© Evonik / Photographer Stefan Wildhirt

Testing, improving, refining

Mathias Knuhr's ideas never let him rest. In an interview, the master carpenter explains the role played by the various materials, such as PLEXIGLAS®, and why no task can ever be difficult enough.

Mathias Knuhr is bursting with energy. He wants to talk about a player portrait on PLEXIGLAS® on the wall in Schreinerei Luther's lounge. But one floor below, a photo shoot is being prepared for a special collector's display case also made from the branded acrylic glass. The display case is to be shipped the following day – to Hollywood. Everything has to be perfect. One scratch and weeks of work would be destroyed. These are precisely the projects that interest the 46-year-old.

A special player portrait of the captain of the German the football club SV Darmstadt 98, Aytac Sulu, was made for a fund-raising campaign – on PLEXIGLAS®.

Knuhr: “The most interesting projects are the ones where you don’t have the solution from the start. You have an idea, test it, it still doesn’t work. Where’s the problem? It keeps on bugging me. I lie in bed and the thoughts whirl around my head the whole time. When I finally have an idea, I sometimes get up in the middle of the night, drive to the company and test it out.“

That sounds pretty stressful. What keeps you going?

Knuhr: “The eureka moment you have when it works is just wonderful! I don’t like to take the usual approaches all the time, but prefer trying out new things, creating innovations and developing existing techniques. The most fulfilling moment of my work is when something works out just as I expect.”

The eureka moment you have when it works is just wonderful!

Mathias Knuhr
Trained carpenter and state-certified wood technician, Carpentry Luther (Darmstadt)

A few years ago, Knuhr developed a technique for applying photographs to wood. Like a photo in the newspaper, the image is divided into a grid, such as using points in various shades of gray. These are then milled into a wooden plate. The different depths create various light effects, so the image is revealed when viewed from a sufficient distance. Woodcuts like this are often used for counter trim, the fronts of cabinets or tabletops. For a fund-raising project, Knuhr applied this technique on original PLEXIGLAS® to create an extraordinary, and even illuminated, player portrait.

To create the illuminated player portrait, you applied an established technique to a new material. What role do different materials, such as original PLEXIGLAS®, play in your innovations?

Knuhr: “They are incredibly important. You cannot take the next step without new materials constantly being invented. With the player portrait, we wanted to add lighting to the picture as the next step. This doesn’t work with wood, of course, but it works wonderfully with PLEXIGLAS® Satinice thanks to its transparency and excellent light scattering. It enables me to bring light to the surface but keep the light source hidden. Naturally, this is an exciting design element. In addition, we can completely process PLEXIGLAS® ourselves, from the plate to the final product, for example by milling, gluing or even molding.”

About the person

Mathias Knuhr is a trained carpenter and state-certified wood technician. As a child of the 80s, he is fascinated by computers. Even back then, he developed a passion for things of the future. Knuhr is married with one child.

Why is it important for you to be able to process the material yourself?

Knuhr: “I would like to get more out of the resources we have than we usually do, so PLEXIGLAS® is a fascinating product for me. For example, we use a press that we generally use for inlaying to heat the PLEXIGLAS® so that we can mold it. This is not the intended use of the press, of course, but it is possible and creates another new design vocabulary. The branded product is excellent for experimenting and helps us to find solutions for our ideas ourselves and put them into practice right away.”

The prototype for the player portrait took Knuhr two Saturdays of work. Using material offcuts, he milled new patterns again and again in order to find the right interplay between image and CNC milling. He ended up choosing a vertical lattice, into which he transferred the image with software he developed himself. This lattice consists of only two colors: the blue lines and the white space in between. In order to achieve this two-tone effect, the white PLEXIGLAS® Satinice sheet is painted blue on one side. The milling uncovers the white material, with different brightness depending on the milling depth. Viewed from the right distance, the lines reveal the image of the player.

You use a computer-controlled technique for milling. When they think of a carpentry workshop, most outsiders imagine working with wood. What do you enjoy about combining these worlds?

Knuhr: “For me, these worlds belong together. The computer-controlled milling ultimately only does the work that used to be done manually. First and foremost, our mill drills furniture, such as the sides of cabinets. But my focus is not on trivial things like that. Computer technology excites me – the ability to create and reproduce items with a new design vocabulary and high complexity with precision. In the past, this took an enormous amount of effort, if it was possible at all. With the player portrait, for example, the most difficult thing was to find out how deep the mill had to drill until a certain color value emerged. It was a matter of tenths of a millimeter. That is practically impossible by hand, so computer technology is a very important tool for development.”