Category Archives: Wood

Lucky Strike


It is my lucky day. I managed to secure a deal for some reclaimed pine in massive dimensions (given what is generally available in Namibia) from a friend in the building trade. The deal goes like this: I need to build him a huge table that can be disassembled from some of the timber and the rest of it is mine.

The timber was used to build a container for a massive machine that weighed more than 5 tons to transport it from Germany to Namibia. In the picture below I am referring to the stuff at the bottom.


There are about ten piece of 200 mm (8″) x 75 mm (3″) x 3200 mm (10½), a few that measure 130 mm (5¼”) x 110 (>4″) x 3200 mm (10½’), and 5 or so of 150 mm (6″) x 130 mm (5¼”) x 5000 mm (16′). It is next to impossible to find solid wood in these dimensions in the Land of the Brave.


If you look at the year rings, it is clearly quality stuff. The pine we can buy around here has year rings as wide as the Benguela sea current that grace our Skeleton Coast. These trees must have grown in quite harsh conditions (I am guessing) in the Northern Hemisphere.


Unfortunately this means that I will not be able to do the chair build with Brian Eve in June. I hope he will understand my situation. He has suggested that a few bloggers build a chair together and compare notes via his website. I still think it is a wonderful idea and will certainly join something like that in future, but cannot let this opportunity slip either. Sorry Brian!

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.




The lumbering odyssey

In this post I would like to document the long and arduous odyssey of the wood I love so much. As I have explained in previous posts such as “My journey 3”, I feel a special connection with the wood from the area where I grew up. The ancient hardwood forests of the Southern Cape is were I feel most at peace as a person. I love the the smells, the sounds and the cool  damp atmosphere.

It is from these forests that I bought small batches of wood with every cent I could spare at the auctions they used to have there. They used to cut trees that are more than 80% dead in their crown and then auctioned them off once per annum. Apparently, even this activity has been discontinued since 2005.

It used to be my favourite day of the year, getting up in the early hours of the morning to prepare for battle. I used to pack some biltong, a few sandwiches, coffee, a bottle of Calitzdorp’s finest port and head off to the forest to tussle with the big furniture companies (with even bigger checkbooks) in order to secure a few logs. Over a period of 2 years (2000 and 2001) while living back in my hometown, I personally attended and bought wood from two of these auctions. On the second of these auctions I was accompanied by my father, my wife and my cousin. We had an absolute ball of a time and secured quite a few logs. My father then attended two more auctions on my behalf while we were living overseas. We managed to accumulate 17 cubic meters of mainly Assegaai, Ysterhout, Witpeer, Harde Peer, Kaapse Swarthout, Kershout and Wit Els.

21/11/2013 – Last night I found this piece of paper documenting what I bought over the mentioned time. My father must have drawn it up in order to get the clearance to transport the wood to Namibia. There are a few mistakes, but at least it reminds me exactly when what was bought. 

hout koop lys

Once you buy the logs you have to arrange to get them removed from the forest and sawn to your liking. My logs were always processed by a lady by the surname of Botha. In this part of the world Botha is similar Smith in England. My mother’s maiden name was Botha to give you an idea. Anyway, this Botha lady did a great job every single time.

In the pictures below you can get an idea of how these trees look like in the forest. The wood is (in almost every case) extremely hard and takes literally several hundred years to grow to the size needed for furniture making.

ysterhout boomysterhout baswitles1_Assegai_tree_-_Curtisia_dentata_-_afromontane

The Knysna Loerie is a shy yet glamorous resident of these forests.


The wood then went straight into this garage stacked with spacers (as shown) without any artificial drying. It sat in this exact position for between 6-10 years (depending on the batch) in a coastal environment at a fairly high ambient humidity. As you can see, my father did a great job of stacking the wood for slow yet consistent drying. By the way, you will notice the baby on the wife’s arm. This is my son Didi whom you would have met in earlier posts masquerading as Pai Mei.


Thought you might need a quick reminder of who Pai Mei is. If you are still intrigued watch “Kill Bill”.

pai mai 2pai mai

At the end of 2011 we bought a house in Windhoek and moved all our earthly belongings 1800km. The wood that was very much stable at the coastal humidity at that time were stacked without pacers as shown below. I decided to stack it this way for two reasons. One, I did not have enough space at the time, and two, in an attempt to slow down the drying process moving from high to low ambient humidity. I also kept a few 20 liter buckets full of water in the garage and did not open it much at all for the first year in a further attempt to slow down the drying. Whether it was as a result of these measures I do not know, but the wood really settled down very well.


I will add the last stage (hopefully) of the odyssey, which should take place in the next few weeks to a month. I am in the process of preparing their longterm home. The idea is to have them under a roof shaded by many big trees in racks sorted by species. Here are the most recent pictures I have of their future home. You can see the carcass of the, soon to be, tin roof hiding under several large trees. It is an area of around 20 square meters in total. I hope to have my prized lumber ‘kickin’ it in the Caribbean’ (so to speak) under this roof by the end of this month.



19/8/2013 – I took these photos on the weekend of the rough structure my father-in-law built in order for me to be able to sort the 9 odd species of wood into separate “boxes”. Now we need to first wrap the area with shade net and black builders plastic in order to keep the sun off the wood and create an optional enclosed area in order to regularly fumigate the stack of wood.



18/10/2013 – A week ago my friend Sigmund and I started to add a sprinkling system to this wood storage facility. You will also notice that all the wooden structures have been painted with a 50/50 mixture of diesel and oil recycled from vehicles, as provided by my mechanic who filled a 20 litre can for me in only 2 days. The idea is that if and when the riverbed vegetation bordering this structure goes up in flames, (as what tends to happen during the last few months prior to the first rain as lit by thunderstorms) I could open one tap and the area around the shed and the wood in it would be soaked in water within minutes.


8/2/2014 – We finally managed to move the lumber into it’s cosy wee home today. Almost the whole family (Didi, the wife and I) and four chaps from Oshiwambo extraction (including our own Tobias) worked very hard for more than 5 hours on the trot to get the job done. We had a system going where the wood first ended up on the saw horses for me to code it according to species. Then it was moved to it’s new home to be stacked in piles according to the species.


Here you can see a ‘Y’ on a board, indicating that it is Ysterhout.


The wife enjoyed her gym session with a vengeance.




Didi got tired of carrying wood and decided to become the event photographer.





At this point we decided to have lunch. As you can see we made good progress.




Lunch came in the form of a proper Africa braai, which Didi managed with quite a bit of encouragement from his mother.




My precious wood finally came to rest in it’s purpose-built shed after 10-14 years (depending on the batch) in various different storage facilities and close to 2000 km of traveling!!