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The Woodworker Sessions #4 - 10 Questions with Mattewis Odendaal of Swellendam

The Woodworker Sessions #4 - 10 Questions with Mattewis Odendaal of Swellendam

In the Toolcraft Woodworker's Sessions blog series, I  chat with woodworking enthusiasts from all over South Africa. They might be hand tool aficionados, power tools specialists, tool collectors, new to the craft, acknowledged experts or anyone in between.

Mattewis Odendaal demonstrating the Techniques of Through Dovetail Joints
at the recent BPM Toolcraft Demo Day
This week I chat to Mattewis Odendaal about his woodworking journey. I have had the special privilege of collaborating with Mattewis on various projects and he is great fun to work with, has a unique sense of humour and his creativity & enthusiasm for our craft knows no bounds. (Mattewis' Witblits and hospitality is legendary!).


"Pirate's Chest" Gin Box in Red & White Oak.
Dovetailed with Hand Coopered Lid
2017 Swellendam Agricultural Show Charity Wine Auction. 
 Question #1

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

Mattewis:  I was raised on a farm in the Swellendam district. As a child, I spent many happy hours making toys with hammer and nails. As with most children, we weren't allowed to touch my father's tools, so hammer and nails were what I used (and other tools now and then when I knew my dad wouldn't find out).

I built a few pieces of furniture in High School and that was when my passion for working with wood really began.

Question #2

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

Mattewis:  Finishing is tedious work for me, but in saying that,  it has it's own amazing rewards if you persevere. I love hand tool work. I derive great pleasure in doing hand cut joints and planing parts to a fine fit and finish.


Quilted Hard Maple and Bookmatched Spalted Bubinga Wine Box.
Dovetailed Carcass with Mortise & Tenon Frame & Panel Lid
Finished with Shellac and Paste Wax.
2017 Swellendam Agricultural Show Charity Wine Auction. 

Question #3

Tobias:   Which are your favourite hand tools?
Mattewis:  Mmm.... Most definitely the following: Woodpeckers 851 and 1281 Try Squares, all of my Incra Rulers (the eyesight is not what it used to be), Tomoe Japanese Marking Knife, my set of Vintage Stanley 720 Paring Chisels (with newly made Wild Olive Socket Handles),  Lie-Nielsen Low Angle Jack Plane and Large Shoulder Plane, my 25 year old Pax Brass Back Tenon Saw, restored Stanley Carcass Saw, restored Spear & Jackson Rip and Cross Cut Panel Saws, my Luban Rebate Block Plane and Lie-Nielsen Router Plane.
The End Vise on Mattewis' Workbench
Workbench in Red Rivergum and Hard Maple

Question #4

Tobias:   What are your favourite power tools and stationary machines?
Mattewis: These are definitely my Laguna Fusion 3Hp Table Saw with Freud Pro blades and Incra Mitre 1000HD Mitre Gauge,  Makita Random Orbital Palm Sander, restored 1948 Walker Turner 14” bandsaw, 8” Long Bed Jointer, all three of my Triton Routers, my Router Table setup & Woodpeckers Super Fence and my Triton Cordless Drill-Driver / Impact Driver Set.

Question #5

Tobias:   What machines, power tools or hand tools could you not do without?
Mattewis:    This is a really easy question: My Table Saw, Jointer, Thicknesser, Bandsaw, Router Table and ALL of my hand tools!
Restored 1948 Walker Turner Bandsaw
Martlet Thicknesser Below & Jet Thicknesser Above

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?

Mattewis:   I have a dedicated freestanding workshop, as well as an external timber storage area which will shortly also contain my compressor and dust extraction cyclone and filter system.
Excluding the external area, My workshop floor area is about 72 square metres. The timber storage area is about 26 square metres. I am in my workshop almost every day, and if I am not building a piece of furniture, I am building something for the workshop. Last year I redid my workshop layout, and everything is now based on wheeled cabinets with plenty of drawers.
Along the left side of the shop are the wood lathe, clamp rack, bandsaw, mitre saw station, router table, Leigh Jig station and benchtop mortiser. On the right are the drill press, metal lathe, jointer and two thicknessers.
In the central area are the table saw, outfeed and assembly table, and my workbench. I have also refitted the old tube lights with T8 LED tubes. I  reckon I probably spend about 50 or more hours a week in my workshop.
Clamp Rack on Wheels

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?

Mattewis:    Around age 10, I built a small bookcase in Maranti. My favourite pieces are a Stinkwood and Yellow Wood TV cabinet I made years ago and my workbench which I completed earlier this year. My next projects are numerous. In the pipeline are two Yellow Wood and Stinkwood Chess Tables, a Brazilian Mahogany Grandfather Clock (my first steps into the world of veneering), a dedicated sharpening station, ducting and blast gate system throughout the workshop for the cyclone extractor and (I am very sure) plenty of pieces that my wife is going to dream up keep me out of mischief!

Question #8

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

Mattewis:    I avoid Pine where I can. Generally I try not to work in Softwoods. I really love working with Stinkwood, Oak, Hard Maple, and Mahogany.

Question #9

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

Mattewis:     I normally seal with Shellac or sanding sealer. I like the finish that Woodoc 10 gives, when I build up and cut back multiple coats. I also use shellac, either spraying, brushing or ragging it on. I cut coats back with 0000 steel wool. A couple of coats of paste wax are usually my final process.  

Campaign Bookcase Style Wine Box in Mahogany

Dovetailed wiith Brass Corners and "L" Straps.

Question #10

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

Mattewis: I would really like to learn to do veneering well. Bookmatching, vacuum pressing and working with curves and cauls. I have succeeded in band sawing my own veneer stock and I want to get into using hide glue for veneering, because of it's high initial tack it is perfect for veneer work. 

Previous article The Woodworker Sessions #5 - 10 Questions with Duncan Nel of Cape Town
Next article The Woodworker Sessions #3 - 10 Questions with Johann Pieterse of Cape Town


Johan Pieterse - August 5, 2018

Mattewis, the workshop is looking great and the only way to really appreciate your finely crafted boxes is up close and personal. You are such an inspiration by choosing to cut all the tenon/mortices and dovetails by hand – all to perfection. Thank you for sharing!

Tobias Lochner - August 1, 2018

Hi Ockert. I completely agree with you regarding hide glue. Toolcraft stocks the Liberon brand in pearl form. I have used this for years and have had excellent results with it for veneering, restoring museum pieces and general cabinetmaking. I sometimes use an old cast iron glue pot on my workshop firewood stove if I am doing a lot of glueing, but for smaller quick work, I use a baby bottle warmer from Clicks and a glass jar. It works really well. I set the temperature on it using a digital meat thermometer. Thanks again for the chat and we should get together to discuss our overseas veneer orders.

ockert op riversdal - July 22, 2018

hide glue . Jy kan dit van lee valley kry asook gompot. Die gom werk goed en het baie voordele.
Veneer bestel ek uit kanada en vsa

Tobias Lochner - July 17, 2018

I agree Don. An extremely well made and sensibly designed bench! I am really impressed with Mattewis’ hand cut Bateleur Tails on his end vise. He can be incredibly proud of this bench, considering the blood sweat and tears that he has put into it.

Don - July 13, 2018

I saw the work in progress on the workbench a few months ago. I must say the finished product is impressive and well planned. Well done!

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