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In this week's Woodworker Sessions, I chat to Felix Unite, well known businessman, lover of the outdoors and passionate boat builder.
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!
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.
Tobias: What are your favourite hand tools?
Felix: My small Veritas and Lie-Nielsen Block Planes and my Japanese Pull Saw.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.