Exclusive interview with maker Laura Kampf

Maker Laura Kampf delights her fans on Instagram and YouTube.
Laura Kampf
Maker
Maker, designer and YouTuber Laura Kampf delights half a million fans all over the world on YouTube with her unique and individual creations, which all follow the same motto: "The process is the product". There is a new video every week – and a new project to marvel at on YouTube and Instagram.

Laura, you belong to a new group in crafts, the so-called makers. What actually is a maker? And how does your work as a maker differ from traditional crafts?

The biggest difference, I think, is that we can do a bit of everything but nothing properly (laughs). But seriously, the biggest difference, I think, is that we makers work across different disciplines and crafts. The advantage of that is that I am not limited to working with just one material, for instance wood, but can also work with metal or recycled materials. It's often not that easy because you need to improvise a lot. I think that's the big difference from traditional crafts. When you are a trained carpenter, you are an expert in your field, you have all the tools you need, you know a lot about what you do and do everything perfectly. That's not the case with me. I make a lot of mistakes compared to a trained carpenter. But because I work across different disciplines, it's not so bad and you can compensate a little bit. Everything is more improvised, yet often also more creative and free because of it.

Speaking of materials – do you have a favourite material? You make bins out of gas cylinders or, just recently, a caravan out of a horse trailer ...

Wood is definitely one of my favourites. Because working with it is very steady and calm. It's all about the right order, about the time it takes for the glue to set etc. But you also need to respect the wood as a natural resource. Is it dry enough? Do I need to separate a certain part and glue it together again because there is too much strain otherwise? I find all of this interesting because you can work in a very concentrated and calm manner.

Did you train in crafts or how is it that you have such a wealth of knowledge?

YouTube (laughs)! It might sound funny, but I really did see and pick up most things on YouTube. All in all, it's a mix of 50% "DIY" and 50% "trial and error". You want to make your own book case. You find yourself out of your depth immediately because you've never made something like that before. Almost everything seems like a hurdle or challenge. That's why I googled everything in the beginning and when something didn't work, I found out why – and next time things were better. I really think that my improvisation skills are so good now that it always seems like I know a lot, when in fact I don't know that much really. I just always improvise quite well to get myself out of sticky situations that I have got myself into.

And that's how you find new methods again…

Absolutely! At the start, I often don't know how what I have pictured in my mind will work. I also don't like having an exact plan right from the start because I know I can rely on my improvisation skills and there's always a way to turn a project around.

Does that mean you don't really miss vocational training and you build home office desks and all your projects using this skill set, for which your fans love you so much?

I make things bit by bit until they are complete. I find that knowing every problem I will have to face in advance is always quite a drag. Many things can go wrong with every project. Warped wood, glue that doesn't hold. But those are always the worst case scenario. I have got into the habit of always thinking of the best case scenario and that should something go wrong, I can just fix it. It's a shame if you always think negatively and this then holds you back.

"Seeing someone who follows something through properly, enjoys their work and doesn't stop being creative and putting things into practice and making things – that's what inspires me most. Having a good idea is one thing, but putting something into practice is quite another."

Laura Kampf – maker

We adults might lose this as we get older and are often cautious instead of taking unnecessary risks and failing …

Yes, there's certainly some truth in that. But something great can come out of things going wrong! If in doubt, it's a new challenge that you can learn from. You just need to ask yourself: How do I fix this with the tools that I have? Using the handheld Shaper Origin CNC router, for example, I can easily rectify small structural blemishes and it ends up looking even better than what I had originally planned. When little things go wrong in a project, that doesn't necessarily mean that all your work was for nothing. I see it as a new challenge, which ultimately makes everything even more interesting and exciting.

On the subject of the Shaper Origin: What is your favourite tool?

Basically, I have three: The TSC 55 plunge-cut saw, the AGC 18 angle grinder and the new TID 18 cordless impact screwdriver. You can create a huge amount of projects using those three tools. If I had to choose just one, it would probably be the cordless screwdriver. You always need one of those. But my favourite tool is the plunge-cut saw. It's just such a good allrounder. You can do so much with a plunge-cut saw.

… and what was your first power tool?

It was a cordless screwdriver and angle grinder set.

Where do take your creative input from? How do you find new ideas? What is the source of your inspiration?

The source of my creativity, I think, is like a cycle that you need to fully immerse yourself in. It's a little like jogging: Once you have found your rhythm, you get into the creative flow and are, so to speak, well-versed at being creative. But when a new video goes live on a Sunday, I sometimes fall into a hole and I think to myself: That's the end of your career, you will never think of something new again. But on Monday or Tuesday something will click and I think to myself: "Yes, that's it!". The world has so much to offer – my environment, also my friends; they are also a source of inspiration.

Do you have any idols? Or do other makers and designers inspire you?

One of my biggest idols is Tom Sachs. He is a wonderful American sculptor, who puts into practice everything I find so great about making things. Not always buying everything new but using existing materials and things instead, recycling them and using what you already have. Using things in a new context or upcycling is also exciting. Jimmy DiResta, Simone Giertz and Adam Savage are also never-ending sources of inspiration for me. Seeing someone who follows something through properly, enjoys their work and doesn't stop being creative and putting things into practice and making things – that's what inspires me most. Having a good idea is one thing, but putting something into practice is quite another. The idea is always just the tip of the iceberg – the actual work is the biggest part and lies beneath the surface.

How long does it take you to get from an idea to putting it into practice?

At the moment, I am trying to complete the project and create the corresponding video within a week.

What does a typical day look like for you? Does that even exist?

My everyday life revolves around the workshop and video production. And recording videos takes up more of my time than actually making something. Setting up the camera and having a rough concept in your head. As I don't speak in my videos, but explain everything visually, the visual production becomes all the more important. You can often find me at the scrap yard next door. I regularly look for new finds there. Apart from that, I go on walks with my dog Smudo. So I don't have a fixed routine – but my life revolves around the workshop.

How important are high-quality tools for you?

Extremely important! But I only really realised this when I started working on projects full-time. I think, for DIY enthusiasts it isn't as important to have the most expensive saw right from the start. But when working with a power tool all day long, then it is important how heavy or how easy to handle the tool is or how long the battery lasts. I worked with cheap tools at the beginning and soon realised that having one charger and not dozens of different systems has its benefits. Since I started using Festool tools a few years ago, I can pay much more attention to detail. Adding the final touches here, chamfering a corner there. Those were the work steps that I simply didn't do before because they irritated me. But in the end, it's those details that amount to 5% of the effort but improve the design by 200%. It makes a huge difference whether a surface was sanded well or a corner was worked properly. It's little effort, but it has a huge effect.

What was your best creation so far?

I usually find the projects that I am currently working on the best. So at the moment, for example, that would be the French door on my caravan. It had been the sofa up until then – it has a clever backrest that allows you to turn it into a bed in no time at all. I knew it needed this function, but didn't know how exactly it would work. I only figured it out three days into working on it.But that gave me a real sense of achievement.

What do you focus on: The creative part or the finished product?

On the creative part, without a doubt. As soon as I have finished a project, I usually lose interest in it relatively quickly and make a start on the next one. You could say, the process is my product. The object itself is of relatively little interest to me later on and I sometimes even start to take things apart again (laughs).

There's a saying: Form follows function – to what extent does that apply to you?

Absolutely! "Form follows function" and "Keep it simple, stupid" are the two principles that are always on my mind. If you don't stick to "form follows function", then you end up in an ornate, sculptural world which, in my mind, doesn't bring across what it's all about. I studied communication design and completed my diploma. Communication remains important to this day for the design as well. What does this piece of furniture actually represent? When putting things into practice, the simplest solution is often the right one. I am currently working on my camper van and it's so easy to just fall into the trap of using all sorts of gadgets, like solar power, instantaneous water heaters and so on. When, in fact, a camping mat and a bucket of water would do just as well. So keeping things simple is a good principle for me.

You talk about simplicity. What's more important to you: The degree of finish and quality of your furniture creations or putting an idea into practice or a specific function?

Putting an idea into practice. The level of detail and intricacy always depends on the time and budget. I can only make certain things using plywood or multiplex because I am simply lacking the necessary funds to use anything else. However, when I'm working on a project and I have enough time and funds, then I can put more emphasis on the level of intricacy and love of detail. But the most important thing for me is that it gets put into practice.

Many young people don't know exactly what they want to be when they finish school. What advice would you give them? Would you recommend training in crafts?

The most important thing is not to be scared of giving your own methods, your own way and your own aesthetics a try. It's also important to always keep an open mind for new ideas. One of the things that frustrated me so much in my first jobs was the answer to the question: "Why do we do it like that?" "Because we've always done it like that." That's one of the silliest answers ever. Because developing your own knowledge and going your own way is so important. Even if it later turns out that it wasn't quite the right way. That's not so bad. The journey is its own reward.

Your YouTube channel is very successful all over the world and not long ago you surpassed the 500,000 follower milestone. What gave you the idea to turn "Laura Kampf" into a brand?

There were numerous reasons for that. On the one hand, I saw other makers like Jimmy DiResta on the internet and was so fascinated that he does everything himself. I always thought he had a lot of people helping him with his productions, but he actually does everything using a GoPro camera in his basement. So I thought to myself: You can do that too!

What has been your greatest investment as a maker?

My first and greatest investment was renting my own workshop. I was living in a one-bedroom flat to begin with and because of the lack of space I couldn't even really explore whether a career in crafts could be the right thing for me. Renting a workshop is very expensive. Back then, I moved out of my flat and sold my car. I used the money to buy myself a caravan straight away and lived in my workshop for the next five years. When it's -10 degrees in winter, you soon find out whether this is what you want or not (laughs).

Last question: Which project did your dog Smudo like best? Which project was he able to use best?

To answer both questions, the foldable sofa bed (laughs).