The Woodworker Sessions #13 - 10 Questions with Allen Petrie of Salt Rock, Kwazulu-Natal

Posted by Tobias Lochner on

Allen Petrie and his talented woodworking wife Liza, own Greenhaus in Salt Rock, KZN. Their woodworking enthusiasm, creativity and passion is fast becoming legendary!

Allen Petrie in his "Happy Place"!

Baynesfield Woodcrafter's Workshop

Question #1

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

Allen: I became interested in woodworking about 15 years ago, when I moved from the Western Cape to KZN. My rented garden cottage was on the property of a certain Chris Parr, an SAA pilot and keen woodworker. Watching Chris inspired me to try and make a bookshelf with a friend and before I knew it, the bug had bitten.

Allen & Liza's GreenHaus Storefront in Salt Rock, KZN

When my wife, Liza and I bought our own home, I earmarked the garage as “my workshop”. Tool collecting and learning started in earnest. A new home is a great excuse to make your own furniture and so that’s exactly what we did. Liza and I made our kitchen table (still in use today) and many more items followed.

 

Question #2

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

Allen: The part I enjoy the most is “the handover” when we deliver items of furniture to clients. It’s so rewarding to see the reaction to our hard work and the time we’ve put in to make each item as well as we can.

Our Factory's Finishing Department

All the hours of sanding and finishing become worth it.

The part I enjoy the least is sanding. While it’s the most critical part of any job and I appreciate that, it’s still boring (if you’re doing it right)

 

Question #3

Tobias: What are your favourite hand tools?

Allen: I’m a hand tool NUT! I collect and restore hand tools, mostly planes and chisels.

I don’t go a single day without using my Lie Nielsen Block Plane or my Stanley Sweetheart Low Angle Jack.  I’ve also come to appreciate Japanese tools more and more.

Question #4

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

Allen: My favourite (and most versatile) power tool would either be my cordless Makita circular saw or my Makita trim router. The quality of these tools are unmatched and the router has so many more applications than people often realise.

As far as stationary machines go, we have a 900mm drum sander in the factory. I couldn’t ever live without it.

 

Question #5

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

Allen: From a machine point of view, the table saw has to be the one that I can't live without. It’s a Martlet Contractor's Saw. While I have a panel saw, it’s the Martlet that’s been the workhorse for the last 12 years.

My Stanley 18V Lithium Ion Cordless Drill is, without doubt, the best value-for-money drill on the market. I use mine all day, every day. I have 18 cordless drills, every make in SA and I can say, hand-on-heart, that the Stanley is in a league of it’s own.

Hand tools are my passion, so it’s hard to choose. It’s a toss up between the Stanley Low Angle Jack and my Card Scraper – the most underrated tool in the shop.

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?

Allen: I’m fortunate in that I have three workshops. One at home, where my lathe and bandsaw live, my handtool workshop in our Greenhaus store and our production facility in KwaMashu at Furntech.

The production facility is about 2000 square meters and we are fortunate enough to have access to every kind of machine.

My home workshop is in a double garage and I’ve taken up half of it.

The Hand Tool Workshop in the Greenhaus store is about 50sqm and this is where I teach classes and courses at the four dedicated workbenches.

 

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?

Allen: The first significant piece of furniture I ever made was our kitchen table. It was a weekend project for my wife Liza (also a qualified cabinet maker and upholsterer) and I. We still use it every day.

My favourite piece is a walnut and ash dining table with waterfall legs. It has a metal frame embedded in the top to give it support.

I have a chair design in my head that I really want to make. I just need time.

 

Question #8

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

Allen: I love working with Kiaat, Marupa, Ash and Walnut. Oak is incredibly powerful and I always warn customers of its ability to move. I love the smell and look of oak but here at the KZN coast, I look for more stable woods. Thermally treated woods are brilliant and stable, although very dry.

The woods that I tend to avoid are Cottonwood (too much reversing grain), Cedar (smelly) and reclaimed Baltic Pine (not worth the effort).

Question #9

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

Allen: I’ve learnt that in retail, the finish is everything. An average piece finished well, will sell. A beautiful piece, finished badly, will not. We take a lot of care when sanding. There are no shortcuts worth taking.

We use a sanding sealer, sometimes a wood conditioner, and then 3 – 4 coats of topcoat. Customers seem to like matt finishes, so we use a lot of water based, matt polyurethanes.

 

Question #10

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

Allen: Definitely carving. I’d love to be better at it and make carving a feature on some pieces. It’s a whole new discipline that I’ve yet to become proficient in.

This is my nice "to have" list.

  • More space!!
  • 1300mm wide Drum Sander.
  • Festool everything! 

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