• Keilhofer teaches every student who is confounded by numbers the necessary understanding of stochastics and analytic geometry.

    Ginger Wood – A unique wood turner and his art.

    A young Bavarian keeps an old handicraft alive: wood turning. Franz Josef Keilhofer trusts his axe, listens to the wood rotating on his lathe during the week and shouts into the mic for his hardcore band on the weekends.

    Text: Bastian Fuhrmann | Photos: Nadine Schachinger

Ambassador for tourism.

Who would have expected to find such a specimen up here? The mountains at this point are steep and rugged. The tree rises one hundred feet into the air. Sweat drips from Franz Josef Keilhofer’s forehead onto the mill wheel meticulously tattooed on his forearm – which only motivates him more. With a single chop, he plunges the axe wedge into the yawning gap, sending one last sound high into the treetop. The ash teeters and falls. Not seven feet away stands Keilhofer, both feet firmly on the ground, deeply rooted in this piece of land. The red-bearded, fully tattooed young man is at first glance somewhat atypical for this patch of Germany. And yet Bavaria has named him its official ambassador for tourism. Maybe that’s precisely why. Because Keilhofer is rough-edged, a nonconformist. A guy just like the land. He looks down along the ash tree’s length and says: “The tree is affected by ash dieback. It’s practically dead already, and before the wood is completely unusable, I would rather fell it. With this ash, I more or less just finished the job. But it will live on in the form of some nice bowls.”

Sweat drips from Franz Josef Keilhofer’s forehead onto the mill wheel meticulously tattooed on his forearm.

More than just a simple raw material.

He goes into the barn and inspects his collection of crude wood. “Some wood is like wine,” says the teetotaller. “It has to ripen. You just can’t miss the proper storage period.” In Keilhofer’s storehouse there are ultimately up to forty different types of wood waiting to be processed at the right moment. Each type is subject to a different aging period. Some wood has to be processed within weeks. Oak is best stored in trunk form for at least five years. Only when the outside is completely rotten can the wood inside be worked perfectly. With beech, it doesn’t take quite as long for marbling to form. But be careful: if you work the wood too early, the pattern isn’t yet pronounced. “And if I wait too long, everything might fall apart under my tools,” explains Keilhofer. So he is constantly going back and forth between his workshop and warehouse.

The many types of wood are readily available and stacked precisely in his head. Keilhofer inspects them using all his senses because, for this wood turner, wood is much more than just a simple raw material. He relies on his nose: to him, oak smells of fresh lemon with a dash of vinegar. Olive wood, by contrast, smells like plum. Yew comes fairly close to dark chocolate. Teak has a slight tobacco note. And now close your eyes and roll the film: freshly cut ash smells like popcorn. “I’m in dialogue with the wood. I have to communicate with it. Sometimes I have to submit myself to it. Besides that I’m free to do as I like,” Keilhofer philosophises on his way to his workshop. “When part of one of these giants is rotating in front of me, I often wonder, ‘What have you seen? Who sat under you?’”

The lathe hums and a small furnace crackles in the corner of the workshop.

Backbreaking work.

The lathe hums and a small furnace crackles in the corner of the workshop. Outside of the tiny window is a clear view of the 8,901-foot-high Watzmann, Bavaria’s imposing limestone massif. Keilhofer takes a mature piece of wood and clamps it in his lathe. The struggle begins: with what’s known as a gouge, a kind of chisel with a hollow blade, he starts at a certain angle and follows the imaginary shape, like a potter, without pausing to think for even a moment. Within a few seconds, thick curls of wood are trapped in his beard, and mere moments later Keilhofer is standing in a mountain of shavings. He can only breathe through his nose now. The moisture escaping from the rotating wood splatters against him. In the front part of the workshop it has already left marks that Keilhofer has to paint over several times a year. In one spot it looks as if a motocross bike just left the forest and headed straight toward him at the lathe, riding up the wall and even briefly along the ceiling. “Wood turning is backbreaking work. But it’s only when I sweat and the wood starts to sing that all is right with me. It might sound paradoxical, but I even need hearing protection to really listen carefully.”

Symbol of preservation and security.

Later, when he takes out the finished turned bowl, he leaves it to dry and looks contentedly through his fogged safety glasses. Sometimes Keilhofer even paints his bowls with colourful lime paint. He also turns fountain pens and bottle caps. But he prefers to put his heart into big wooden bowls. “Sacrificial bowls, goblets, water basins: the idea of the bowl as a vessel can be seen in the shrines, temples and places of worship of almost all religions. It’s a symbol of preservation and security, supply and tranquillity,” says Keilhofer. He opens a strongbox and pulls out a special treasure: a plane from the Far East. “The planes from Japan are insanely sharp and, unlike a German plane, I pull it toward me. It’s much gentler on the wood,” explains the wood turner. Always toward the heart. Keilhofer loves being a craftsman; every tool has its own place in his workshop. But the path that led here wasn’t always entirely straightforward.

Franz Josef Keilhofer sawing through a piece of tree.

His own label “Ginger Wood”.

At school, he certainly got good grades but had few friends, he was trained in moulding technology, and after his second attempt to graduate from high school he studied to be an engineer, which he nevertheless soon gave up to devote himself exclusively to wood turning. Keilhofer wanted to do his own thing, to be free and go through life at his own pace. With the last of his money he bought a lathe.

His label is called Ginger Wood, which comes from Keilhofer’s red hair and his favourite material. But wood turning alone isn’t enough to survive. The tattoo-covered artisan also gives high school students assistance in math. “Of course, I have to help many students and parents pick their jaws up off the floor when they see me, their new tutor,” he says, laughing. If only they knew that, when time allows, Keilhofer also roars into the microphone as a singer in a hardcore band.

Franz Josef Keilhofer in the countryside with the Mercedes-AMG G 63.

Successful track record of the hardcore-singing mathematician.

But at the end of the day, what counts is the lathe-operating, hardcore-singing mathematician’s successful track record. Keilhofer teaches every student who is confounded by numbers the necessary understanding of stochastics and analytic geometry. “Mathematics means beauty,” enthuses the bearded wood turner. “The exterior shapes of many of my bowls are reminiscent of the arc of a parabola in the mathematical sense.” If you talk to Keilhofer about his appearance, he replies nonchalantly, “I’ve been sporting my tattoos and my beard for more than ten years. I grew it when not a single person knew that beards would become the urban uniform of creative types and IT geeks,” says the 31-year-old. Groupthink and people’s frivolous postings on Instagram and Facebook get on the wood turner’s nerves. “Only a few are true artists. Am I one? Instead I ask myself whether I want to be one at all.”

Franz Josef Keilhofer is a maker.

That’s why this Franz likes an idea of his namesake, St. Francis: he who works with his hands is a labourer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. And he who works with his hands, his head and his heart is an artist. To paraphrase Francis of Assisi. “In English, people like me are called makers,” says Keilhofer. “In German: Macher. I like that.”

The Mercedes-AMG G 63 in the Bavarian Forest.
A detailed view of the Mercedes-AMG G 63 in the Bavarian Forest.

Numerous features.

Two entities who forge their own paths and overcome almost any obstacle: Franz Josef Keilhofer and the new Mercedes-AMG G 63. One is a passionate wood turner who’s at home in the mountains. The other is the vehicle that takes him to the destination of his dreams. And not just any old how but with its 585 PS 4.0-litre V8 biturbo engine, 850 Newton metres of torque and standard switchable AMG Performance exhaust system. At the press of a button, the exhaust system creates an engine sound with an even more emotional acoustic pattern in the interior. Among other things, the rear-biased all-wheel drive (40:60), the extremely fast-shifting 9-speed automatic transmission as well as the adaptive damping are responsible for its characteristic AMG Driving Performance. Numerous features like the AMG specific radiator grille and the 22-inch wheels lend this legendary vehicle its extrovert outward appearance. Perfect on the road – and beyond the asphalt.