In our latest Woodworkers Sessions, I chat to Heero Hacquebord. He has only been working wood for a short time and his progress is nothing short of amazing!
Heero recently spent a day at the bench in my workshop, enthusiastically learning how to hand cut dovetail joints and sharpen hand tool blades. He is a retired management consultant and spent some 20 years living and working in the USA, before returning to retire in South Africa. My sincere thanks to Heero for sharing his newfound and wonderfully focussed woodworking passion with us.
Tobias: How, why and when did you become interested in woodworking?
Heero: My wife and I bought a house in Great Brak River and needed to renovate the main bathroom and it’s cupboards. After many failed attempts in obtaining reliable quotes, having to deal with questioning and unreliable carpenters, and hearing enough of grand plans that involved MDF, chipboard, plywood, screws and nails, and dreading a possible result of rubbish, I suggested to my wife that I do the job. That was 2 years ago. She did not think that it was such a good idea, because I have a reputation of not being able to do anything constructive with my hands.
I promised my wife that before she could identify anyone reasonably priced, reliable and good, I will have a workshop ready. I was sick and tired of hearing promises that resulted in “hot air”.
When she saw my workshop bench and mitre saw stand, she quickly had some projects in line, including bathroom cabinets from solid Yellow Wood, and a Murphy bed from African Rosewood. Ever since I built these two projects, I enjoy striving for continual improvement in my woodworking.
Tobias: What aspect of your craft do you find most enjoyable and least enjoyable?
Heero: The least enjoyable aspect for me is using a random orbital sander and generating dust for the vacuum cleaner. I always thought that this was the way to prepare wood for assembly and finishing, as I would receive my planks from the joinery works who would pre-plane and square my planks for me. I hated the tear-out I received, but was told that without a drum sander ,there is nothing one can do about it. So I went back to the random orbital sander, which I hate.
I have subsequently read and learned that professional finishing should include planing. So I purchased an electric hand plane... bad idea. It is up for sale. Hardly ever used. I now do and enjoy hand planing. Still learning, but getting better every day.
What I mostly enjoy is using my shooting board to hand plane and create final square edge and straight planks. The smoothness created with my hand plane outscores the random orbital sander with 200G and higher grit sand paper. I am no longer frustrated with tear-out . My solution is a low angle Lie Nielsen #62 jack plane with five different angle blades, including a 90º scraper blade. It is most enjoyable to be able to successfully smooth and square planks, followed by assembly.
Tobias: What are your favourite hand tools?
Heero: My favourite hand tools are my Lie Nielsen #62 Jack Plane, Lie Nielsen #164 Smoothing Plane, small Lie-Nielsen Block Plane and Low Angle Spokeshave. I also love my Lie-Nielsen Shoulder Plane. I need to learn to use my Lie-Nielsen Router Plane, Knew Concepts Coping Saw and Narex Dovetail Chisels with more precision, so practicing is paramount. I love all my hand tools.
With hand tools, I can see when and why I damaged the work. With power tools there is always set-up time frustration, and when something goes wrong it happens too fast and too furious. Power tools are also safety hazards. Table saws are potential accidents waiting to happen. I try to be extra careful when using my table saw, which increases set-up time, and slows down total time to complete the job. But that’s OK.
Tobias: What are your favourite power tools and stationary machines?
Heero: I favour my thickness planer. It works well and does a great job that requires very little work with my Lie-Nielsen Smoother. I also like my mitre saw. It is efficient fast and pretty safe. My Rockler router table and fence work well and can do a good job, when I am patient. Although I do not have a micro-adjustable fence, I have managed to make small fence adjustments resulting in 1/2mm changes to final groove slots. My real favourite is my portable dust collector. It keeps my shop clean and free from wood dust.
Tobias: What machines, power tools or hand tools could you not do without?
Heero: I can not do without my table saw, thickness planer, router table, Lie-Nielsen hand planes, shooting board, electric hand drill and mitre saw. It would be possible to do projects without the table saw, and even router table, but productivity and quality would suffer badly. I would have to use my hand router and portable circular saw instead.
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?
Heero: I have a small singled off workshop, attached and leading from within the garage. It is only 7.5 by 2.5 metres. My wife and I designed the space utilisation to maximise working space. I have a work bench and granite table where I do handwork and assembly. My granite table is great for checking wood flatness and sharpening operations.
All my machines are on wheels, except the router table and mitre saw. My table saw is a contractors saw on a stand with wheels, so I place it against the wall when not in use. Because I cannot move from one machine to the next with planks in my hand, I have developed a fixed routine:
- After preparing the cutting list, I cut the plank/s stored in my garage to the lengths required for my project with the mitre saw.
- Then these planks are put through the thickness planer, using a sled if necessary, in order to get two parallel and flat sides.
- I then straighten one side with a hand plane or circular saw with guide, or my sled on my table saw, if necessary.
- With the 2 flat and parallel sides, and one edge straight, I can then cut to widths on my table saw.
- I made a shooting board with an adjustable fence, which I use to obtain parallel and square edges with my Low Angle Jack Plane. This method works faster for me to obtain smooth and square edges than using my table saw.
- In order to be able to move and use my machines, I do all the work for a complete project in sequence; mitre saw, thickness planer, table saw, hand planing with shooting board to obtain exact width and edge squareness, then final length cut on mitre saw and end grain trim on shooting board. I try to get joints that have a perfect fit, no wood filler and without distinguishable joint lines. I have created some of these, but only some. My goal is to create perfect fitting joints all the time. May I live that long!
- With my machines then stored out of the way, I use my router table for creating the joints, or do them by hand. After completing sub-assemblies and/or final assemblies, I will use my block plane to clean up joints and my Lie-Nielsen #164 for final smoothing of the product.
I could spend almost every day in my workshop, if I had nothing else to do, but life does not present itself to me in that way. However, when I am pressed for time to complete a project, I am in my workshop virtually every day. Because I am continually learning and trying to create/apply new techniques, time often tends to go by rapidly with not much work completed. I enjoy the challenges and derive great pleasure in overcoming them.
Tobias: What was the first piece you ever made, what is your favourite piece and what is the next piece you wish to build?
Heero: My first piece was a Murphy Bed built from plans and hardware I bought from Rockler in the USA. I used African Rosewood for the project. I also designed and built a bedside cabinet for this bed. From this project, I learned how to hide and cover up errors, mistakes and out of squareness. My favourite pieces are the bathroom cabinets and the mirror frames for our main bathroom. My wife has a number of projects for me to replace or fill in existing furniture. One of which is to build a entertainment cabinet/centre to house the TV and spruce up our living room. However this project will have to wait a while, until I improve my skill level!
As they say, "The more you practice, the luckier you get"!
The Murphy Bed
Tobias: What are your favourite timbers to work with, what timbers do you avoid, and why?
Heero: I do not have much experience with different timbers. I dislike Black Wood. It has terrible grain and is completely prone to tear-out.
I like to work with Yellow Wood. It is easy to work with, but being a Soft Wood, it dings very easily, splits, cracks and breaks. It is definitely not a stable, strong wood. I love African Rosewood, it's great to work with. Lovely grain structures, but can tear out if not careful, especially if you use wrong tools.
Tobias: What is your standard finishing process for you pieces?
Heero: I hate painting and paint brushes. So I use oil. Preferable Tung oil. I try to plane the final product smooth, then I burnish with shavings. After that, I apply oil liberally, and wipe off excess.
After the project is completely dry, about one or two weeks, I use 600 Grit or so sand paper to de-nib the surfaces, and apply one more coat. If I do not like the finish after a week or two, I will repeat the sand and oil process.
What I have found with Tung oil is that it preserves the wood and also brings out the natural grain pattern. If I can not preserve the natural grain structure of the wood, why not just use pine and paint it?
Tobias: If you could add another discipline of woodworking to your arsenal, what would it be?
Heero: I want to learn to create plans, designs and drawings. This is my weakness. It is all in my head, so I mess up and do rework and repair, and waste time and wood, and also create garbage joints!
I want to learn to work with and use the program SketchUp, and learn to draw with pencil and paper. I would also like to spend more time reading the good stuff on woodworking and wish I could learn the fundamentals of woodworking from a master. That is what I am lacking…the basics.
I would love to specialise more and more in hand tool work. I do not have space for machines. They are necessary and great for a furniture factory, but for hobby-work; machines are noisy, chew electricity, require babysitting, adjustments, service, parts, and worst of all create dust.
Handtools require sharpening, oiling…and that’s about it. No noise, no dust…what a life!