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The Woodworker Sessions #3  -  10 Questions with Johann Pieterse of Cape Town

The Woodworker Sessions #3 - 10 Questions with Johann Pieterse of Cape Town

On the Woodworker Sessions this week, I chat to Johann Pieterse of Cape Town.

Johann Pieterse of Cape Town

Johann is a wonderfully gentle person and an extremely accomplished artist in his own right. A talented painter, carver, boatbuilder, sculptor, cabinetmaker and woodturner, he has a quiet, but infectious demeanor and has a wealth of woodworking knowledge. I regard him as a true friend and mentor. Johann shares his passion and knowledge freely and he is a superb teacher.


Johann's Hand Built Lapstrake Rowing Boat

Question #1

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

Johann:    I have been inspired to do handcraft all my life, I did technical drawing, metalwork, woodwork and ceramic work at school, but I have always been drawn to wood as my artistic medium of choice.

Wood is a warm material, the natural graphics and beauty of wood is endless. During the past 30 years, I have made numerous pieces of furniture and cabinetry and have even built some wooden boats, all on commission. In recent years, I have become more inspired towards Sculpture and Artistic Wood Turning.


Turning on the Nova 1624 Mk.II Lathe

Question #2

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

Johann: For me, the most enjoyable aspect is the wonderful intimacy of forming and shaping wood by hand, using finely tuned and sharpened hand tools.

Mindless hours of sanding is my worst nightmare!

Question #3

Tobias:   Which are your favourite hand tools?
Johann: I use a Veritas Smoothing Plane and a Bronze Lie-Nielsen Skew Block Plane. These days however, I prefer to use Japanese hand tools like the Kakuri Kanna wooden plane, Kakuri Gikoh Ryoba, Kakuri Kataba and Nakaya Dozuki saws and Japanese laminated steel chisels.
For Sculpture and Wood Carving, I use Pfeil and Narex chisels.

Question #4

Tobias:   What are your favourite power tools and stationary machines?
Johann:    My Festool Rotex takes the tedious time out of preliminary sanding before hand finishing.
My 40-year-old 3Hp. Wadkin Table Saw with various Freud blades and a custom made cross cutting sled, prepares the wood for handcrafting and hand finishing.
Definitely my Jet and Nova 1624 II Wood Turning Lathes!

Question #5

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

JohannAs an Artistic Wood Turner and Sculptor, my Bandsaw and Nova 1624 II Wood Turning Lathe are indispensible to me for preparing rough wood.  I use the my lathes around 40% of the time and the rest of the work is entirely off lathe. I could not do without my Narex and Pfeil carving chisels for sculptural work.
Platter in Red River Gum with Pewter Inlay

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?
Johann:   I have a very small workshop for my machining and lathe work. It is about 15 square metres.  I also have a studio space in the house of around 10 square metres and I work outside when doing large sculptural work. My wood storage area is also outside. At present, I spend about 20 hours a week in my workshops, including burning the midnight oil. I dream about more full-time hours in the future.
Johann's Studio with the Chevalet de Marqueterie taking Pride of Place

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?

Johann:    The first pieces were at school, coffee and bedside tables, I also turned a bedside lamp. The most enjoyable project was building a fine lined lapstrake rowing boat based on the American Whitehall pulling boats. The boat was built using 95% hand tools. I am currently working on developing my Artistic Woodturning to include more decorative aspects and Marquetry.

  Johann's Fine Lapstrake Rowing Boat

Question #8 

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

Johann:  For Furniture and Cabinetry, I really enjoy working in Hard Maple and Bubinga.

For my woodturning, I love Wild Olive and any fruitwoods like apple and pear when I can get my hands it. For carving, my favourite wood is Lime. Generally, I  don’t like working with most African woods, as I find that the dust is at best irritating and at worst toxic!

Sculpture: Landscape of the Mind

Question #9

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

Johann:   I generally work through the sand paper grits 120, 240, 400, 800, 1000, depending on the wood and function of the piece.

I use Shellac based sanding sealer, and then either wax polish or 3-4 coats of Danish oil resulting in a satin finish. I really detest the plastic look that some finishes give.

Question #10

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

Johann:    Tobias, with you doing French Marquetry, you have recently inspired me, and this is a discipline that I would like to incorporate into my Wood Turning and Sculptures in the future.

Previous article The Woodworker Sessions #4 - 10 Questions with Mattewis Odendaal of Swellendam
Next article The Woodworker Sessions #2 - 10 Questions with Paul Roberts of Pretoria


Johan Pieterse - August 16, 2020

Baie Dankie Billy, Ek moet werklik erken, die hourwerk onderiig wat ek destyds in matriek ontvang het, staan my nog steeds goed deur al die jare. Houtwerk tegniek het wel baie verander, maar vir my gaan dit oor die intieme verhouding tussen die hout en my hand. Dit is vir my meer in die doen eerder as die eind produk.

Billy - August 15, 2020

Wil julle weet wanneer jy te doen het met ’n goeie houtwerker? Vra hom wat sy gunsteling afwerking is en as vernis eerste genoem word, hou maar verby.
Positiewe kommentaar: Om met handgereedskap te werk, bly maar die voorkeur van enige goeie houtwerker.
As jy met Freud se lemme werk is jy goed of oppad daarheen.
Afwerking met skuurpapier van 120 ………. 1000 is die kenmerk van goeie afwerking (320 grit kort nog).
Negatiewe kommentaar: Afrika-hout is maar my voorkeur, gelukkig pla die stof my glad nie.
Om te skuur is so lekker; om te sien hoe jou artikel al mooier raak.
Sterkte met jou houtwerk, Johann, jou manier van doen, doen hierdie afgetrede houtwerkonderwyser se hart baie goed.

Johan Pieterse - August 15, 2020

Thank you all for your kind comments, you are always welcome to visit the shop and have a chat!

William Griffiths - August 14, 2020

So bly om nog ’n houtwerker te sien wat glo aan Sanding Sealer en Waks. Ek probeer al die lede in my FB blad (Hout is Koning) oortuig om nie hulle hout met “plastiek” te bedek nie, maar dit neem maar baie oorreding, maar ek wen stadig.

keith fey - August 14, 2020


Dez Randall - August 14, 2020

Johan. What can I say. You are my inspiration and also, you are so willing to discuss any form of woodworking/turning with me. I value your knowledge and willingness to help me. I love coming into BPM to chat to you. I am glad we met at WCWA. Regards.

Johan pieterse - July 12, 2018

Bests Johan, ek skeer nie gek nie. Ek bly in tzaneen. Hier bly nog n persoon met die naam van Johan pieterse. Ek is oorspronklik van franschhoek. Vir n stokperdjie doen ek ook houtwerk as ook draai werk
Ek sal by wees as met my kan kontak maak.
Groete Johan pieterse.

Kalahari - June 29, 2018


Dit is ’n voorreg om jou te ken.
Jy is ’n yster.

Brandon Winks - June 29, 2018

Hi Tobias,

I know this gentle man. Space didn’t allow you to tell the half of what Johann has accomplished! Thank you for asking him 10 questions. And thanks Johann for sharing these insights with us. I wish you had included pictures of your wonderful pepper grinders in this article. I think the biggest lesson we learn from these craftsmen is to spend more time enjoying hobbies and less time watching television.

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