Something to Wine About

I do not consider myself a wine connoisseur. My pallet is refined enough to know what I like and what I don’t like. I can occasionally pick out the odd varietal, especially whites, but I mostly just like drinking wine for the joy of drinking wine.

I like collecting wine. In fact, one of the major motivators for moving the Fairest Cape, and our purchasing our current home was proximity to wine farms. We live on the doorstep of the Durbanville wine route. Our favourite weekend get-away spot is Robertson, and Franschhoek is close enough for a day trip. Over the years I have amassed a reasonable collection of wine. Most of it had been shoved into a cupboard for storage and almost all of it in boxes. We had a bar at one stage, but it didn’t really fit into the house, and so we sold it. Finding the right bottle was a nightmare.

On a trip to Knysna one year, we stopped in at one of the wood stores along the N2. As soon as I walked into the store, I fell in love with a Yellowwood slab. It was everything anyone could ever want in a slab of wood. She was lovely. But love is a fickle thing, and I had no sooner set my heart on acquiring her, when I spied her distant cousin, a Blackwood slab. It was love at first site…again. But this time it was to last. I purchased her and made arrangements for her to be shipped back to Cape Town.

The slab is 2.5 meters long, about 600mm wide, on average and about 50mm thick. It is the centre cut with a live edge on both sides. I was informed that the tree was felled about 100 years ago, and the slab has been hanging around since. I don’t know how old the tree was when it was felled, but I am pretty sure it had been around a very long time. I once read that Blackwood trees can take 70 to 100 years to reach that size. The slab was going to be the new top for our bar with wine storage underneath.

The first attempt at cabinetry was a plywood carcass with a built-in wine rack. I built the carcass and hated it. It never made it out the workshop. It became a small workbench instead. The slab meanwhile sat on the lounge floor covered with a couple of towels. One Saturday morning, during a visit to Timbacore for some garden stuff, I came across the biggest pile of Kiaat I have ever seen. Freshly sawn planks, waiting for me to select what I needed for the cabinetry. Thus was born the carcass. And the wine migrated out of the cupboard and into the cabinet, still in boxes though. I had made the carcass big enough to accommodate 4 stand-alone wine racks. I built the first 2, and then sold them. Which wasn’t a problem, because I built another one.  And gave it to my cousin. By this stage I was able to turn out wine racks at will. Eventually I finished the 4 for the cabinet. It has only taken about 5 years, but we finally have a home for most of our wine. I am still to make the doors, and will do so as soon as I have completed a stained glass course I want to attend. I want leaded glass fronts for the doors.

Orders for wine racks have kept coming though. Some of them with good stories to tell. Like the time I built a wine rack for a guy who felt wine was more important than a dishwasher. We built the wine rack to fit into the dishwasher space, or at least that was the plan. I somehow managed to completely misread the dimensions. Instead of fitting into the space with 5mm space on either side, it slid in like a large hand in a medium latex glove. It was touch and go, but it looks perfect.

Tight fit, but looks good!

A work colleague ordered one with a shelf for her gin collection. I had a beautiful piece of Kiaat with rotted bits. After grinding out the rot and wormholes, I was left with beautiful top. I had a live edge I cut from another piece and added it to the top.

6×6 With a shelf on top

Then there was the monster rack. I got a call from a lady who was urgently looking for a wine rack. We worked out the space she had to fill, and I ended up building a 9 x 11 rack. When I delivered it to her house, her story was that she got caught without wine during lockdown. As soon as the booze ban was lifted she ordered a few boxes. By a few she meant well over a hundred bottles, most of which were stacked on the floor. They are now stacked in her wine rack. I hope she has as much fun emptying her rack as I did making it. I was glad she made delivery before the booze ban was reinstated.

That will last a while. Cat not included!

Which brings us to today. We are currently in our second booze ban, with no end in sight. I heard SA has a gazillion litres of wine that were made this year that cannot be sold. I feel for those farmers, wine-makers, farmworkers and their families. I hope that this ends well for them.

As soon as the ban is lifted, I intend doing my part and restocking my stash. In the meantime, I can’t help with wine purchases, but I can help you create a space to store your wine when it arrives.  Give me shout for a custom wine rack or purchase one of my off the shelf variants. They are made as either a 4×4 or 6×6 in the hardwood of your choice. I am considering a smaller 3×3 variant but haven’t had any takers yet. The white oak with a black stain seems to be extremely popular.

I may not be able to solve your wine problem, but I can solve your wine rack problem. Stay safe and look after yourselves. Have a drink for me and bottle or three for our wine industry.

Shoji Lanter

Firewood and Fine Art

The other day, we were sitting out the patio enjoying the warm spring weather. We were getting ready to have a braai, and I had just opened a new bag of Kameeldoring fire wood. While hauling bits of wood out of the bag, I came across a rather interesting piece. It was about 35 cm long, and about 10 cm thick. The inside of the wood had rotted through giving it a really cool appearance. I immediately thought I had to do something with it. It looked just too nice to throw on the braai.

I used my power washer to clean off the caked in drit and muck and get rid of some of the punky, rotten wood. After leaving it to dry in the sun for a couple of hours I used a wire brush to remove the rough outer pieces and smooth it down. I used my Dremmel with a fine rotary sanding attachment to clean the inside. It started to take shape quite nicely!

I scratched through my odds ‘n sods bin and came across a piece of Blackwood with a live edge. I straightened the edges on the table saw, and sanded it down. I used a piece of copper tubing to give it a little more height and place for the bulb and shade to attach.

I smoothed the wood down with some steel wool before applying two coats of a dark beeswax finish. I wired in a bulb and added a lamp and it was done.

Firewood Lamps
My firewood lamp.

And then, suddenly, popping into my YouTube feed was a series of videos on Japanese lanterns, or Shoji Lamps. I had to try and make one. I thought hand cutting dovetail joints was tough, but this was truly something else. In traditional Japanese carpentry, the Shoji screens contain hand-cut and elaborate kumiko or lattice patterns covered in paper. I scratched around in my odds ‘n sods and found some Beach and Kiaat pieces. These were perfect for what I had in mind,

I cut and planed and polished, and then planed some more. I squared the Kiaat side pieces at 20mm each and cut the half-lap joints in each to form the frame. I planed and squared the Beech to form the kumiko lattice pieces. These were planed to 8mm each and then I hand cut the lap joints to form the lattice. This was where the challenge lay. This is delicate, and detailed work and takes a fair degree of planning to get it right. I struggle to draw plans and prefer to work things out as I go along. That works out 9 times out of 10, when I making something rustic like the Firewood lamp. If its a little off square it adds character. If the proportion is not quite right, keep cutting till it looks right. However with these fine woodworking pieces, it has to be right. Every mistake is horribly amplified and easily noticeable.

The Kiaat frame, not yet glued and sanded yet.

I sanded all the pieces to 220 grit and gave it a fine polish with 00 steel wool. I used some white beeswax as a finishing coat. I used spray glue and translucent trace paper for the screens and wired in an LED bulb. A little bit of wood, paper and a gazillion hours of patience, cutting and fitting and it was done.

These two pieces couldn’t be more contrasting. The Firewood lamp is rough and rugged. It is striking in its appearance and the wood was saved from cooking my lamb chops by chance. The Shoji lamp is delicate, proportioned and balanced. When lit, it has a soft diffuse glow.

The light is soft and diffuse and the contrast between the Beech and Kiaat is beatiful.