works its magic in the hands of this carpentry master, and slowly the modest piece of wood begins its transformation towards something much more prestigious. This time the end product will be a pencil, made from finest Finnish wood.

– I have to say wood is my material of choice and always has been, since I was a boy. I worked summers in this workshop as a teenager, earned some pocket money, Jäske, now in his early 50s, reminisces. 

We have arrived in Jäskepuu's workshop, somewhere deep in the heart of Espoo, a city within the greater Helsinki metropolitan area. The overwhelming scent is that of fresh wood, mixed with an enticing aroma of newly-made coffee. The workshop has an inviting feel and look. It seems one arrives there to work every morning with a big smile. 

– I never grow tired of the smell of fresh wood, Jäske contemplates. 

– When I occasionally have friends and customers coming over, they say it's like entering the woodshed of Santa Claus.

Second generation of small entrepreneurship

As of now, Jäske and his wife run the Jäskepuu business. The business itself has survived four decades, originally started by Jäske's parents in the early 1980s. After graduating and working elsewhere for a while, in 2004 Jäske decided to continue the story of the business his parents founded.

– When I inherited the business, for a moment I thought I would sell it all. Suddenly inquiries started pouring in, and I decided to continue the company for one year and see, how it turns out. After 15 years I'm still on that road. 

The two are the only year-round employees. During the summers additional workshop employees, salespersons for their market stall at the Helsinki market square and truck drivers are being employed. 

– Summers are our best season, and one big customer group are foreign tourists, who just love Finnish artisan products. 

The small family enterprise has always kept the volume of their production small enough so that Jäske will be able to manufacture all their goods himself. 

– Nowadays there are some automated machines at our workshop, but most of the work I still do with my own two hands. I also enjoy this, since every hand-made product has an individual look. Had we more retail, we might need more automation, bigger premises or additional employees. It wouldn't be the same anymore.  

Additionally Jäskepuu also conveys products made by other small enterprises in Finland. Most notably the guksis, the traditional Laplandish wooden mugs, are being obtained from a small Lapland-based workshop. Some products arrive in Espoo as semi-manufactured articles, which Jäske then finalises.

From waste to raw material

A lot of the raw material Jäske works with is being obtained from larger workshops, more accurately from the waste wood blocks they discard. Small hand-made products don't require large chunks of wood.

– If a larger manufacturer throws away 30-centimeter long boards of wood, I can work with those with ease, and turn that waste into artesan goods, Jäske says. 

– I mostly prefer juniper as my raw material – I just love the mild scent of that wood. Also birch, a very common Finnish wood type, is used a lot, as well as fallen trees from people's backyard, such as rowans or maples. 

Jäske pays regular visits to his neighbours and people contacting him. When a tree has been fallen or has been cut in someone's property, Jäske will gladly be the first one on the scene to fetch the fallen trunk. The property owners are just grateful to him for his valuable work. 

– Every year I drive hundreds of kilometres and fetch the trunks. Sometimes I exchange them to firewood. Everybody wins and all are happy.

Working with natural products

Jäske holds his natural products in high value. Nowadays he also adheres mostly to using all-natural additives, when handling the wood. 

– The starting point in our work is, that Finnish wood as raw material is all-natural, ecological and sustainable. Nowadays I also use mostly natural oils, waxes and tar for the surface finishing of the products. 

Working with your hands on Finnish wood is itself an even rarer natural resource. There simply aren't many carpenters left in Finland, who still work as entrepreneurs.

– Handicraft is a disappearing form of expertise, Jäske says. 

– The automation in manufacturing is permeating everything. No one wants to work with their hands anymore. There are not many of our kind left in Finland, nor in anywhere else. We are facing a global-scale challenge.