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Living the dream

A lover of all-things-nature, especially trees, Ballito-based wood craftsman and father of two, Ross Nixon, creates beautifully handcrafted furniture and gifts, and his business, Nixon Woodcraft, is growing with each passing day.

Even from when he was a young boy, Ross always found himself happiest when submerged in and surrounded by nature. From a childhood spent surfing and lifesaving on the South Coast, to studying environmental management, running an outdoor adventure camp and then living and working in the wilderness on an island in northern Japan, his love for the outdoors runs deep.

And his passion clearly shines through in his work. A skilled carpenter, 40-year-old Ross carefully and lovingly handcrafts custom furniture and restores, refurbishes and replenishes sentimental timber pieces at his workshop based in Sheffield Beach. Despite his obvious natural skill for woodwork though, Ross says he never thought he would ever end up working with his hands. “I used to tinker around, like most boys, taking things apart and putting them back together, but I actually never did really well at woodwork when I was at school.” After matric, Ross spent a couple of years working at Spirit of Adventure – a leadership camp for school-going kids – and then studied environmental management at university. He returned to the camp where he worked as camp director for six years. When they got married, Ross and his wife Lara decided it was time to travel and broaden their horizons a little before settling down.

They moved to Japan where they were employed to teach English and expose the Japanese children to Western culture. “It was an amazing experience. We lived in Hokkaido, an island in northern Japan that is really in the middle of a complete wilderness. The winters are very extreme (with temperatures dropping to -30C°), and we would get up to six metres of snow. It’s quite similar to Alaska and I snowboarded my guts out in winter,” he laughs.

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During the summer months, when there wasn’t much else to do, Ross spent his time hiking and walking in the mountains and fly-fishing in streams. He bought a basic fly-tying kit and started making his own flies in the evenings. “It is quite a detailed process and you have to get the proportions right, but as I got better my confidence grew and I realised I was actually quite good at doing things with my hands.” When the snow had melted, he started collecting small wood samples and discs on his walks and replaced all the knife handles in their house with wooden handles that he carved and shaped with a handsaw and sandpaper. The woodworking bug had bitten. “I began learning on the ‘world university’ called Youtube (you can teach yourself anything online these days) and when we moved back to South Africa four years later, I carried on with my hobby.”

When Ross and a few of his friends heard about an elderly man who was selling up his entire woodworking workshop (including all the tools and machines he had collected over the years), they decided to club together and buy them from him. Everything went into storage for an entire year before they found a mini-factory premises and began hiring out the machines to friends who wanted to use them for small jobs. “It never crossed my mind that I would ever end up doing this full-time,” says Ross, who started working in construction when he returned to South Africa. “I mean, we all dream of living on a smallholding, growing our own veggies and having a workshop in the back … but that always seemed like a pipe dream.” Despite not being ‘entrepreneurial’ by nature, Ross decided (with the support of his family) to take over the workshop and starting making wooden furniture full time in 2018.

“My business model was literally non-existent. I just thought I’d make some small and medium furniture pieces for people,” he laughs. “I spent a couple of years figuring it out and it really was (and still is) an organic learning process.” With his workshop now situated near Breadologie (in Sheffield Beach), Ross creates sophisticated, rustic pieces that show off the natural beauty of the wood he works with. “I’ve always been fascinated with trees and I love wood as a medium. I try not to change it too much, and the more natural I can keep it to show off the beauty of the wood, the better.” Wherever possible, Ross uses reclaimed wood or alien species to make his custom commissioned pieces, including side tables, tables, benches, planters and lamps. He also works with kitchens and built-in cupboards.

Details: [email protected], 076 833 3350,
IGL: @nixonwoodcraftsa

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