The 67-year-old deftly cuts a plank coming from a massive log by using a storey-high band saw. “We are one of the few, if not the only, people still doing the work in Hong Kong,” he tells visitors.
It had been a thrill to discover Wong at work and tour his ten thousand sq ft sawmill, chock-a-block with assorted logs of several species, age and sizes. But just a few decades ago, timber businesses including Chi Kee were common.
Wong with his fantastic seven siblings matured playing inside their father’s lumber yard, Chi Kee Sawmill & Timber, which began operations in North Part of 1947 before relocating to Chai Wan and then its current site in 1982.
However the timber business in Hong Kong has steadily declined in recent decades as cheap, Furniture hk became readily accessible and manufacturing moved to mainland China. Chi Kee is a rare survivor inside the twilight industry.
It has given Wong more time for his personal search for sculpture and carpentry. However, he is a huge lot busier these days after his business came to public attention as one of the first slated being cleared to the controversial North East New Territories Development Plan.
Intrigued artists and design students began to seek him out as a previously untapped resource on local wood crafts, and eventually he was receiving school visits and holding woodworking workshops.
While the fate of his factory is uncertain (he hopes to be relocated to some suitable site), Wong is delighted this has been drawing a great deal buzz.
“These are crafts and livelihoods worth preserving,” he says. “We must think about a society’s sustainability; adding buildings are only able to get you up to now.
“When I’m too busy to keep workshops and the like, I share my knowledge on our Facebook page which my daughter create for me. I talk about everything, from what different kinds of wood are perfect for to how to use different tools along with the wisdom behind techniques like mortise and tenon joints [every time a cavity is cut into a sheet of timber to slot in another using a protruding ‘tongue’]. The page has become quite popular.”
However, artist Wong Tin-yan attributes the curiosity about Chi Kee along with its owner as much into a revival in woodworking among younger Hongkongers as opposition towards the government’s development plan and support for small businesses.
An art form complete Chinese University, Wong Tin-yan credits outfits such as street art collective Start From Zero and SiFu Wood Works for promoting craftsmanship and curiosity about woodworking, especially among teenagers.
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 assistance from St James’ Settlement, and possesses since rekindled many people’s appreciation of traditional wood crafts. Now, Lung’s new workshop in To Kwa Wan teems with students wanting to learn how to make basic furniture pieces, say for example a rustic, nail-free bench. Amongst the latest to talk about 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 fascination with utilizing wood. He started creating large-scale animal sculptures using pieces of discarded wood while still at university. His school was under renovation during the time, which gave him use of lots of discarded planks and pallets. The piles of rejects reminded him of animal skeletons, Wong says, and that he has since created various installations for the Hong Kong Art Biennial, malls, museums and art galleries.
These are typically crafts and livelihoods worth preserving. We must consider a society’s sustainability; putting up buildings are only able to take you thus far.
“Also i create a denote host [woodworking] workshops at schools. I want students to sense of themselves specially in this materialistic world what it’s want to make one’s own furniture,” he says. “To produce can be a human instinct and there’s plenty of enjoyment to be had from it. Individuals are so bored with the homogeneity [of what’s available] that they can crave something different. They need something unique and creating your personal is among the ways. And creating is additionally one of the best strategies to challenge society’s existing or mainstream value.”
In the past 2 yrs, Wong Tin-yan has additionally been contributing to a fortnightly column on woodworking for Ming Pao Sunday, introducing different artisanal brands and crafts individuals Hong Kong and Taiwan, where additionally there is a surging interest in wood.
Unlike Taiwan, however, Hong Kong lacks a proper chain of supply and demand. Woodrite, a non-profit organisation which collaborates with designers and veteran carpenters to help make table Hong Kong to order using recycled wood, will be the nearest to achieving a sustainable business structure.
“Obviously, we can’t return to making everything manually as a consequence of labour cost and efficiency, but mass-produced products from international brands are certainly not always durable and seldom takes into account the tiny homes and humidity in Hong Kong,” Wong Tin-yan says. “A very important thing would be to have choices from both worlds in order that each person’s preference may be met having a relevant choice. Plus it doesn’t matter the things you choose, but learning the distinction between them and why there’s such a difference inside the asking price is very important.”
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. Over time, the crew, including artist Katol Lo, has made an identity for his or her stencil art, cool T-shirt designs and guerilla stickers.
And just as he became totally hooked on street art, Chan fell crazy about wood after he started obtaining junk wood and using it in his work.
“The most appealing thing about woodworking is the fact whatever I believe of I could construct it immediately. It’s this type of versatile material and there are many techniques to handle it,” he says.
As his skills improved, Chan started receiving orders to produce furniture and build 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 he has recently setup a normal schedule for short- or long-term projects, making everything from an easy clothes hanger to coffee tables, mirror frames and stools in his studio space in a Ngau Tau Kok industrial building.
Chan says he would stop being surprised if woodworking ended up being a passing fad – lots of people just sign up to one class, viewing it as a fun gathering with friends with dexopky64 bonus of a cool piece of Dining Chairs Hong Kong to take home. But Chan believes which is not really bad.
“Away from 10 people who were intrigued enough to consider up street art, at the very least two have kept doing it. I’ve been at it within the last 15 years and I’m more keen about it than ever before.”
Regarding his obsession with woodworking, Chan suspects it is going to remain with him for a minimum of several years. It’s the medium he is spending the majority of his time on. And the man is confident once people try their hand at their very own wood project, they are going to fall for the beauty and deeper meaning behind each item.
“Right after the last Clockenflap we were required to dismantle this wooden house we built for the case but we saved the wood for other uses. One of those particular doors now hangs within my room at home. Also i created a stool personally following the event – which means this stool is like it provides experienced the first and second world wars before arriving within my flat. It offers so many stories behind it,” he says. “It’s like, between a piece you made with your personal hands then one purchased from Ikea, which will you discard first?”
Advocates of your more laid-back lifestyle, the organisers offer a selection of urban farming and craft workshops, including sessions on wood carving and turning, to create forks, spoons and rings.