The 67-year-old deftly cuts a plank coming from a massive log utilizing a storey-high band saw. “We are probably the few, otherwise the sole, people still doing the work in Hong Kong,” he tells visitors.
It was a thrill to discover Wong at the office and tour his 10,000 sq ft sawmill, chock-a-block with assorted logs of different species, age and sizes. But just a couple of decades ago, timber businesses for example Chi Kee were common.
Wong and his awesome seven siblings grew up playing in their father’s lumber yard, Chi Kee Sawmill & Timber, which began operations in North Part of 1947 before relocating to Chai Wan then its current site in 1982.
Nevertheless the timber business in Hong Kong has steadily declined in recent decades as cheap, Furniture shop in Hong Kong became easily accessible and manufacturing moved to mainland China. Chi Kee is a rare survivor in the twilight industry.
It has given Wong much more time for his personal search for sculpture and carpentry. However, he is a huge lot busier lately after his business stumbled on public attention as one of the first slated being cleared for your 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 eventually he was receiving school visits and holding woodworking workshops.
As the fate of his factory is uncertain (he hopes to get relocated to a suitable site), Wong is delighted it has been drawing so much buzz.
“These are crafts and livelihoods worth preserving,” he says. “We need to think about society’s sustainability; putting up buildings is only able to take you so far.
“When I’m too busy to carry workshops etc, I share my knowledge on our Facebook page which my daughter put in place to me. I speak about everything, from what different types of wood are perfect for to how to use different tools and the wisdom behind techniques like mortise and tenon joints [every time a cavity is cut into some timber to slot in another having a protruding ‘tongue’]. The page has become quite popular.”
However, artist Wong Tin-yan attributes the fascination with Chi Kee and its particular owner all the to some revival in woodworking among younger Hongkongers as opposition for the government’s development plan and support for small businesses.
An art form complete Chinese University, Wong Tin-yan credits outfits like street art collective Start From Zero and SiFu Wood Works for promoting craftsmanship and curiosity about woodworking, especially among younger people.
Lung Man-chuen of Mr Lung’s Wood Workshop is a pioneer of this movement. The 83-year-old master craftsman started running classes with assistance from St James’ Settlement, and it has since rekindled many people’s appreciation of traditional wood crafts. Now, Lung’s new workshop into Kwa Wan teems with students wanting to learn to make basic pieces of furniture, like a rustic, nail-free bench. On the list of latest to discuss 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 curiosity about dealing with wood. He started creating large-scale animal sculptures using pieces of discarded wood while still at university. His school was under renovation back then, which gave him access to a good amount of discarded planks and pallets. The piles of rejects reminded him of animal skeletons, Wong says, and he has since created various installations for that Hong Kong Art Biennial, malls, museums and art galleries.
These are typically crafts and livelihoods worth preserving. We ought to think about society’s sustainability; setting up buildings is only able to help you get so far.
“Furthermore, i come up with a point to host [woodworking] workshops at schools. I want students to sense of themselves especially in this materialistic world what it’s like to make one’s own furniture,” he says. “To create is really a human instinct and there’s lots of enjoyment to be had as a result. People are so bored through the homogeneity [of what’s available] they crave something different. They want something unique and creating your very own is among the ways. And creating can also be one of the best ways to challenge society’s existing or mainstream value.”
Within the last two years, Wong Tin-yan has also been contributing to a fortnightly column on woodworking for Ming Pao Sunday, introducing different artisanal brands and crafts people Hong Kong and Taiwan, where there is also a surging curiosity about wood.
Unlike Taiwan, however, Hong Kong lacks a wholesome chain of supply and demand. Woodrite, a non-profit organisation which collaborates with designers and veteran carpenters to make Wood furniture Hong Kong to acquire using recycled wood, is definitely the closest to achieving a sustainable enterprise model.
“Obviously, we can’t go back to making everything yourself as a result of labour cost and efficiency, but mass-produced products from international brands usually are not always durable and seldom takes into consideration the small homes and humidity in Hong Kong,” Wong Tin-yan says. “A good thing is usually to have choices from both worlds in order that each person’s preference might be met with a relevant choice. And it also doesn’t matter whatever you choose, but understanding the difference between them and why there’s this sort of difference inside the price is vital.”
Start From Zero is rarely lacking enthusiastic people hoping to buy 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. Throughout the years, the crew, including artist Katol Lo, made a name with regard to their stencil art, cool T-shirt designs and guerilla stickers.
And merely because he became hooked on street art, Chan fell deeply in love with wood after he started collecting junk wood and ultizing it within his work.
“By far the most appealing thing about woodworking is the fact whatever I do believe of I could construct it immediately. It’s such a versatile material and there are plenty of ways you can handle it,” he says.
As his skills improved, Chan started receiving orders to make furniture and build installations at events for example 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 setup an ordinary agenda for short- or long-term projects, making anything from an easy clothes hanger to coffee tables, mirror frames and stools in their studio space inside a Ngau Tau Kok industrial building.
Chan says he would not really surprised if woodworking turned into a passing fad – a lot of people just sign up for one class, viewing it an exciting gathering with friends with dexopky64 bonus of a cool bit of Dining Chairs Hong Kong for taking home. But Chan believes which is not necessarily a bad thing.
“Out from 10 individuals who were intrigued enough to adopt up street art, at least two have kept carrying it out. I’ve been at it for the past 10 years and I’m more enthusiastic about it than before.”
Concerning his obsession with woodworking, Chan suspects it would remain with him for at least a decade. It’s the medium he is spending most of his time on. And he is confident once people try their hand at their own personal wood project, they will fall for the wonder and deeper meaning behind each item.
“Once the last Clockenflap we needed to dismantle this wooden house we designed for the case but we saved the wood for other uses. Some of those doors now hangs within my room at home. In addition, i crafted a stool for myself once the event – which means that this stool is much like it provides experienced the foremost and second world wars before arriving in my flat. It provides countless stories behind it,” he says. “It’s like, between a piece you made with your own hands and another bought from Ikea, which may you discard first?”
Advocates of any more laid-back lifestyle, the organisers offer an array of urban farming and craft workshops, including sessions on wood carving and turning, to create forks, spoons and rings.