Rudolf Zuidema of R.A. Woodcraft in Cape Town is a passionate and acutely talented cabinetmaker. His drive for quality and accuracy in his craft is is wonderfully evident throughout his workshop.
From his carefully chosen layout and measuring tools, table saw system and ultimately his finished furniture, Rudolf's work ethic and pursuit for quality stands tall, proud and admired by his ever expanding clientele and fellow woodworkers alike.
Whether Rudolf is creating a gracefully curved high-end set of chairs, a pair of mid-century modern nightstands, a pergola swing seat with classic period influence written into every rail and stile, or a large order for an African Safari Lodge, his passion, determination and attention to the finest detail is wonderfully abundant in every piece he creates!
Tobias: How, why and when did you become interested in woodworking?
Rudolf: That’s a really difficult moment to pinpoint. With years of hindsight and a foray into the world of sales & marketing, I’d have to say that it has always been a part of who I am and how I’ve been put together.
I find few things more satisfying than the process of creating something from nothing. Seeing something unfold from some rough notes/sketches/ideas to that last finishing touch, just makes me tick.
Looking further back though, I think I grew into woodworking thanks to the encouragement from my parents, High School Woodwork teacher, my Journeyman during my tenure as an Apprentice Joiner/Wood Machinist at Wynberg Joinery Works and my mentor Bert Parker, who helped me prepare for the 34th World Skills Competition in St. Gallen, Switzerland in 1997.
They all helped foster what my parents always said was my strongest talent, into the skills that I now have that help provide for my family.
This is something that I am infinitely grateful for and try to give back in the sharing of knowledge with other woodworkers whenever I have the chance.
Tobias: What aspects of your craft do you find most enjoyable and least enjoyable?
Rudolf: As I mentioned before, I love the process of creation and everything that comes with it. I try not to think too much about what I like and don’t like in what I do every day as, having to earn a living from my trade I have to do everything to the best of my abilities, and I try hard not to develop a bias against anything.
That said, I do particularly enjoy selecting and machining solid timber for a workpiece. There’s something about taking rough timber and watching it come to life as I’m planning and sawing it into the pieces that I need and imagining how the individual characters of the pieces will add to whatever I’m creating.
I dislike working with Chipboard & MDF the most, however much they serve their purpose in my work I just don’t like working with the stuff; it simply has no soul or character.
Tobias: What are your favourite hand tools?
Rudolf: To say I love tools is an understatement, I love what they allow me to do and I absolutely love tools.
My favourites would definitely be:
- My full set of Marples Blue Chip Chisels that I’ve had since my apprenticeship.
- Spear & Jackson Tenon & Dovetail Saw that I was given as a gift by my mentor Bert Parker.
- Every single one of my Woodpeckers T-Square, Squares and Rulers.
- No.7 Stanley Hand Plane that I bought last year and restored.
- My workbenches, particularly my PaulK workstation.
Tobias: Which are your favourite power tools and stationary machines?
Rudolf: In powertools, without a doubt my Festool DF500 Domino by a massive margin! It just makes making precise joints a breeze and is so versatile.
Then there’d be my 12V Bosch Cordless Drills, compact, lightweight and powerful, my Bosch GOF 1600 router with the interchangeable bases and track adapter and my Kreg Router Table.
On the stationary machine side, definitely my Record CL3x36 Swivel Head Lathe that I was given for my 21st birthday, although I really wish I had more time and opportunity to use it.
And of course, my Powermatic PM1000 Cabinet Saw with it's Sawstop Sliding Crosscut table is the heart of the workshop.
Tobias: What machines, power tools or hand tools could you not do without?
Rudolf: Toolwise I can’t imagine being without these, however even saying that, there’s not a tool in my workshop that hasn’t earned its place over the years.
- Powermatic PM1000 Tablesaw with Sawstop sliding crosscut table
- All of my workbenches.
- All of my Woodpeckers Tools for layout and measuring.
- 2m Folding Ruler.
- All of my Cordless Drills.
- Bosch GEX150 Turbo eccentric sander
- Deadblow Hammer
- Bevel Edge Chisels & Hand Planes. J
- Silky Japanese Folding Saw
- 27” iMac that I use for doing all of my workshop drawings on using Sketchup.
- And of course, the workshop fridge that keeps the beers at hand for those end of day cold ones!
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?
Rudolf: Yes, I share a 140m2 workshop with Hennie Goddard (Urban Woodsman). We set it up together to share resources and minimise expenses.
We’ve divided the space into a communal machine shop and then two separate workspaces.
The Machine shop houses a a Surfacer, Thicknesser, 2 x Table Saws, Bandsaw, Router Table, Drill Press, Mitre Saw and Belt/Disc Sander.
My dedicated work area has two traditional workbenches with built in tool cabinets that I built as well as a Paulk Workbench that I use for assembly and a finishing table for sanding and final finishing.
I have a 2400mm x 1200mm Outfeed Table on the Powermatic Table Saw that also serves as an extra assembly/finishing table when required.
We also have a communal kitchenette/office with mandatory kettle and beer fridge, as well as storerooms for our individual power tools, consumables and sundries.
Making my living doing woodwork, I get to spend the whole week in the workshop making things for other people which is great!
I do however, wish that I could manage some more time in the workshop making what I want to make!
Tobias: What was the first piece you ever made, what is your favourite piece and what is the next piece you wish to build?
Rudolf: My first piece would have to be the solid Oak coffee table I made for my parents in Std 7. It’s a real beast of a table at 1800mm x 1000mm. I made a miscalculation on my rail lengths so the top and frame don’t line up as intended!
Fortunately, the joinery work was good, so my parents were happy with it nonetheless. My mom still has the table and despite offers of fixing it, she insists on keeping it as is! Now it’s a permanent reminder of how important planning and setting out of projects is and that beauty is entirely in the eye of the beholder.
From an emotional perspective the Pallet Wood Kennel that I built with my two daughters for Mandela Day and the Spruce Kitchenette with working tap that I built for my youngest daughter’s birthday brought me immense joy. Sharing my trade with the girls, seeing their enthusiasm for building something and watching the joy the little one gets from her kitchenette is priceless!
As a woodworker my favourite projects at the moment are; A solid Oak Shaker style pantry cupboard I made last year. It just came together beautifully, and the client was ecstatic with the end result! and a Victorian style swing bench and pergola which was such a fun project and wonderful change from my normal projects.
The next pieces that I would like to build are a jewellery box for my wife from some reclaimed Burmese Teak with hand cut dovetails and concealed compartments.
Building some new furniture for our house to replace the Ikea stuff that we have from our time in the UK ,is also on the cards!
Tobias: What are your favourite timbers to work with & what timbers do you avoid?
Rudolf: My all time favourite timber is Burmese Teak, I only wish it was more available and budget friendly.
From an everyday perspective,I enjoy working with Oak. It’s a classic timber that lends itself to any style of furniture and is quite affordable in terms of hardwoods.
I also enjoy working with Thermo Poplar, Maple, Kiaat and Ash.
Other materials that I use extensively are Birch Ply and Spruce wood panels when I need to use boards for veneering.
I’m not a huge fan of Iroko, Afromosia & SA Pine, I have had bad experiences working with them.
Tobias: What is the standard finishing process for your pieces?
Rudolf: This would generally depend on the client and the final look that they wish to achieve.
I use a lot of Jaxoleum Oil Based Stain, it’s a similar product to Rubio Monocoat, but manufactured locally.
Pieces that we oil, are sanded down to 150 Grit for soft wood and 120 Grit for hardwood as the lower grit finish allows for better absorption of the oil.
I also use a lot of Woodoc Polywax Sealer and Plascon Aquasafe Waterbased Furniture Lacquer. They are both great local products which produce a wonderful finish and are extremely durable. I’ve used both on my workshop furniture and am constantly amazed at the amount of abuse they tolerate.
When using traditional sealants like these, we sand the wood down to a 220 Grit finish prior to applying the sealant, as lower grit finishes tend to leave scratches that are highlighted when the sealants are applied.
Tobias: If you could add another woodworking discipline to your arsenal, what would it be?
Rudolf: I’d love to improve my turning skills. I love woodturning and find it quite therapeutic, so would love to do more of it.
I’d also like to learn carving, I’ve never had the time to try it, much but am definitely now a lot more interested in the skill, following a holiday to Zanzibar and a visit there to a local joinery that makes the traditional Zanzibar doors that are very intricately carved.
- A Felder machine, probably a combination machine of sorts, not stressed as long as it’s a Felder! I worked on these at World Skills and it’s been a lifelong dream owning one!
- Festool DF700 Domino Machine.
- Drum, Bobbin & Edge Sanders.
- Spindle Moulder.
- Clamps, Clamps & More Clamps!
- Another Paulk Workbench.
- A Mezzanine Floor in the workshop.
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