Gys’s passion for wood and wood-crafting began as a young boy. His tenacity and entrepreneurial spirit motivated his father to present him with his first combination woodwork machine on his 14th birthday. This was the start of Gys’s life-long relationship with wood-crafting. He started hand-making wooden pencil boxes and sold them to his school friends, as well as schools in his community. His range soon expanded to include lamps, bookshelves and little side-tables.
At the age of 16, he walked bravely into Tony Factor’s shop in Market Street, Johannesburg, to show him some of his products. The very next day, Gys literally sold all his stock to Tony Factor who then started collecting from Gys on a weekly basis. Soon, he was supplying Lotters Pine Shops with the same goods. And so, Gys together with his life-long friend and apprentice, Michael (or “Kokok” as Gys endearingly calls him), started a small and humble business on his family farm in Eikenhof, south of Johannesburg.
As his business grew, Gys moved his woodworking factory to Alrode South and officially registered his company GF Potgieter Enterprises in 1982. He was supplying OK Bazaars and other individual shop-owners with his range also including beds, breakfast nooks and room dividers.
Soon, his business grew to 350 people, with his company making furniture for the likes of Game, Dion and Pick n Pay. He also introduced a new furniture range and well-known South African brand Duralog.
Gys Potgieter is the visionary and owner of Kuni, creators of unique, handcrafted wooden furniture to natural perfection.
Gys is a master of his craft and retains a reverence for hand-worked wood and indigenous wooden slabs at the core of his individually crafted pieces. Every piece is unique, every curve, join and detail added with distinctive purpose, while all the time shaping the wood in a way that respects the wild nature of the slab and then, adding a modern twist.
Craftsmanship is an exchange, a love relationship between the maker and the wood. The joy comes from the process of using your hands, applying your mind and honouring nature, intimately shaping the wooden slab for one single ideal use. It is a language of patience, perfection and determination, of visualising the potential in the grain and lovingly moulding it to result in a masterpiece.
For Gys, the perfectly crafted furniture piece is as functional as it is beautiful. It is not about the extent or number of items produced, but about the passion and pride of producing a single, unique, handcrafted work of art, a natural object of lasting beauty.
THE HAND PLANER
"Every perfectly crafted furniture piece is as functional as it is beautiful"
Hand planes are one of the ancient tools in the craft of woodwork and originate thousands of years ago. It is a hand tool used to shape wood and can successfully be applied to fine scale planning. It can be used to flatten the wooden slab, reduce the thickness and impart a smooth surface to a rough piece of timber. Early planes were made from wood and had a mortise or rectangular slot cut across the centre of the body. The iron cutting blade was secured with a wooden wedge that was tapped into the mortise and adjusted with a hammer, the woodworker’s hand or scrap wood. And this is exactly how it is today with traditional wooden hand planes.
The earliest examples of the woodworking plane were found in Pompeii, Italy, although other Roman planes have been excavated in Britain and Germany. One example was found in Cologne, Germany, with a body made completely of bronze without a wooden core – much like today’s metal planes. The history, apart from these planes, is not clear. However, woodwork found in Egyptian tombs show smoothed surfaces created with some form of cutting edge or scraping tool. The planes of the 15th to 17th centuries were designed with horn-style front handles. These planes still exist in the present day where a pulling rather than a pushing action is used.
Leonard Baily produced cast iron-bodied hand planes in the mid-1860s. These patents were bought by Stanley Rule & Level, now Stanley Works, a US tool innovator. Designers at Stanley further developed the original Bailey designs. The Bailey and Stanley designs became the basis for most modern hand planes manufactured today, hence many references to the Stanley/Bailey design, or the Stanley/Bailey “pattern”. In 1918, an air-powered handheld planing tool was developed to reduce shipbuilding labour during World War I. This allowed one man to do the planing work of 15 men who used manual tools. Modern hand planes are made from wood, ductile iron or bronze, which produces a tool that is heavier and rust free.
The hand pane is far from extinct. Because it can pare off just a thin slice of wood, the tool is superior when it comes to shaving the edge of a door, chamfering the corner of a board or straightening a piece of wood. It finishes the wood beautifully without the need for sandpaper or other abrasives.