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The Woodworker Sessions #1  -  10 Questions with Don MacIver of Stanford

The Woodworker Sessions #1 - 10 Questions with Don MacIver of Stanford

In this new blog series, I  chat with woodworking enthusiasts from all over South Africa. They might be hand tool aficionados, power tools specialists, tool collectors or anything in between.

We have an astoundingly diverse spectrum of woodworkers throughout our country; box makers, turners, marqueters, plane makers, Honey-Do Specialists, shabby chic builders, period reproduction enthusiasts, Danish post modern style, carvers, mixed media makers, puppet makers, boatbuilders, restorers, scroll sawyers, home renovators, hand plane makers, art furniture creators, the list is entirely endless and never ceases to amaze me. 

Our greater South African woodworking family includes accountants, doctors, surgeons, chiropractors, housewives, farmers, steel fabricators, girlfriends, IT specialists, bankers, land surveyors, stockbrokers, pharmacists, plumbers, surfers, home renovators, academics, CEO's, foresters, luthiers, scientists, earthmovers, ship captains, youngsters, retirees, disabled people, businessmen and women, cinematographers, photographers, teachers and mentors.

I firmly believe that it is our love of creating things, useful or otherwise with our hands, that brings us together. Whether we practise our craft in solitude, as a meditative and relaxing process, or love the noise of our power tools and machines, create things with our children, collaborate with others, we are all creators at heart, it is a human condition, a positive act and an immensely rewarding one.

To get the series going, I contacted ten of my woodworking friends to answer the same ten questions.

My first interviewee is Don MacIver, a good friend with a wonderfully wry  Scottish sense of humour and a workshop building that turns me green with envy. He tells me that it was originally the old jail cell building in Stanford. Now it is in his front garden! Don's coffee is great, he is highly inventive, is always willing to share and his energetic enthusiasm is highly infectious!

Don MacIver - Stanford, Western Cape

Don's Barn

Question #1

Tobias: How, why and when did you become interested in woodworking? 

Don:   I first became interested in woodwork after a visit to Australia in 1995. The rage at the time was to take an ancient, weathered fence post, Jarrah or similar wood, and turn (lathe) part of it into some smooth highly polished shape making an amazing contrast between the old rough weathered parts and the rich colours enhanced by the artist’s skill and imagination. I ended up buying a lathe and unsuccessfully trying my hand at it, until work pressures and other forms of woodwork intervened.

Question #2

Tobias:    What aspects of your craft do you find the most and the least enjoyable?

Don:   For the least enjoyable, I have to say that I hate trying to work on something without proper support, or having to work in an uncomfortable position due to stuff lying around the workshop. 

Don MacIver with his new Sjobergs Elite Workbench

Making something out of nothing always gives me a kick, like making a straight and square plank out of an old log or doorframe and then taking it a step further into something useful.

Question #3

Tobias:   Which are your favourite hand tools?
Don:  My favourite hand tools have to be my hands. Without them I can do nothing. Any skill I may have resides in their ability to guide a saw or plane to produce whatever my mind conjures up. They are irreplaceable tools for life.

Question #4

Tobias:   What are your favourite power tools and stationary machines?
Don:    The router probably heads the list for favourite power tool. It really is a multi-purpose tool capable of producing such a variety of different cuts and finishes.
My favourite machine tool has to be my table saw with its Incra TS-LS Fence. The ability to produce a piece of dimensioned timber from rough sawn wood, a log or scrap, to an accuracy of fractions of a millimetre, sits well with my enjoyment of making something out of nothing.

Question #5

Tobias:   What machines, power tools or hand tools could you not do without?
Don:  I believe in having the right tools and machines for the job, so basically if I don’t have or can’t get the right machine or hand tool, I’m probably not going to do the work. I recently took delivery of my new Sjobergs Elite workbench. This 2 metre solid European Beech beast with its beautifully made hold downs, massive steel bench dogs and two vises is my new pride and joy!

Question #6

Tobias:   Do you use a dedicated space for your craft, what floor area do you have available and how much time do you manage to spend on woodworking per week?
Don:  I have about 40m2 for my workshop with the ability to move outside, weather permitting. I also have about 90m2 of storage which is unfortunately not suitable to expand into.

Question #7

Tobias:   What was the first piece you ever made, what is your favourite piece and what is the next piece you wish to build?

Don: My first and favourite piece is an oak side table/drinks cabinet I made for SWMBO.

The next project, apart from workshop drawers etc, will be a copy of an old SA post office sloping desk which SWMBO’s group of art enthusiasts has requested, as well as a new artist's tote, especially designed to hold 50 or so tubes of artists oil paint.

Sample of the Post Office Desk for Don's latest project

Question #8

Tobias:   What are your favourite timbers to work with, what timbers do you avoid and why?

Don:  SA pine is good for practicing on and "cheap 'n nasty" furniture. Not worth the effort!  I try to avoid Douglas fir (Oregon pine) as it is pretty unpleasant to work with, although attractive results can be had if you avoid detailed work. There are many lovely woods, but perhaps selecting the right piece of the right timber for the job, is what it is all about. You will not want to make braai wood out of African Blackwood at R700,000.00 per cube.

Question #9

Tobias: What is your standard finishing process for your pieces?

Don:  I usually use Woodoc followed by a coat of wax polish applied with a buffing machine, but oiling is also an option. It depends on the end product.

Question #10

Tobias:   If you could add another discipline to your woodworking arsenal, what would it be?

Don:  I would really like to get into sawmilling and drying wood properly. I remember seeing a container converted into use as a drying oven(?). Maybe one day I will follow up on this.


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Tobias Lochner - June 10, 2018

Hi Hennie. Good to hear from you. The African Blackwood that Don is referring to is Dalbergia melanoxylon which is native to seasonally dry regions of Africa from Senegal, east to Eritrea and south to the north-eastern parts of South Africa. It is used in the manufacture of musical instruments such as clarinets, oboes and flutes, for inlay and fine furniture. The current average USA price is around $10,000 per Kilogram! Here is South Africa, this timber will set you back a cool R720,000 per cubic metre when you can find it!

Hennie Goddard - June 9, 2018

Great workshop….but I am wondering who is selling that blackwood at that price?

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