Ole Böhrensen: A joiner’s journey.

A man and a dog posing between wooden boards and machines in a workshop

Ole is a passionate joiner and maintains the traditions of his trade – including his time travelling as a journeyman. He also travels to his own section of forest in his Sprinter to search for the perfect wood.

An office job? No thanks.

This closeness to nature has been part of Ole’s life since his early childhood. Both his father and grandfather were hunters and growing up outdoors made a career spent chained to a desk an unlikely choice. “I could not imagine working in an office job. I love the outdoors far too much for that.” In Ole’s case, he discovered his calling during an internship in a small village joinery. He soon realised that he enjoyed crafting his own creations. The master craftsman immediately offered him an apprenticeship and Ole began his vocational training at 16. After completing his journeyman exams, he spent the next three years as a wandering journeyman.

A man stands on a ladder leaning against a hide; a dog sits in front of him

As a child, Ole built raised hides out of wood with his grandfather.

The journeyman tradition: a three-year journey.

The journeyman tradition among craftsmen has a history extending back more than 800 years. What was once a mandatory step on the path to becoming an independent craftsman is now voluntary. Young craftsmen primarily use the time to improve their craft, broaden their horizons and escape from their familiar environment, explains Ole. What was the appeal for him? The idea of freedom, above all. The journeyman phase had its highs and lows. “When you are travelling through a rural area and there are very few cars and you are soaked to the bone from being out in the rain and cannot find a place to sleep, then you sometimes ask: What am I doing here?” But the next day always brings a change of heart: “You quickly learn to keep your spirits up and keep on moving forward.”

While journeying, I expanded my horizons many times over.
Journeyman’s garb hanging on a wooden plank

The journeyman’s garb indicates which guild the journeyman belongs to.

A book on a wooden panel surrounded by woodchips

Ole spent three and a half years travelling around the world as a wandering journeyman.

An open book with numerous entry stamps

He travelled through 20 different countries.

An open book with handwritten text on a wooden panel

While travelling, the joiner gained invaluable new experience and met many people along the way.

An open book with hand-written text and photo

Ole’s insight from his journeyman years: there are so many beautiful places, but there is still no place like home.

Broader horizons.

During his journeyman years, Ole travelled through different countries and worked on construction sites far different from those in Europe. “For example, in Asia the scaffolding is made entirely of bamboo rather than metal.” The machines can also be somewhat “adventurous”. “Often you only have a hand planer and a circular saw – which only works when you twist the wires together. You just have to get used to that.” Communication problems are also completely normal. Instead of an architectural drawing, a model may need to be quickly constructed to show the workers just how the finished building is supposed to look.

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A master joiner with a passion.

Once he had returned home, he completed his craftsman’s diploma and became an independent artisan. Ole’s joinery offers a broad range of services: from manufacturing doors and windows to restoring buildings and also furniture. The diversity is the best part of his job, says Ole. “I enjoy producing the parts and then putting them together like a jigsaw puzzle. They create a finished product which is always unique.” Because he spends a lot of time in the section of forest that he owns, he can literally watch the wood growing. When the trees are ready, he fells them himself and uses the wood to create his own works.

  • Hands working a piece of wood with a file
  • A man carries a ladder into the forest past a Sprinter
  • A Mercedes-Benz Sprinter parked in a warehouse between stacks of wood
  • Hands planing a piece of wood

For the environment: sustainable work with wood.

Sustainability has always been a particularly important aspect of his work. “We only use certified wood which we purchase from our regional lumber supplier.” Ole also fells his own trees, mills the wood and stores it so that it is ready for use after several years of storage and drying. “I recommend that anyone who wants to make a contribution to using sustainable wood focus on regional suppliers. In other words: ask the local joiner.” This is also why he sees a lot of opportunities for the joinery trade in the future: “I believe that people are once again becoming increasingly interested in individual and good quality instead of mass produced furniture.”

10 things you should know about the journeyman years.

The journeyman years – whatever the trade, they all have one thing in common: the time which certified journeymen spend travelling. But what is the story behind this centuries-old tradition?

  1. From the late Middle Ages into the beginning of the industrial age, the three-year journeyman period was mandatory for the master examinations. Today, travelling journeymen have become a rarity among the trades. Since 2015, the journeyman’s journey has been a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage.
  2. Maintaining this tradition, craftsmen from the various trades set out on their journey. However, they are required to belong to a guild. These guilds are the historical form of modern trade associations.
  3. The purpose: during the journeyman years, journeymen had the opportunity to discover new working methods, new places and countries while gaining life experience and living a frugal life.
  4. Single, childless, debt-free, less than 30 years old and with successfully completed journeyman’s examinations: these are the prerequisites for most guilds.
  5. Money, money, money: as a rule, the journeymen leave home with no money and may only return with empty pockets. They finance their wandering years by working.
  6. To work in a town, every travelling journeyman requires a “permit” from the local mayor. This is granted during a personal meeting. What happens at these meetings is a closely guarded secret and only passed on from journeyman to journeyman.
  7. During these years, they are known as wandering journeymen. Throughout their journeyman years, they must maintain a minimum distance from their home town: usually 50 km.
  8. Journeymen are only permitted to travel by foot or to hitchhike. A vehicle of their own is strictly prohibited.
  9. The dress code: every guild has its own traditional garb. One piece of clothing that they all wear is the “respectability”, which can easily be confused with a type of necktie. This is given to the apprentice after their journeyman examinations and represents their guild membership.
  10. The German term “Schlitzohr” (slit ear/scoundrel) has its origin in the journeyman tradition. Before beginning the journey, many journeymen had an ear pierced and wore a golden earring as a reserve for hard times or also as a means of punishment: if a journeyman failed to behave respectably, their master was entitled to tear out this earring.

A man carrying a ladder walks through a sparse forest with a dog by his side

The journeyman years have a long tradition among the trades and were a valuable experience for Ole.

A man cuts a piece of wood in a workshop

The master joiner has always enjoyed working with his hands.

A man measures a solid piece of wood

Ole takes the time to carefully examine the material at his trusted lumber supplier.

Photos: Kai Knörzer

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