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
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.
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
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.
Tobias: Which machines, power tools or hand tools could you not do without?
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.
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.
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!
Tobias: What is your standard finishing process for your pieces?
Paul: I use a variety of finishes depending on the item.
- 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.
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
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.