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The Woodworker Sessions #2 - 10 Questions with Paul Roberts of Pretoria

The Woodworker Sessions #2 - 10 Questions with Paul Roberts of Pretoria

On the Woodworker Sessions this week, I chat to Paul Roberts of Pretoria.

I first met Paul at the Knysna Timber Festival last year and spent a fascinating time chatting to him about his woodworking and the very productive activities of the Woodworking Association of Pretoria. Paul is a true gentlemen and is wonderfully passionate about all things woodworking. He is especially enthusiastic about sharing his knowledge with others and growing woodcraft in South Africa.

Paul Roberts of Pretoria

Question #1

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

Paul:    Both of my Grandfathers as well as my Father were involved in woodwork. In fact it must be in my genes, as my maternal Great Grandfather came out to the Cape as a ship’s carpenter, migrated to the Kimberley diamond fields and eventually became Mayor of Kimberley. We still have all of his diaries, which are of great historic interest. I still have a chest of drawers he made for his tools.

Great Grandfather's 120 year old Tool Chest

Woodwork has been an interest of mine since my school days in Worcester and Cape Town (Rondebosch Boy’s High School), when I gave up Latin to rather take woodwork! I took woodwork up to Standard 8 (Grade 10) and found that the drawing skills that I learnt, stood me in good stead for my civil engineering studies and career. I have a particular interest in cabinet making and turning.

Question #2

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

Paul:  I really enjoy planning, drawing and construction in particular. As an old-time civil engineer, my preference is to draw the plans by hand. I find that I have to relearn SketchUp each time and it does not come naturally. I enjoy “taming” the wood during preparation, particularly my Matumi (Mingerhout) which is rough sawn. Only upon planing does the grain emerge. As with most cabinet maker’s, finishing is the most tedious and least pleasurable!

Hand drawn by Paul Roberts

Question #3

Tobias:   Which are your favourite hand tools?
Paul:   I made a number of wooden planes in 2012 and get great satisfaction in using them. They have been shaped to fit my hands.
Shop made wooden planes and adjusting hammer in various indigenous woods. Shavings are thinner than 0.1 mm

Question #4

Tobias:   What are your favourite power tools and stationary machines?
Paul:    All of them! I bought a large bandsaw late in my woodworking career and I am becoming increasingly impressed with its versatility. Resawing is opening up new avenues (Morris chair arms). You can see my WWAP presentation on Band Sawing for Cabinet Maker’s at the following link:
My table saw and planer/thicknesser are essential tools for the preparation of timber. To see my mentorship presentation on the topic, simply follow this WWAP link: 

I find routers (either hand held or table mounted) to be essential to my woodcraft. I have also completed a number of courses with Denis Lock on router applications. 

Follow this link to go to Denis Lock's website: Routing with Denis

Paul's shopmade router table setup.

Question #5

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

Paul:   All of them! I have in recent years, migrated back to a greater use of hand tools, rather than concentrating predominantly on machines. In the Woodworking Association of Pretoria, we are also emphasising hand tool use and especially at our forthcoming Wood Craft Expo.

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?
Paul:   I have a double garage which is dedicated to woodwork. Space is always at a premium. I retired in 2003 from full time work, but since then have been doing part-time consulting in the water field.
At the end of 2017, I stopped this work and now spend around 30 hours per week on woodwork. I am currently the Convenor of the Cabinet Maker’s and Restorer’s Group in the Woodworking Association of Pretoria, which demands  time input. Belonging to such an Association is great, as there is a lot of useful networking on woodworking. I am also the Editor of our newsletter called Tambotie

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?


School project in Std. 8 in 1954: All work done by hand- no routing!

The wood is Philippine Mahogany and it has a varnish finish


School project in Std. 8 in 1954: Combined bedside cabinet and bookcase.

Construction included secret lapped dovetails.

The timber is Burmese Teak with a wax finish.

Paul:   I am currently busy with several projects:

  • A Queen Anne Lowboy. This is a Group Project in the Association where six woodworkers are each making a Lowboy. Most of them will be made of Walnut as the primary wood with Poplar for the secondary timber,  and some will be built in Mahogany with secondary Poplar.
  • A new Workbench with two vises, dogs etc. I should have made one years ago!
  • Completion of a second Morris Chair.


Question #8 

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

Paul:  I like to work with indigenous woods when feasible, but often have to resort to imported timber such as oak, walnut, poplar. During the 1970’s I was on construction on the Blyderivierspoort Dam and managed to obtain some Matumi (Mingerhout). I am still using it today. It is pleasant to work with and has an oily feel.

Byderivierspoort Dam

The tree is now a protected species. I was also presented with some ironwood from Knysna when I retired from the former Department of Water Affairs and Forestry. My son and I made a coffee table (heavy!) from it. The ironwood needs really sharp blades for machining!

Question #9

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

Paul:    I use a variety of finishes depending on the item.

Examples are:

  • Woodoc 10, an example is the Morris chair that I made last year
  • Sprayed on clear lacquer on balustrading below
  • Rubio Mono Coat for the staircase I made for our holiday home in Knysna. This was most useful as it needed only one coat and could take traffic in 24 hours.
  • I will probably use Danish oil and wax for the Lowboy Project.
  Morris chair in Matumi finished with multiple coats of Woodoc 10

  Balustrading at our holiday home in Knysna made from White Oak. I turned the newel posts, routed the top and bottom rails and had the balusters copy turned.


Staircase and handrail in Knysna. I turned and made all components

Question #10

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

Paul:  I am taking up wood carving for the embellishment of cabinets such as the Lowboy Group Project. 



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Tobias Lochner - June 17, 2018

A big thank you to Paul for sharing a little of his woodworking life with us.

Don - June 14, 2018

Great history! If only we had bought some decent woods in the ‘good old days’ when such was not only freely available but reasonably priced. Well done on the home made planes…

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