In the digital age, you don’t have to go to Hollywood to become a movie star.
Just ask Linn Orvar, a Corvallis resident who has hit the big time as the protagonist of her own channel on YouTube, where her how-to videos on woodworking and other do-it-yourself projects have created a dedicated following that has grown to more than a quarter-million subscribers.
Called Darbin Orvar (a riff on the name of her dog, Darwin), the channel has been around since late 2013 and features roughly 200 videos that have been watched nearly 17.9 million times. A sister channel, Darbin Notes, has more than 13,000 subscribers.
Orvar grew up in Sweden, where making things by hand is still very much a way of life. Swedish schoolchildren — both boys and girls — get regular instruction in woodworking and sewing from second through sixth grade.
She moved to Corvallis about 10 years ago to attend Oregon State University, where she met her future husband, Matt. They found themselves drawn to the budding maker movement and began to create videos about some of their projects, with Linn walking viewers through the process step by step in an engaging, approachable style delivered with a Swedish lilt.
As the videos began to catch on, the couple decided to take the plunge and turn their passion for DIY culture into their livelihood.
“We actually quit school to go into business,” Orvar said. “We’ve been doing it full time now for about three years.”
They started out by making instructional videos on simple woodworking projects and basic techniques (“Making Small Boxes with Framing Lumber,” “Finishing a Chair with Raw Linseed Oil and a Brick”), then gradually branched out into other fields from leatherworking to photography to electronics — even 3-D printing. One of their latest videos shows viewers how to put together a video editing computer.
Most of their videos are in the seven- to eight-minute range, but some can run twice as long.
“It depends on the project,” Orvar said. “Sometimes the project might be real involved and you want to show all the steps. Sometimes it might be something small.”
Almost all of their videos are shot at their southwest Corvallis home, where they have a carport outfitted with power tools and a small backyard workshop (which they built themselves, naturally) and a “makerspace” in what used to be the dining room.
Their most-watched video to date is a 9½-minute tutorial on making LED-illuminated wall cubes for displaying knickknacks. Posted a year ago, it has garnered 940,000 views so far.
Also among their greatest hits are videos on hot glue hacks, building your own Bluetooth speaker and how to bend PVC pipe using hot sand.
“Weird little tips and tricks can be really popular,” Orvar said. “It’s hard to know what people will like.”
Recent projects include a PVC desk lamp, a wooden box for storing photographs and an assortment of wallets, notebooks and other leather goods.
“Many projects are in the works at the same time,” she said.
“Our main goal is we more or less try to create one video a week on the main channel, and sometimes we make more impromptu videos on the second channel.”
The videos generate income in a number of ways, including a percentage of revenues from ads sold by YouTube and payments from sponsors such as Rockler Woodworking and Hardware, Home Depot, the web-hosting service Squarespace and Blue Apron, a meal kit home delivery company.
In addition to the two YouTube channels, there’s also a website (www.darbinorvar.com) that sells a small selection of Darbin Orvar merchandise, an Instagram account with more than 38,000 followers and a Twitter feed with almost 4,400 followers.
Orvar has been featured in Make magazine, a YouTube-produced documentary and a number of podcasts.
But she went into the business knowing fame has a price, and she has taken a number of steps to protect her privacy and that of her family (the couple’s first child, a boy named August, arrived in November).
For instance, Orvar is not Linn’s real last name — it’s a pseudonym she created to deflect unwanted attention.
“It’s a global business and we have a lot of fans, and (sometimes) they want to meet us,” explained Matt, who stays behind the camera while his wife serves as the face of the channel and the couple’s growing online brand.
“It’s a big international audience, 60 percent outside the United States,” he added. “She gets recognized in airports.”
And some fans, for better or worse, get a little too passionate.
“I get a lot of marriage proposals,” Linn said with a wry smile.
Nevertheless, Orvar and her husband (yes, fanboys, she really is married: see above) plan to keep building their modest digital empire.
In part, that’s because it enables them to earn a living by pursuing their passion for learning new skills and building things by hand. But it’s also because they’ve built up a genuine relationship with their audience and fellow online makers.
“I’m hoping to continue doing this many years from now,” Linn said. “I want to continue to grow the channel, especially (among) girls, because there’s not that many girls in this world.”
For Linn, one of the best things about her work is getting thank-you notes from young women who’ve been inspired by her videos to create their own projects.
“I love hearing that,” she said. “It’s very rewarding.”