The 67-year-old deftly cuts a plank from your massive log employing a storey-high band saw. “We are some of the few, or else the only, people still performing it in Hong Kong,” he tells visitors.
It absolutely was a thrill to view Wong at the job and tour his 10,000 sq ft sawmill, chock-a-block with assorted logs of various species, age and sizes. But just a couple of decades ago, timber businesses like Chi Kee were common.
Wong and his awesome seven siblings grew up playing within their father’s lumber yard, Chi Kee Sawmill & Timber, which began operations in North Reason for 1947 before relocating to Chai Wan then its current site in 1982.
But the timber business in Hong Kong has steadily declined in recent decades as cheap, Furniture Hong Kong became easily available and manufacturing shifted to mainland China. Chi Kee can be a rare survivor inside the twilight industry.
This has given Wong more time for his personal search for sculpture and carpentry. However, he has been a lot busier lately after his business got to public attention as among the first slated being cleared for that controversial North East New Territories Development Plan.
Intrigued artists and design students started to seek him out as being a previously untapped resource on local wood crafts, and before long he was receiving school visits and holding woodworking workshops.
Whilst the fate of his factory is uncertain (he hopes to be relocated into a suitable site), Wong is delighted it has been drawing a lot buzz.
“They are crafts and livelihoods worth preserving,” he says. “We must think about a society’s sustainability; placing buildings is only able to require so far.
“When I’m too busy to keep workshops and such, I share my knowledge on our Facebook page which my daughter setup in my opinion. I speak about everything, from what different types of wood are perfect for to how to use different tools as well as the wisdom behind techniques including mortise and tenon joints [whenever a cavity is cut into a sheet of timber to slot in another with a protruding ‘tongue’]. The page has become quite popular.”
However, artist Wong Tin-yan attributes the curiosity about Chi Kee as well as its owner just as much to some revival in woodworking among younger Hongkongers as opposition on the government’s development plan and support for small businesses.
A skill complete Chinese University, Wong Tin-yan credits outfits like street art collective Start From Zero and SiFu Wood Works for promoting craftsmanship and interest in woodworking, especially among young people.
Lung Man-chuen of Mr Lung’s Wood Workshop is actually a pioneer with this movement. The 83-year-old master craftsman started running classes with help from St James’ Settlement, and has since rekindled many people’s appreciation of traditional wood crafts. Now, Lung’s new workshop directly into Kwa Wan teems with students keen to learn how to make basic pieces of furniture, like a rustic, nail-free bench. Among the latest to share their delight and knowledge about handcrafted items is Saturn Wood Workshop, started by two graduates from Baptist University.
Wong Tin-yan, too, helped fuel the renewed interest in utilizing wood. He started creating large-scale animal sculptures using pieces of discarded wood while still at university. His school was under renovation at that time, which gave him usage of a good amount of discarded planks and pallets. The piles of rejects reminded him of animal skeletons, Wong says, and then he has since created various installations for your Hong Kong Art Biennial, malls, museums and art galleries.
They are crafts and livelihoods worth preserving. We should think about society’s sustainability; setting up buildings can only get you so far.
“In addition, i create a point to host [woodworking] workshops at schools. I want students to sense of themselves especially in this materialistic world what it’s love to make one’s own furniture,” he says. “To generate is a human instinct and there’s plenty of enjoyment to be had as a result. People are so bored through the homogeneity [of what’s available] which they crave something different. They need something unique and creating your very own is amongst the ways. And creating can also be among the best methods to challenge society’s existing or mainstream value.”
For the past two years, Wong Tin-yan has been specifically leading to a fortnightly column on woodworking for Ming Pao Sunday, introducing different artisanal brands and crafts folks Hong Kong and Taiwan, where additionally there is a surging interest in wood.
Unlike Taiwan, however, Hong Kong lacks a good chain of supply and demand. Woodrite, a non-profit organisation which collaborates with designers and veteran carpenters to make Dining table Hong Kong to buy using recycled wood, is the nearest achieving a sustainable business model.
“Of course, we can’t return to making everything by hand because of labour cost and efficiency, but mass-produced products from international brands will not be always durable and seldom takes into account the small homes and humidity in Hong Kong,” Wong Tin-yan says. “The best thing is usually to have choices from both worlds so that each person’s preference may be met using a relevant choice. And it doesn’t matter everything you choose, but understanding the distinction between them and why there’s this kind of difference from the price is vital.”
Start From Zero is rarely lacking enthusiastic people hoping to get a trick or two at founder Dominic Chan Yun-wai’s woodwork classes, run through its S.F.Z Untechnic Department.
Inspired by US street artist Shepard Fairey, the self-taught Chan started his street art initiative in 2000. Over time, the crew, including artist Katol Lo, has made a name for stencil art, cool T-shirt designs and guerilla stickers.
And merely as he became hooked on street art, Chan fell obsessed about wood after he started obtaining junk wood and taking advantage of it in their work.
“By far the most appealing thing about woodworking is whatever I think of I will construct it immediately. It’s this sort of versatile material and there are so many ways you can handle it,” he says.
As his skills improved, Chan started receiving orders to help make furniture and make installations at events like Clockenflap and Detour creative showcase.
They have also hosted irregular workshops at Rat’s Cave, the crew’s now-defunct shop in Sheung Wan. These proved so well liked that he or she has create a normal schedule for short- or long-term projects, making anything from a basic clothes hanger to coffee tables, mirror frames and stools in his studio space within a Ngau Tau Kok industrial building.
Chan says he would stop being surprised if woodworking turned into a passing fad – many people just sign up for one class, viewing it as a fun gathering with friends with dexopky64 bonus of the cool piece of Office chairs Hong Kong for taking home. But Chan believes that may be not really a bad thing.
“Out from 10 those who were intrigued enough to take up street art, at least two have kept doing it. I’ve been at it within the last fifteen years and I’m more keen about it than in the past.”
As for his obsession with woodworking, Chan suspects it is going to remain with him for around a decade. It’s the medium he or she is spending almost all of his time on. And he is confident once people try their hand at their particular wood project, they will likely be enticed by the wonder and deeper meaning behind each item.
“Following the last Clockenflap we was required to dismantle this wooden house we designed for the celebration but we saved the wood for other uses. Some of those doors now hangs during my room in the home. In addition, i crafted a stool personally once the event – and this stool is like they have experienced the foremost and second world wars before arriving in my flat. It provides so many stories behind it,” he says. “It’s like, between a piece you made with your own hands and something purchased from Ikea, which will you throw away first?”
Advocates of any more laid-back lifestyle, the organisers offer a variety of urban farming and craft workshops, including sessions on wood carving and turning, to produce forks, spoons and rings.