A pleasant smell of planed wood hits me as I enter the workshop of window joiner Petter Gantelius. The window frames are hanging neatly from the ceiling, waiting their turn to undergo a loving restoration.
It is a time-consuming skilled trade and Petter exercises great care in each and every aspect of his work. He draws his hand over the recently effected woodwork repair and decides that it is now perfect.
Tell us a little about your background, because you have not always worked with joinery?
What I have done the most to date is actually working as a contemporary circus artist. It included performing acrobatics, juggling and fire artistry in various forms. I have always been attracted to doing difficult things and enjoy practicing things that are difficult, or preferably totally impossible.
How is it that you finally ended up doing joinery?
I’ve had woodworking in my blood since childhood. After senior high school I read various courses in restoration architecture at the Faculty of Engineering at Lund University to qualify as a restoration architect. But it turned out to be far too administrative and hierarchical for me. I did not fit in there at all; I wanted to work with my hands as well.
So I gave up that idea and continued working with my artistry. It was only when I met an old window craftsman that I realized what I wanted to do. After 12 years as a professional contemporary circus artist I started my own window joinery company in 2014.
How many window joiners are there in Sweden?
It’s hard to say, as many avoid the limelight. Most of them are very busy and don’t need to market themselves. I am one of them, and maybe there are 200 of us in total. I know of around 100 joiners.
It doesn’t sound like you have to hunt for customers?
Oh no, customers come chasing me. (Laughter) However, I thought it was hard to find good information when I started as a window joiner, so that’s why I’m sharing my tips on social media. In turn it has both given me work and created attention. It’s my best marketing effort - to share what I do.
What is the best thing about your job?
A job that ticks all the boxes would probably involve starting with really worn-out antique windows that belong to a customer who has been searching for someone to restore them for long time. The most beautiful parts are cutting the glass, applying the putty, removing damaged timber and to achieve a perfect fit in the replacement pieces. To plane away the last tenth of a millimetre and witness as the old and the new fuse together.
At the same time the work is very varied - sometimes I get to hew in concrete, only in the next moment to cut 200 year-old hand-blown glass, or hang a frame 15 meters up in the air.
I understand you mainly use hand tools?
The right tool for the right task I would say. Many times it is both easier and faster to work by hand than to pick up machines and have to configure them for the job. I have lots of power tools that help me work efficiently, but they make noise and create dust, and takes me further away from the craft.
What tools could you not manage without?
I couldn’t do without a lot of tools! But what I would miss the most would be the HDC chisel that I always have on my belt. And the Japanese saw that I wouldn’t want to be without. The HDC chisel’s planing function makes it possible to get to where other chisels cannot reach, and the iron sole gives me immediate feedback on the smoothness of the surface I managed to accomplish.
What does a typical working day look like for you?
There are probably ten different typical days. Work inside the workshop may involve taking inventory, measuring-up, removing glazing and scraping paint, or inserting timber restorations, maybe cutting glass, applying putty and paint or linseed oil-burning old iron fittings.
A customer might have a dormer window that’s leaked water and needs to be refurbished, or I’ll be standing on a scaffold sawing off bad timber on a frame. I must have at least duplicates of all important tools as I can never really know what I might find under metal and paint.
Have you ever refused a job that you considered to be impossible?
I have refused jobs, but not because they have been impossible. Actually it was more a case of them sometimes becoming too expensive. For example in cases of 1980s windows in substandard timber with bad glass. It costs a lot more than it is worth. But in cases of really old windows, even if only 10% of the window sash remains and the rest is new, I’ll do them if it’s economically viable.
What is important to consider in a restoration project?
The most important thing is that linseed oil products are used, something that has worked for several hundred years and is the only thing that nurtures the old material properly. Getting wood repairs to fit perfectly is also crucial for them to be able to last for quite some time.
Do you have any tips & tricks, or do you keep them to yourself?
I am very happy to share them. What I do is hard enough, so I don’t have to hold on to any trade secrets. I use the chisels for most things and I need to resharpen them often. But I can’t stand water grinding, it takes far too long. Instead I use a belt sander because it doesn’t burn the edge as much as a whetstone does.
Before grinding, I throw the chisel into the freezer. The HDC chisels are made from sufficiently heavy density iron so they remain chilled much longer, which means that I can belt-sharpen a new edge without worrying about it burning. Then I sharpen the raw edge and fine-polish it using a bench-polishing machine with polishing paste. It takes no time at all to get a nice, sharp edge. It is of course not as perfect as with a Japanese whetstone, but it is normally quite sufficient for most of the work that I do.