Woodworking in Nairobi, Kenya #3: What I have learned in one year in Nairobi

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Blog entry by LukeCan posted 07-22-2019 12:17 AM 654 reads 0 times favorited 1 comment Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 2: Nairobi: The search begins Part 3 of Woodworking in Nairobi, Kenya series no next part

I almost forgot about my blog and this forum until someone responded to a project picture I posted. So for those who are interested and those who move to Nairobi here is what I have learned so far about doing woodworking in Nairobi.

1. There are basically two kinds of wood you can get in Nairobi regularly: Mahogany (sapelle mainly) and Cyprus. Logging is illegal in Kenya at the moment so all the wood comes from Uganda. At least for now. They might ban logging too.

2. Lots of places sell wood but the wood sits in the open exposed to sun and rain. It’s really wonky and warped. Best place to find quality wood in Nairobi is in the industrial area where the wood is stored under a roof. Woodmakers has become my go to place.

3. Tools of quality can be a challenge to get. Lunchbox/table top planers are not available in Kenya unless you import. Too expensive considering I will be here 2-3 years. The timber yards can plane it for you but no guarantees that it will be milled square or with the twist taken out. Other power tools can be extremely expensive. So hand tools have become a necessity. Other quality tools and necessities I bring in with me when I travel back to Canada.

4. Finishing products are limited. They haven’t heard of Danish Oil. Polyurethane is widely available. It is possible to get boiled linseed oil (that has been boiled, no driers added) and Tung oil. I have learned to mix my own Danish oil. Lacquer is available but I don’t have the equipment to use it.

5. Wood glue is easy to get but it is made in Kenya and I’m not certain of its quality. No Titebond here. THe locally made stuff seems to work though.

6. Hardware is hard to come by and is a constant source of frustration. Hardware stores (all pretty small places) have this and that sizes. E.g. 3/4” nails and the next size up is 3” nails. Few people have much knowledge about anything.

7. Quality of craftmanship in Kenya is low. Lots of vendors on the side of the road sell wood furniture items (no roof or anything. Literally on the side of the road). To the average person they look good but they are far from good on closer inspection. Skills here are basic and items produced are rustic in design. Basic joinery etc. Still expats buy the stuff and get rid of it when they move countries.

8. North American power tools are useless even with a transformer. Converting from 110 V to 240V is not hard. The problem is North American tools (ones with spinning motors anyway) are rated for 60 Hz only and Kenya is on 50 Hz. There is no simple or cheap way to convert Hz. SO handtools again for a lot of work.

After the first year and many exploratory trips around the city, and people bringing stuff from North America when they visit, I have been able to get down to some projects. I hope to accomplish more next year.

1 comment so far

View Chris208's profile


246 posts in 3076 days

#1 posted 07-25-2019 12:34 AM

Your post strikes me as a bit racist and/or ethnocentric.

The bit about Kenyans not having knowledge about anything was particularly offensive.

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