One iPhone case is much like the other unless it’s made of figured walnut wood from a retired woodworker in California and feels like the surface of a finely-sanded and well-made piece of antique cabinetry. That’s why Kerf Cases, a Pittsburgh-based manufacturer, is so cool.
The founder, Ben Saks, has been working in wood for most of his life. While working at Carnegie Mellon University he created his first case using a manual milling machine and then, over the next six months, he perfected his design. He became an artist residency at Alpha Lab Gear in 2014 and then joined Techship Pittsburgh where he honed his product. Finally he opened a facility in Pittsburgh’s East End.
Saks makes cases for iPhones and the Pixel. They start at $99 and are available in multiple woods including mahogany, cherry, and maple. All of the pieces come from salvaged trees and Saks makes wallets and iPad accessories as well.
“‘Kerf’ is the thickness of material removed from a saw blade, usually measured in 1/1000 of an inch. This standard wood working term is important to KerfCase’s philosophy, as it represents the precision needed to make our wood iPhone cases,” said Saks. “Every piece of wood has a story, whether it’s a piece of reclaimed flooring, or a beautiful burled wood from a local tree which was damaged in a storm. Our woodworking is a continuation of this story, connecting you to the history of the material.”
“Kerf is not a startup, and it took us a long time to realize this. Our value proposition is not something that is scalable like software. By scaling, we would lose the most important aspects of our business. We have grown slowly and organically, through word-of-mouth and a small, dedicated fanbase,” he said.
The case I tested, a deep and dark walnut model, is smooth and cool to the touch and actually amplifies the speaker thanks to the way the wood surrounds the entire phone. It’s quite light and feels far nicer than the original rubber case. It’s no richly inlaid wooden case hand-made by a blind woodcutter but, I suspect, it’s the next best thing.