Skip to content
Free Shipping on all orders over R1000
The Woodworker Sessions No.25 - Ten Questions with Pierre Olivier of Kwazulu-Natal

The Woodworker Sessions No.25 - Ten Questions with Pierre Olivier of Kwazulu-Natal

The Woodworker Sessions Series is all about South African woodworkers sharing our craft and learning from each other. Our techniques, shortcuts, mistakes and triumphs all combine to grow our common passion - working with wood. I am always looking for interesting, intriguing and dedicated woodworkers to interview. If you are, or you know of a woodworker who fits the above bill, I would love to hear from you at You are also most welcome to call me at 082-532-9661.

Please offer your comments on The Woodworker Sessions in the comments section below each interview.


Pierre Olivier

I came to woodworking rather slowly years ago, grabbing a few hours over weekends between a growing family & running a time demanding company. My family (wife, daughter & son) appreciated my need to work things out in wood and this made the trial & error learning process easier.

From the outset I had a fascination for boxes. I have never had an inclination to build chairs, tables or bookcases -just boxes. My interest in things mechanical led to the building of a marble run in wood, that over the years grew into a 1.5 metre high 6 track piece. I realised when it was built, that wood was not the material for marble runs, it took too much of the visual area. So I began a very steep learning process in the working & welding of stainless steel rod.

Having sold my business interests, I now live with my wife Audrey, a portrait artist, in an indigenous forest in the Natal Midlands, South Africa & have now the time to devote to my two passions, crafting wooden boxes and mechanical devices, as well as building Rolling Ball Sculptures.         


Question #1

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

Pierre: My first contact with wood was at about the age of 12 when I was the "Chief Finder & Fetcher" on my father's woodworking projects. His primary interest was hydroponics and woodwork was simply a means to an end for him, with his building of hydroponic growing tanks, rough workbenches and various trusses for his growing shed, all accomplished with a limited collection of tools. 

As I recall, he had a Black & Decker steel body electrical drill, a Surform tool, saw, claw hammer and a few blunt chisels, most of which could be found lurking in a dark corner of the shed or under a pile of wood. So my introduction to woodworking was not exactly auspicious!

Fast forward to "Just Married" and I had a crack at making a few rough pieces of furniture with the above set of tools, so I suppose that this was when the flame was first kindled and then lay dormant until my late thirties.


Question #2

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

Pierre: Design is to me the most important and enjoyable part of every project. Proportion, aesthetics, ergonomics and fitness-for-purpose are all considerations that are necessary to make a successful and pleasing end product.

Less enjoyable is finishing! I accept that scraping and planing give a superior finish compared to sanding, but only on larger flat surfaces.

I have found that on small intricate boxes, sanding is the only way.

Question #3

Tobias: Which are your favourite hand tools?

Pierre: Here I must nail my colours to the mast. I use power tools almost exclusively. Watching my father and his friends bludgeon a groove into a piece of wood with a blunt chisel or cross cutting a plank way off square, looked like hard and futile work to me.

Being totally self taught, I am inclined towards power tools and I have learned how to get reasonably good and repeatable results from them.

The few hand tools that I do occasionally use are:

  • 2 Japanese Hand Saws
  • Japanese 12mm Chisel
  • Japanese 18mm Chisel
  • Japanese 45º/90º  Stainless Steel Set Square
  • Incra 300mm Laser Cut Pinhole Ruler
  • Record 270mm Long Square Shaft Brass Clamps
  • Record 360mm Long Square Shaft Steel Clamps
  • Lion Trimmer. My favourite tool along with the above excellent clamps which are perfect for small box work.

Question #4

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

Pierre: Each and every one of my power tools is my favourite when I am using it! I enjoy the feel and process of whichever tool I am using at the time.

In no particular order, below is a list of most of my kit:

  • Martlet 10" Table saw with a JessEm Mitre Guide
  • Elektra-Beckum 305mm Band Saw
  • Ryobi 230mm Hobby Band Saw
  •  Triton 1400W Router, Table mounted with Incra LS Fence System
  • Elu 600W Plunge Router
  • Makita 3612C Plunge Router
  • Elektra-Beckum 260 Planer/Thicknesser
  • Mobile sanding Station with 550mm x 150mm Linisher, 180mm Diameter Disc Sander and 300mm wide Drum Sander
  • Fragram Drill Press with X-Y Table and Digital Speed Controller with stepless speed range from 60 RPM to 2150RPM
  • Rockwell Woodturning Lathe, 1.3 metre bed fitted with a Nova Chuck
  • Tormek 250 Sharpening Station
  • Elektra-Beckum Dust Extractor
  • Workshop built High Voltage Flocking Applicator for lining box interiors
  • Workshop Built Horizontal Dowel Hole Drilling Jig fitted to my Rockwell Lathe with micro-adjust ability. My work is almost exclusively through dowelled or blind dowelled and this jig enables me to achieve a very high degree of accuracy.
  • 75L Air Compressor
  • Metalwork Maximat V10 Lathe/Milling Machine
  • Handy Pack Oxy/Acetylene Brazing Torch
  • A selection of Bar Clamps, G Clamps and Quick Release Clamps
  • Elu 1/3 Sheet sander, Makita Palm Sander, Bosch Orbital Sander & Makita 18V Cordless Drill.
  • An assortment of pneumatic tools and a plethora of jigs!
  • Last but certainly not least: An Ipod and speaker system, a necessary requirement in any self respecting workshop!

Question #5

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

Pierre: Every single machine, power tool and hand tools in my workshop is necessary to accomplish specific tasks when required. My minimum tool list would be the tools listed in Question #4, as they are all needed at some stage. 

That said, I do think hard about adding a few "necessities" to my workshop, whenever I visit Toolcraft!...Who doesn't?

Question #6

Tobias: Do you use a dedicated space for your craft, what floor area do you have and how much time do you have in spending on working per week?

Pierre: My workshop is a three car garage measuring 50 Square Metres, with two tilt up garage doors. In addition, there is an adjoining storeroom of about 10 Square Metres and an open sided carport.

The compressor, incoming wood storage and wheeled assembly table take up this adjoining area. Also in the main workshop are a toilet (essential) a small coffee station (very essential) and drawing board space.

Although I have tinkered with SketchUp, I still feel more comfortable using the drawing board and drafting machine when designing. I find that I need to sketch easily and freely with a pencil during my design phases and you can't do that on a CAD program.

Two of the garages are dedicated to woodwork. I prefer the word "Woodcraft" and I think that people producing finely created items in wood should be called "Woodcrafters".

The third garage is for the construction of my Rolling Ball Sculptures and house my metalworking equipment.

Regarding time spent in the workshop, I usually open up at about 07h00 and switch off the lights at around 18h30, 5-6 days a week.

Question #7

Tobias: What was the first piece you ever made, what is your favourite piece and what is your next piece you would like to build?

Pierre: Other than the already mentioned furniture, the very first acceptable piece was a two chambered tea caddy in African Mahogany and Red Ivory. We still use it daily in our kitchen.

My favourite pieces change from time to time as I tend to go through different phases. I was at one stage, influenced by Japanese shrines and wanted to incorporate elements of their design into my work. The reliquary in Rosewood veneer, Ebony, Wild Olive and slumped glass was for a time, my favourite.

The universal Joint in my Wooden Mechanical Series was also a favourite for a time.

My next piece: A newly designed Fly-Tying Station and a classic Rolling Ball sculpture using Cherry or African Mahogany and Brass Rods.

Question #8

Tobias: What are your favourite timbers to work with & what timbers do you avoid ?

Pierre: I use Maple, Cherry, European Beech, African Mahogany, Purpleheart and Black Walnut from the timber merchants.

I really enjoy using indigenous woods whenever I can, although they are often difficult to get hold of. Favourites include Vepris (Ironwood), Coastal Red Milkwood (as a veneer), Boekenhout, Wit Hout, Lemonwood Snake Bean, (gorgeous, but very hard to find), Hard Pear and Yellow Wood only if I have to. Ochna Arborea (Cape Plane) and Marula are two timbers that I really love.

Not indigenous, but good to work with and usually readily available, I use Japanese Cedar, Cypress, Jacaranda and a recent very pleasurable discovery: Hillaria (Tree Fuschia, also known as White Olive).


Question #9

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

Pierre: My standard finishing process is to seal either with Shellac or a two pack catalysed lacquer, apply multiple coats and rubbing them down well in between.

I then apply a good quality paste wax or my own beeswax based concoction. I feel that a wax finish is the only one that gives small objects the right tactile feel and a sift lustre without the piece looking "plastic". I am sure that there are many other finishes that have merit, but the above suits my kind of work.


Question #10

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

Pierre: I don't think that I could add another woodworking discipline to my current bag, there is just too much happening! 

I do enjoy a bit of turning on my Rockwell lathe purely for relaxation, it is a great stress reliever.

A number of years back, I assembled a comprehensive set of carving chisels with big plans in mind...

Maybe one day...



Previous article The Woodworker Sessions #26 - Ten Questions with Pierre Hansen of Oostersee, Cape Town
Next article The Woodworker Sessions No.24 - Ten Questions with Leon Nolte of Mokopane, Limpopo


Pierre Olivier - February 13, 2020

I appreciate that Tobias.

Pierre Olivier - February 13, 2020

The story behind that box Christopher, made it for the 3rd generation owner of Benvie a farm with one of the biggest arbaretums in S.A. ( Google it) using 100 year old spalted Yellowood grown on the farm. It was quite an emotional build.

Pierre Olivier - February 13, 2020

Thank you Don

Don - February 8, 2020

Beautiful artistic creations. Great skill and imagination.

Christopher Van Zyl - February 3, 2020


Rob - January 31, 2020

Amazing craftsmanship, really liked the box depicted at Question 3, would love something similar for my flytying desk in which I could store thread, beads, hooks etc

Tobias Lochner - January 30, 2020

Truly amazing work! Pierre is such a humble and genuine person who no doubt has incredible patience. His attention to design and detail is awe inspiring!

Brian - January 29, 2020

Oh wow … what amazing vision to be able to create these works of art!

Joel - January 27, 2020

This is superb! Loved the video, master class levels of excellence!

Leave a comment

Comments must be approved before appearing

* Required fields