Category Archives: Day to day

Back with a vengeance


You might already know that Je Ne Sais Quoi Woodworking almost disappeared into thin air, but alas it was revived albeit still in rehab. One day in mid January my site just vanished and it took days of work by the IT guy who set it up for me and my wife to work out what happened. I really do not want to go into the details of the traumatic event, suffice to say that it was an unsavoury experience.

I would also like to apologise to those who were looking for JNSQW and not being able to find it. A special thanks goes out to my two special blogger friends in Jonathan White (The Bench Blog) and Bob Demers (The Valley Woodworker) who tried to keep my spirits up. They both gave me lots of advice on how to solve the problem and prevent it in future. Thanks gentlemen.

What I have learnt though is that I do not know enough about the technical aspects of websites, wordpress, backups etc etc. I have now made it a mission to first get a better understanding of these vital bits and pieces. At present I am working through a series of videos on how to use wordpress in the best possible way and trying to work out how to optimize my photos before uploading it.

Another thing I realised is how much the blogging has become part of my life and therefore how much I missed it when the site went into hiding. I want to try and hang onto that thought to ensure that I appreciate being able to do it more and hopefully try to improve the quality of my posts and site. One of the tricks I have discovered so far is how to make time-lapse videos and post it on the site. Here is one to wet your appetite.

At least you can now look forward to quite a bit of material that heaped up in the meantime, which I now have to publish to get back on schedule. The two tables I am working on have both evolved significantly since my disappearance. It is wonderful to be back and I look forward to engaging with all of you on woodwork topics yet again.

Viva Je Ne Sais Quoi Woodworking!!!

A new frontier for Je ne sais quoi woodworking


Back in November 2015 a reader by the name of Frank Bartlett started commenting on my posts. It turns out that he hails from the Kavango in Northern Namibia where our fishing camp is. He currently resides in Cape Town and is an avid old tool collector/user. Since then we started corresponding with regards to good shops to visit to hunt for old tools in the former Cape Colony. He pointed me towards a few good ones in Cape Town and I returned the favour in terms of the same in the Garden Route.

After my post on the Langdon mitre box and saw, Frank indicated that he has long been looking for something similar in Southern Africa. I undertook to let him know if ever I stumble across one. In April of this year friends of mine (yes that is you Heidi) visited a few antique stores in the Cape Town area and took photos of a mitre box and saw, which they sent on to me. I immediately sent it on to Frank who went in search of the shop with very sketchy directions.

I do not want to elaborate too much more as Frank will probably do a better job of documenting the adventure. Anyway that got us thinking about a post on the restoration of this mitre box/saw. As we discussed it more we realised that I could actually create a category on my site where other woodworkers who does not want to blog full time  could post some of their projects.

Frank agreed to be the first guinea pig and has already sent me some photos of very interesting projects that might feature on Je ne sais quoi Woodworking in the near future.

Over to you Frank and watch this space to the rest of you.



The Tool Supermodel


I want to apologise for my absence from the woodworking blogosphere over the past week. Unfortunately we’ve had a really horrible time, but learnt in the process that we are very blessed with wonderfully supportive friends and family. If you read this blog you will most definitely know the Tool Supermodel.


The Tool Supermodel decided to run through a glass sliding door last week. Being Africa it turns out that it was not furnished with the correct type of glass. She ended up with a massive cut on her upper inner arm that sliced through two arteries and several nerves. She very nearly died as a result of blood loss, but they were able to sort out the vascular side of things here in Windhoek. That took about four hours. The next morning Aoife and her mother were flown out to Cape Town to get the nerves sorted. She then had another 5 hour operation, in CT which went well.

I joined them in CT over the weekend and we all flew back to Windhoek on Monday. Now we have to wait 3-6 months to see whether the nerves will grow back. To top it all, they broke into my practice on the night of the initial surgery and stole almost all our PCs. That meant that I was not able to work the following day and we are still in the process of getting the practice up and running again.

So that is why I have been absent for a while. I trust that it is a valid excuse.

The carver in me


During the December holidays I did pretty much no woodwork. I spent some time trying to find old tools (which is the topic of an upcoming post), but that was about it. That is apart from finding my inner carver, for lack of a better term. One day I decided to take this piece of Kaapse Swarthout (also known as Cape Blackwood or Maytenus peduncularis) down from where it was hanging above the little bar. I took a crappy Eclipse chisel and carved out the new name of the bar.

One of my all-time favourite All Blacks is Jerry Collins. He sadly died last year. I decided to name the bar after him as a final tribute, because he personifies lots of values I hold dearly. Translated into English it goes “The Jerry Collins Bar” The Afrikaans word I chose for bar is a tribute to an aunt of mine. “Kantien” is an old word that is not used very much at all anymore. She used to get very upset with her son and I for going out to drinking spots on a regular basis while on holiday from medical school. She would berate us for our immoral behaviour and always added that she and her husband have never even been to a “Kantien”. Today he is a Consultant Urologist and I am a Psychiatrist as you know. Tannie Kowie is a real legend in her own right and exhibits many of the same ethics and values that I admire in Jerry Collins.


It just so happened that my best mate from school pitched up with his family on the day I finished the carving. It was an ideal way to inaugurate the bar as Gerdie Smook has a lot to do with my former love for the game of rugby. I say former because the way the Springboks play has finally caused a major allergy for the game in my particular case.


The reason why I have so much respect for Jerry Collins is due to the way he approached the game. He played and approached the game with a set of ethics that reminds of the spirit of the game I fell in love with as a young boy. Unfortunately that spirit has almost completely disappeared from the professional version of it over the past 10 years. If anything remains of it, it is in Aotearoa the Land of the Long White Cloud.

What follows is a short tribute to the late great Jerry Collins.

Here you can see “Topdeck” doing the Haka. Do you see any resemblance.


Apparently Jerry was told by Sir Greame Henry at some stage that he would struggle to keep his spot in the All Blacks team if he does not improve his distribution skills. Jerry went away, worked very hard at it and became so good at it that the AB’s won two tests in the dying seconds off the back of an exquisite Collins last pass.


With Richie Mccaw he formed arguably one of the best (if not the best) 6-7 combination in the history of the game.


One of my favourite Jerry stories is that he (apparently) continued his day job as a rubbish collector well into his very well paid professional rugby career. He did that because he wanted to keep the fitness it gave him. In New Zealand those guys run all day. That is the sign of a man who has his feet firmly on the ground, not allowing fame to change who he is. (The pictures below was take in Wales while he was playing there, not in Wellington NZ where the above story transpired)


For the next story I will cut and paste from an article in the Telegraph.

Collins was in Devon on holiday after the New Zealand’s surprise quarter-final defeat at the hands of France at the 2007 World Cup. Strolling down the high street, the flanker was spotted by Barnstaple’s then director of rugby Kevin Squire. A photo opportunity turned into a conversation and then an invitation to come down to watch the club in action.

“I said it would be lovely if he could come down to the club and thought nothing of it,” Squire told Telegraph Sport. “Unexpectedly there he was three days later. He watched a first team game and then I introduced him to all the players.

“One of the guys I introduced him to was the Under-13 coach at the club. Consequently in that conversation he was invited to do a training session for the kids, which he astonishingly agreed to do. The following Friday night I went down to watch the training session and the kids obviously were in heaven.”

Then came perhaps the most bizarre debut in rugby history when just a couple of weeks after playing in a World Cup quarter-final, the back-row forward turned out for Barnstaple second XV against Newton Abbott in a Devon Merit Table clash. Collins had asked Squires for run-out but registration regulations prohibited the then Hurricane from appearing for the first XV.

“Again, I never thought he would actually turn up, but there we were waiting for the bus and Jerry shows up after going into town to buy a pair of boots,” Squire said. “By the time we had got to Newton Abbott there had been all sorts of messages between the players and they thought we were bringing a lookalike down with his distinctive white top. It didn’t take long for everyone to realise that it was the real deal. Then their jaws hit the floor.”

As befitting a man with the alternate nicknames of “the Hitman” and “the Terminator”, Collins was renowned for the force of his tackles and even playing at half speed still rattled the bones of a few Newton Abbott players as well as scoring a try.

“He was terrific,” Squire said. “He made everyone in that team feel like they were on the same level as him. The guys from Newton Abbott enjoyed it just as much as our guys did.”

News quickly spread of Collins’ appearance and he would face a disciplinary panel and a fine when he returned to New Zealand for playing without his employers’ permission. He later told Squire that it was worth every dollar.

Nor was the end of the association between Collins and “Barum”. A few weeks later Collins turned out for the Barbarians against South Africa, the world champions, wearing Barnstaple socks. “That was his idea,” Squire said. “Everyone in the club had a lump in their throat when he ran out at Twickenham wearing our socks, particularly when the commentator said ‘there’s Jerry Collins, New Zealand and Barnstable Rugby Football Club.’ ”

On Boxing Day 2007, Collins, now playing for Toulon, returned to watch the annual derby against Bideford. “Jerry said he’d be there for the game,” Squire said. “He was in France at the time but he honoured his promise to come over for the game.

“That led to another great night out. Irrespective of the rugby, he was a fun guy who was so down to earth. The world of rugby has not just lost a great player but a great person. It is as simple as that. What he did for Barnstaple will never be forgotten.”

Here are a few pictures of the Barnstaple tale.



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Proudly wearing his Barnstaple socks, while playing for the Barbarians against the Springboks.

Jerry Collins of the Barbarians. Barbarians v South Africa, Twickenham, Rugby Union, 1/12/2007. © Matthew Impey / . tel: 07789 130 347 e:

One night I will never forget was when I took my father-in-law who was visiting from South Africa to a game at the Cake Tin in Wellington NZ. The Hurricanes was playing the Sharks and Jerry was coming back from injury. He therefore only featured for 40 odd minutes before being replaced. The Hurricanes thrashed the Sharks by quite an embarrassing margin. While hanging around the stadium waiting for the worst of the spectator traffic to ease, out came Jerry with the rest of the team back onto the park. It was raining as only Wellington can, but Jerry led a brutal fitness session running his teammates until they dropped.  This is absolutely unheard of in professional rugby.

Jerry also got into trouble on more than one occasion with the All Black management for rocking up and playing club games on a Sunday after playing a test for the All Black on the Saturday. Now that is the spirit the game has lost.


What would I have given to see him playing in this jersey. I would actually settle for seeing a different player with the same attitude and spirit, but no such thing exists in South Africa anymore.


So that is why the bar received the name it did. Thanks Bro, your example continues to inspire.


Shop floor with je ne sais quoi


I suspect there are quite a few woodworkers out there who are convinced that I have lost the plot a long time ago. If you are one of them, then this post will be the final evidence you need.

I have a problem in that my shop has a concrete floor. It has caused quite a bit of unnecessary swearing and sharpening after dropping a chisel or a plane blade. My slightly camp quick-fix solution to the problem was to cut appropriately sized chucks off this hideous old carpet to drape around my bench!

Now if that does not create a workshop ambiance for a real man, then I don’t know what will!


Springbok and Seal leather sleeping bags


In the pictures below you will see the collection of planes that reside on the shelve of my shop built workbench. There are quite a few shop made wooden planes, two Lie-Nielsen’s and the rest are all reconditioned old Stanley’s (nope, actually there is a Sargent too). In order to keep these planes from collecting too much debris, I am in the process of hand stitching comfy Springbok and Seal leather sleeping bags! Yes, I know this will probably mean that I (and my website) will be banned from any proper woodworking fraternity for the rest of my miserable life. On the upside I could become the Errol Arendz (South African reference) of woodworking couture. Yeah Baby!


On the catwalk you may admire a beautiful shop made scrub plane dress in one of my exquisite creations. For some reason the phrase “je ne sais quoi” comes to mind.


The silky Springbok leather keeps the plane from freezing to death in a shop that averages between 25 – 35°C (77 – 95 ºF). This is not called the Tropics for nothing. The virile Seal leather sole adds even more panache to the garment.


Now wait for the eruption in the volatile world of du jour plane apparel …


Contentious Menuisier


I have been thinking about this issue for a while now. Since getting stuck into all the wonderfully useful information and experience being shared by so many (mostly) amateur/hobbyist woodworkers that forms part of the online woodworking community, I have noticed a trend where there seems to be a stigma attached to the guys and gals who works more on their shop than what they spend building furniture. I have an issue with this (probably unintended) marginalization of an important (and most certainly just as passionate) subculture within our ranks.

It might be a question of being over sensitive (I am a psychiatrist after all) given that I am a member of this congregation over the past 3 years or so. Since October 2011 I have been setting up shop focussing on building my own tools, restoring vintage tools and constructing custom shop structures to make working there a pleasure. Very few bits of furniture and useful stuff for the house emerged from the shop so far. Only a few spice racks, chopping boards, a knife rack and a sun oven to be precise.

I see this phase as an apprenticeship were I hone my skills, learn about the tools (how they work, how to fix them, how to set them up etc etc), try to understand the principles of proportion and design better, and get to know the properties of the various species of wood in my collection in order to make better decisions in choosing wood for particular purposes once I start building furniture. If one considers that the time tested apprenticeship model was based on a seven year full-time program, it would take a hobbyist woodworker like me more than 20 years to get even close to the same amount of shop time completed. I would rather make my mistakes while building a sawhorse (for example) than a Windsor chair. To add to that it is probably also more likely that one would do a descent job if you have the correct tools and shop structures available by the time you take on the fancy stuff.

Another angle on this topic would be to compare it with other leisure pastimes. How about something like shooting for example. In my experience, most gun-nuts (I used to be one) spend most of their time loading ammunition, and testing the loads at the riffle range etc etc. A relatively small amount of time is spent killing things, either while hunting or going to war. One could probably argue that a riffle is designed to kill stuff and if your are not using it for that purpose you are (similar to the poor sod that works on his shop rather than building furniture) wasting your time.

I would like to challenge the perceived discrimination against these members of our phalanx. As far I am concerned, most of us do this as a leisure pastime. Therefore it seems as if the craft serves it’s purpose as long as it yields pleasure. Whether it also yields furniture or tools or whatever is immaterial. The sole point of it is the creation of joy. As long as everyone in the tribe enjoy what they are doing, learn a few new tricks and skills along the way which is shared around and passed on to the next generation, we should embrace each one of them. It really does not make any sense to try and make certain people at different stages in their journey (compared to your’s) feel inferior, however subtle it might be communicated.

Woodworking recluse



I would like to thank Siavosh Bahrami sincerely for including my site on I have been documenting my woodwork journey since March 2013, without knowing whether there is anyone out there benefitting from it or not. Since he included me on his blog aggregator, two things have happened. In the first place, I have found heaps of other blog sites that I learn from and enjoy. In the second place, I can see that a few woodworkers are starting to look at my posts.

Being stuck in woodworking hinterland can be quite challenging when it comes to sharing ideas and that feeling of being part of a community. Since frequenting woodspotting, I’ve realised that there are several other woodworkers in a similar position, but I think I might still take the cake (so to speak). So far I have not found any other woodwork blogger from Africa, a continent that is home to 1 166 239 000 souls. It looks like Namibia is once again leading the way on the African continent! Or have I missed someone?

It is fascinating to see pictures of the different weather conditions that prevails outside some of the blogger’s shops. It got me thinking. I should start taking pictures of the unique semi-desert/savanna terroir around my shop. Even the shots of birdlife, as per Peter Follansbee’s site, is inspiring. My son is doing a science project at present where he records all the indigenous birds we see in our garden. Once I have a decent lense for my 7D, you might see some pictures of the Shaft-Tailed Whydah, Paradice Flycatcher, African Red-Eyed Bulbul, Green-Winged Pytilia, etc etc. In the meantime, you will have to be content with the picture of Zebras taken in the Etosha Game Reserve a few years ago.

Anyway, it feels good to at least have some vague sense of being part of a woodworking community.

Siavosh, you are a legend mate.


Gerhard Marx

Replacing Lie-Nielsen mortise chisel handle


A few weeks ago the original Hornbeam handle of my ½” Lie-Nielsen mortise chisel expired as pictured. Being smashed constantly with a shop made Ysterhout mallet does not seem to agree with Hornbeam’s constitution. Ysterhout (Olea capensis macrocarpa) at a Janka side hardness of 10,050–13,750 N and Janka end hardness of 9780–14,200 N makes Hornbeam feel like a marshmallow. It thus made sense to turn the new handle out of Ysterhout, which I duly did.

I quote from a bit of interesting info on this species for you from the website indicated below.

Uses and cultural aspects
An authoritative source (Mabberley, 2008) informs us that ironwoods have the heaviest known timber, with a recorded specific gravity of 1.49. In other words, the timber of these trees sinks like a stone when put into water. Ironwood timber has long been respected, but its weight and hardness have to some extent limited its popularity, and it is not as widely encountered in antique furniture as, say, stinkwood, yellowwood or Indian teak. However, Hartwig (1973) reports the existence of antique ploughs and harrows made at least partly of ironwood. The limited use implied by Hartwig fits well with Von Breitenbach’s (1974) observation that the early foresters left a disproportionate number of large black ironwood trees standing, because with only hand-powered tools, it was much more profitable to go after yellowwood and stinkwood – for the effort involved in felling and removing one ironwood, they could process several of the other trees. Nonetheless, Von Breitenbach reports that the wood is suitable for sleepers, piles, flooring and veneers. One can imagine that the objection to making furniture out of the solid wood is that the results would be so heavy as to be almost immovable. The use of these trees for firewood, and (while living) for shelterbelts and as ornamentals is recorded.



I though I would turn two while I am at it.


Straight after being seated.




After a bit of pounding.