Skip to content
The Woodworker Sessions #9 - Ten Questions with Felix Unite of Cape Town

The Woodworker Sessions #9 - Ten Questions with Felix Unite of Cape Town

In this week's Woodworker Sessions, I chat to Felix Unite, well known businessman, lover of the outdoors and passionate boat builder.


Question #1

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

Felix: I’ve been involved in yachting and canoeing since 10 or 12 years old. I built a Dabchick at school, with my buddy, John Robertson - in his garage. He has gone on to be one of the largest ocean going catamaran manufacturers in the world – a billion rand business! I still struggle to make a wooden canoe!

Question #2

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

Felix: I like working out the strategy of solving canoe-building challenges – often in a somewhat unconventional manner. I like seeing the grain of my laminations coming to life as I start the finishing processes of fairing and sanding – the feeling of satisfaction of good jointing is very gratifying.

It's not so pleasant when one has a mix of epoxy gelling halfway through a lamination and one lands up with a laborious remedial job. I must confess to “contracting out” this type of thing.


Question #3

Tobias: What are your favourite hand tools?

Felix: My small Veritas and Lie-Nielsen Block Planes and my Japanese Pull Saw.

Question #4

Tobias: What are your favourite power tools and stationary machines?

Felix: Definitely my Bosch folding table saw for ripping 6m beams into 4mm x 20mm x 6m strips.

Also my Festool Table, Festool Circular Saw, Festool Cordless Drill and Festool Rotex Sander.

Question #5:

Tobias: What machines, power tools or hand tools could you not do without?

Felix: Without doubt the De-Humidifier, as I live close to the sea in Kalk Bay – this saves my tools from rusting in winter and my nifty micro plane bevelling frame that I imported from the USA. This allows me to bevel the edges of my strips when building a strip-planked boat, where the joint angle is constantly changing.   Also, those tools mentioned in Question #4.

Question #6

Tobias: Do you use a dedicated space for your craft, what floor area do you have and how much time do you manage to spend on woodworking per week?

Felix: I have a substantial garage – but it also houses 2 cars. So 40 or so m2 permanently available. Woodworking is very much a part-time exercise and I have done 2 boats recently – which took a year or so each. Probably 200 hours for each one.

Things like mosaics, playing guitar, running businesses, being on holiday, cycling and canoeing, amongst others, also take up a lot of time!


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?

Felix: I made a couple of stools & things in Std 5 & 6 at school woodwork classes. Built a sailing boat to race when I was 16. There were always rudders and so-on to shape, surf boards to shape, glass, and use. That was all in my youth.

But I think I get the most joy out of designing and building my own strip planked boats – when there is no time pressure and one can have access to a project anytime one is feeling that way inclined.


Question #8

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

Felix: I predominantly use Western Red Cedar, Obeche, Ash and Spruce. I look forward to experimenting with various other species – but these are the ones I have come to know fairly well and understand.


Question #9

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

Felix: Generally the boats I’ve done are glassed, faired and polished. They sometimes get a coat of Polyurethane for UV resistance. On laminated paddles I use a clear Glatex 8.

Question #10

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

Felix: Firstly, I have no arsenal! But there’s a relationship between my love of handling beautiful timber, a few self-taught capabilities, and the satisfaction of producing things that I use in my everyday life.

My next discipline will be to make a guitar.

I’m happy living with the basics that I have – and that which I’ve accumulated over the past 20 or so years. I don’t like too much stuff, and enjoy “making do” where possible. If I’m not going to use it fairly frequently, I’d rather not have it. My woodworking will remain un-technical. 


Previous article The Woodworker Sessions #10 - 10 Questions with Ennis Venter of Cape Town
Next article The Woodworker Sessions #8 - 10 Questions with Joel Harris of Hillcrest in KZN


Johan Pieterse - November 26, 2018

Sounds like a great deal, I will have to put on my shipwright apron sharpen the tools and get building!

Tobias Lochner - November 25, 2018

No you are talking!! Good for you Johan. If you restore the boats and join Felix at the Festival, I will build you your own Chevalet de Marqueterie! Do we have a deal?

Johan Pieterse - November 25, 2018

Tobias, On second thoughts, I have a restoration project of A 50 year old wooden Wayfarer, sailing dinghy sitting on the shelf, perhaps I could finish the project in time for the Stanford Festival. See: Our Wayfarer journey.

Johan Pieterse - November 25, 2018

Hi Tobias/Felix, the Stanford Wooden Boat Festival sounds great, I would like to go, but don’t have a wooden boat at the moment to show or use! I have a tight schedule preparing for 5 Exhibitions next year, however I will endeavour to go!

Tobias Lochner - November 25, 2018

Hi Johan. Thanks for the wonderful comments. Are you going to join Felix at the Stanford Wooden Boat Festival in March?

Johan Pieterse - November 24, 2018

Awesome boats and very good craftsmanship, I also like your philosophy of keeping it uncomplicated and using basic tools. Wooden boat building is my first passion and what I enjoy most about building wooden boats, is using 90% Hand tools. I really enjoyed your writing and Pic’s Great Article, Thank you for sharing!

Tobias Lochner - November 21, 2018

Stanford Wooden Boat Festival incorporated into the Stanford River Festival.
If you are a wooden boating enthusiast, come and join the fun at the Stanford River Festival on the first week-end of March 2019. The SRF attracts in the region of 200 participants each year on the quiet, sheltered waters of the Kleinrivier.

While it forms part of the WCCU racing program, the majority of participants are social “boaters” with no interest in competition.

This is an opportunity for people interested in canoeing, woodworking, and in particular, DIY building of wooden boats, to get together on and off the water and “compare notes”. This is an ideal opportunity to share one another’s building experiences, and get ideas from accomplished builders and materials/hardware suppliers.

We are expecting participation from DIY boat-builders from as far afield as Knysna and the Free State.

Any further enquiries can be referred to Felix Unite ( tel 082 4927914).

All responses to this mail will be added to a mailing list and you will be sent further information early in the new year
Please share this mail with any boating/woodworking mates you feel may have an interest in joining the fun on 2nd & 3rd March next year at the Stanford River Festival.

Leave a comment

Comments must be approved before appearing

* Required fields