Q: How, why and when did you become interested in woodworking?
Tobias: I became fascinated with woodwork at a very young age. My father was an extremely technically orientated person. He was qualified in a number of trades and at one time all apprentices in SA did their final trade test under him. An extremely hard taskmaster and a very stern critic!
Although his specialities revolved around working with metal, I was always drawn to wood. I remember making a simple wooden box at the age of about five and showed it to him, I was told it wasn't square, he broke it into pieces and told me to do it again properly. Looking back, that lesson still remains in my mind, if one is going to make the effort to build something, it makes sense to do it right!
Growing up around antique furniture (my grandfather was an avid collector) also gave me the opportunity to learn upholstery and restoration from my father and this allowed me to really go inside period furniture pieces and see how they were built.
I am constantly fascinated by the historical methods of furniture construction, the unsurpassed beautiful lines of pre-industrial furniture and the tools that were used.
Q: What aspects of your craft do you find most enjoyable and least enjoyable?
Tobias: I love designing, building and teaching. I believe that I am a good student of the craft and the more I learn, the more I realise just how little I know! For me, it is a constant process of challenging myself. I always use traditional joinery methods, proportioning methods and hand tools wherever I can.
I derive immense pleasure from the tactility of my hand tools and tend to use machines only as a means to an end for basic preparation of stock. I dislike sanding intensely. Sanding tears the wood fibres, as opposed to cleanly cutting or shaving them. I don't see the point in sanding a piece of wood, when hand planing will yield an infinitely better result. A piece of wood that has been finish-planed exhibits an inherent lustre that is impossible to achieve with sandpaper, no matter how fine the grit. Finish-planed wood also takes a finish more easily, more evenly and with far better final results. Sanding also tends to blur any crisp lines and features of a piece.
Veritas #62-1/2 low angle Jack Plane
Q: What are your favourite hand tools?
Tobias: I enjoy all of my hand tools immensely.
The following would be my Top 30:
- Luban #102 bronze low angle Block Plane
- Lie-Nielsen bronze Side Rebate Planes (matched left & right pair)
- Veritas #62-1/2 low angle Jack Plane
- Home made Quilted Maple low angle Spokeshave
- Veritas Router Plane c/w full blade set & stringing attachments
- Veritas #164 low angle Smoothing Plane
- Knew Concepts Fret Saw fitted with Pegas Reverse Skip blades
- Narex Mortise Chisels
- Narex Paring Chisels
- Michel Auriou hand stitched Cabinetmakers Rasps
- Incra Centre Ruler
- Veritas #7-1/2 low angle Jointer Plane
- Veritas Shoulder Planes
- Veritas Miniature Router Plane
- Pax 1776 Tenon Saw
- Kakuri Nagakaya Dozuki Saw
- Gyokucho 371 wide blade Dozuki Saw
- Veritas 1/8” Dovetail Chisel
- York Moxon Vise Table
- Millers Fall Eggbeater Drill circa 1897
- Old Marples 12" Bow Saw
- Luban Scraper Plane
- All of my Cabinet Scrapers
- Veritas Beading Tool
- Veritas #4-1/2 Smoothing Plane
- Veritas Wheel style Marking Gauges (single & double)
- Veritas Shooting Plane with Veritas Adjustable Shooting Fence
- Homemade Marking Knives
- Lie-Nielsen large Chisel Plane
- Veritas MkII Honing Guide with Shapton & Suehiro Whetstones
Luban #102 Bronze Apron Plane on Maple
A scale version of a Jonkmanskas in reclaimed Stinkwood & Yellow Wood.
(Holds a 5 litre Bottle of Red Wine, created for a Charity Auction)
Q: What are your favourite power tools and stationary machines?
Tobias: With regard to stationary machines, my requirements are fairly standard. I have an 8” wide long bed jointer and a 16” wide thicknesser. I don't like combination machines at all, so these two satisfy my needs very well.
My 16” bandsaw is more use to me than my table saw, which is a basic cast iron contractor style 10” machine on which I use various Freud blades. In my machine room, are also my old Record lathe, large Woodpeckers based router table, drill press, compound mitre saw, air compressor and a fully ducted cyclone dust extraction system that I designed and built about 25 years ago.
Woodpeckers Router Table with Woodpeckers Coping Sled, large Triton Router and JessEm Featherboards
I also enjoy the ease of using basic cordless tools. Drills and impact drivers really help a lot, as does a random orbital sander with Mirka Abranet sanding mesh when absolutely necessary.
Although not powered by Eskom, my favourite stationary machine is my shopbuilt Chevalet de Marqueterie. It is apparently the only one in Africa. The Chevalet is a French Marquetry cutting easel. You sit astride it, your heels operate it's clamping system, one hand moves the workpiece to allow the saw blade to follow a line and the other hand operates the saw which is held in a cradle at 90º to the work. One of the major advantages of this style of marquetry is that it allows you to cut multiple veneers simultaneously.
One of my students working on the Chevalet de Marqueterie
Q: What machines, power tools or hand tools could you not do without?
Tobias: The following would be my minimum list:
- Filter Coffee Machine & Bar Fridge!
- Basic hand saws (Rip & Crosscut Panel Saws, Tenon Saw, Carcass Saw, Fret Saw, Bow Saw and wide blade Japanese Dozuki)
- Set of bevel edge chisels
- Set of mortise chisels
- Blue Spruce torrified Maple & African Blackwood mallet
- Set of Japanese Whetstones
- William Harris Brass & Cocobolo 8” Adjustable Try Square
- Old Marples Sliding Bevel
- All of my hand planes (including Router Planes)
- Tape Measure
- A few Incra Rulers
- My main Workbench!
- Brace Drill
- Miller's Fall Eggbeater drill made in the 1890's
- Pair of Gramercy Holdfasts
- Cordless Impact Driver
- Cordless Drill/Driver
- Shooting board & Shooting Plane
- Moxon Vise Table
- Whetstones & Honing Guides
- Big Band Saw
- A wide range of wooden Handscrews
- A wide range of general parallel jaw clamps
- Spokeshaves (Flat/Convex/Chairmaker's/Low Angle)
- Drawknives (Large Straight and small Cabinetmaker's)
- Marking Knives (Double Bevel & Single Bevel)
- Estwing Claw Hammer
From Left to Right:
(Please excuse the finger in the top left of the image!)
Veritas #80 Cabinet Scraper, Veritas Small Shoulder Plane, Veritas Medium Shoulder Plane, Veritas Large Shoulder Plane, Lie-Nielsen Large Chisel Plane, Luban Cabinetmaker's Scraping Plane, Veritas Scrub Plane, Veritas #164 low angle Smoothing Plane, Veritas #4-12 Smoothing Plane, Veritas #62-1/2 low angle Jack Plane, Veritas #7-1/2 low angle Jointer Plane, Veritas Router Plane.
Luban #102 Bronze Apron Plane, #98 & #99 Lie-Nielsen Side rebate Plane pair, Veritas Miniature Router Plane, 3 x Miniature Bronze Spokeshaves.
Q: 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?
Tobias: Yes I do. We own a 223 year old house in Swellendam and the single garage is my dedicated bench room. Alongside it, but about 1.5 metres longer and a little wider is my machine room. There is a double door between the two rooms and each room has access to the outside. The bench room does not have sawdust flying around, so it doubles up perfectly as my office and design area as well.
The Bench is a laminated Boekenhout (Cape Beech) centre block with African Padauk dog strips and Hard Maple dovetailed apron casing.All three vises are entirely built from wood with 1-1/2" Hard Maple threads. Leg frame is Dahoma.
Bench Room Layout:
- 30 Square metres. Laminated Flooring. Plenty of cupboards. LED T8 tube lighting & dedicated LED angle poise lights. Main workbench (single front vise, twin independent tail vises, all wooden vise screws), Assembly / Finishing table. Hand Tool tills and tool cupboards above.
- Roll-around drawer unit containing hardware, screws, brads, etc.
- Clamp Wall with handscrews, parallel jaw clamps, spring clamps, Titebond, Alcolin, Old Brown Glue and Hide Glues.
- Hot & Cold running water with basin.
- Library (magazines, books & dvds).
- Sharpening station. (Tormek & Japanese whetstones).
- Moxon Vise Table, roll-around (Usually sits at the end of my workbench).
- Wood burning stove (gets really cold here and I can burn my mistakes!)
- Desk, Computers, phones, printers (AutoCAD/SketchUp)
- Coffee machine and bar fridge
- Cordless driver rack and charging station
- Chevalet de Marqueterie
- Assembly Bench
- Hand Tool Tills, Cupboards & Racks
Machine Room Setup:
- 45 Square metres, split over two levels
- Compound mitre saw station
- Sanding Station
- Drill Press Station
- Mortising Station
- Lathe and turning tool rack
- Longbed 8” Jointer
- 16” Thicknesser
- 10” Table saw
- Grinding, Polishing and Light Metalwork Station
- Oscillating Spindle Sander
- Production Dovetail Jig
- Large Router Table System
- Power Tool Storage Racks
- Wood Storage
- Large custom cyclone dust extraction system
I spend at least 1-2 hours after work every evening and most weekends doing woodwork.
William Harris Cabinet Scraper Holder, Veritas Chairmaker's Spokeshave, Veritas Flat Spokeshave, Veritas Round Bottom Spokeshave, Luban Flat Bronze Spokeshave, Shopmade Quilted Maple Low Angle Spokeshave, Veritas Beading Tool,
Q: What was the first piece you ever made, what are your favourite pieces and what is the next piece you wish to build?
Tobias: I was probably about 4 or 5 years old when I started building things from wood. My first turned piece was a laminated biscuit barrel at the age of about 10 and I still have it.
My favourite pieces... probably my child's Windsor chair in Imbuia, twelve Brown Bess replica matchlock muskets for a commercial film shoot, twelve AK47 replicas for the feature film "Lord of War" with Nicholas Cage, a Black Walnut & Aformosia Pembroke table, Black Cherry Vienna Regulator wall clock with bookmatched myrtle interior backboard, a period country style maple coffee/display table, a Yellow wood & Red River Gum Period Dutch workbench with wooden thread vises & a Dutch Tool Chest, both for a working museum exhibit , a custom 17 drawer cabinet for a Johannesburg client in Beech (All drawers were hand cut London style Dovetails & each drawer had it's own lock and individual key!) and a marquetry ashes casket.
My current pieces are three grandfather clocks, (each in a different style), a pair of Federal style night stands (Black Cherry) and a Shaker style double bed headboard (also in Black Cherry).
After these, I would like my next pieces to incorporate more period style inlay work and I am going to build an inlaid Gentleman's Valet in Honduras Mahogany with Box Wood stringing, East Indian Satinwood & Ebony crossbanding, and sand-shaded Holly quadrants.
Q: What are your favourite timbers to work with & what timbers do you avoid?
Tobias: My favourite woods tend toward the truly classic cabinetry woods, Black Walnut, Honduras Mahogany, Maples, Rosewoods and Black Cherry for primary wood, and for secondary wood I love Aromatic Cedar, Himalayan Cedar, Spanish Cedar and Japanese Cedar. I use these woods for drawer sides, backs and drawer base panels. For internal casework construction, I like the stability of European Beech, but tend to use Tulip Poplar and whatever stable straight grained timber I have on hand.
Regarding inlay work, the variety is extreme, from East Indian Satinwood, Jackalberry, Bubinga, Holly, Purpleheart and Maple, to Fiddlewood, Kiaat, Boekenhout, Tambotie, Assegai, African Blackwood, Tulip Poplar, Kamassi, Kingwood, Boxwood, Mother of Pearl and vegetable ivory.... basically anything that I can lay my hands on. I am cutting my own veneer more and more, because of the short supply of flitch cut decent range and quality veneer available in SA. I cut the veneers on the bandsaw and they are at 3mm thick which is close to the historical thickness of veneer from the pre-industrial era which all tended to be hand sawn at about 1/8” (3.2mm),
I absolutely detest working with Dahoma as it attacks my sinuses relentlessly. I try not to have to work with timbers that don't cut cleanly or splinter easily.
Q: What is your standard finishing process for your pieces?
Tobias: This depends entirely on the style of the piece. As I said before, I tend to finish-plane and not rely on sanding, where I can. Finishes can be anything from Shellac as a sealer and Danish Oil, just multiple coats of Danish Oil, Boiled Linseed Oil, Woodoc 10, spray & hand-applied lacquers or full French Polishing.
Beginning the hood on a Black Walnut Grandfather Clock
Q: If you could add another woodworking discipline to your arsenal, what would it be?
Tobias: I would love to improve my carving (including letter carving) and marquetry skills. I would also happily trade a few body parts to study marquetry under Paul Miller of the Canadian School of French Marquetry and Pat Edwards/Patrice Lejeune of the American School of French Marquetry. I would also love to do at least a six month course under Phillip Lowe of the Furniture Institute of Massachusetts, Matthew Wolfe of Doucette & Wolf Furniture Makers or Ronnie Young all from the USA.
I have been a member of the SAPFM for a few years: Society of American Period Furniture Makers. The members work is quite incredible and I am learning an immense amount about our craft from them and would love to start something similar in South Africa.
- Lie-Nielsen #2 Bronze Smoothing Plane
- Luban #1 Bronze Smoothing Plane
- More Wooden Handscrews (Plenty more!).
- More Parallel Jaw Clamps (Plenty more!).
- Woodpeckers 600mm T Square
- More good quality timber with interesting grain
- Luban Carver's Spoon Plane
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