The 67-year-old deftly cuts a plank from the massive log by using a storey-high band saw. “We are among the few, or else the sole, people still doing it in Hong Kong,” he tells visitors.
It was a thrill to view Wong at work and tour his ten thousand sq ft sawmill, chock-a-block with assorted logs of numerous species, age and sizes. But just a few decades ago, timber businesses like Chi Kee were common.
Wong with his fantastic seven siblings grew up playing within their father’s lumber yard, Chi Kee Sawmill & Timber, which began operations in North Point in 1947 before relocating to Chai Wan after which its current site in 1982.
Although the timber business in Hong Kong has steadily declined in recent decades as cheap, Furniture Hong Kong became readily accessible and manufacturing shifted to mainland China. Chi Kee is really a rare survivor from the twilight industry.
It has given Wong more hours for his personal pursuit of sculpture and carpentry. However, he is a lot busier lately after his business got to public attention as among the first slated to get cleared for the controversial North East New Territories Development Plan.
Intrigued artists and design students started to seek him out as a previously untapped resource on local wood crafts, and eventually he was receiving school visits and holding woodworking workshops.
Even though the fate of his factory is uncertain (he hopes to become relocated to a suitable site), Wong is delighted this has been drawing a great deal buzz.
“These are generally crafts and livelihoods worth preserving,” he says. “We need to think about a society’s sustainability; adding buildings could only help you get up to now.
“When I’m too busy to keep workshops etc, I share my knowledge on our Facebook page which my daughter set up for me. I talk about everything, from what various kinds of wood are fantastic for to utilizing different tools along with the wisdom behind techniques such as mortise and tenon joints [whenever a cavity is cut into some timber to slot in another using a protruding ‘tongue’]. The page has become quite popular.”
However, artist Wong Tin-yan attributes the interest in Chi Kee as well as its owner the maximum amount of to some revival in woodworking among younger Hongkongers as opposition towards the government’s development plan and support for small companies.
A skill finish 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 really a pioneer on this movement. The 83-year-old master craftsman started running classes with the aid of St James’ Settlement, and it has since rekindled many people’s appreciation of traditional wood crafts. Now, Lung’s new workshop in To Kwa Wan teems with students willing to learn to make basic pieces of furniture, like a rustic, nail-free bench. One of the latest to share with you 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 working together with wood. He started creating large-scale animal sculptures using bits of discarded wood while still at university. His school was under renovation at that time, which gave him use of a good amount of discarded planks and pallets. The piles of rejects reminded him of animal skeletons, Wong says, and the man has since created various installations for that Hong Kong Art Biennial, malls, museums and art galleries.
They are crafts and livelihoods worth preserving. We need to think about society’s sustainability; adding buildings can only get you so far.
“Furthermore, i produce 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 make 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] that they can crave something different. They desire something unique and creating your own personal is one of the ways. And creating is also one of the best approaches to challenge society’s existing or mainstream value.”
Within the last 2 years, Wong Tin-yan has 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 curiosity about wood.
Unlike Taiwan, however, Hong Kong lacks a healthy chain of supply and demand. Woodrite, a non-profit organisation which collaborates with designers and veteran carpenters to make table Hong Kong to buy using recycled wood, is definitely the closest to achieving a sustainable enterprise model.
“Needless to say, we can’t go back to making everything yourself as a result of labour cost and efficiency, but mass-produced products from international brands are not always durable and seldom takes into account 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 using a relevant choice. And it doesn’t matter whatever you choose, but learning the difference between them and why there’s this sort of difference inside the asking price is vital.”
Start From Zero is never lacking enthusiastic people hoping to pick up 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 the years, the crew, including artist Katol Lo, has created a name for their stencil art, cool T-shirt designs and guerilla stickers.
And just because he became hooked on street art, Chan fell in love with wood after he started picking up junk wood and making use of it in his work.
“One of the most appealing thing about woodworking is the fact whatever I believe of I will construct it immediately. It’s this sort of versatile material and there are plenty of ways for you to handle it,” he says.
As his skills improved, Chan started receiving orders to produce furniture and build installations at events including Clockenflap and Detour creative showcase.
He has 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 schedule for short- or long-term projects, making anything from a simple clothes hanger to coffee tables, mirror frames and stools within his studio space in a Ngau Tau Kok industrial building.
Chan says he would not really surprised if woodworking ended up being a passing fad – lots of people just sign up for one class, viewing it as a an exciting gathering with friends with dexopky64 bonus of the cool bit of Office chairs Hong Kong to consider home. But Chan believes that is not really bad.
“Out of 10 people that were intrigued enough to take up street art, at the very least two have kept carrying it out. I’ve been at it for the past 15 years and I’m more passionate about it than before.”
Concerning his obsession with woodworking, Chan suspects it can remain with him for at least ten years. It’s the medium he or she is spending the majority of his time on. And the man is confident once people try their hand at their own personal wood project, they may fall for the wonder and deeper meaning behind each item.
“Following the last Clockenflap we needed to dismantle this wooden house we designed for the event but we saved the wood for other uses. Some of those doors now hangs during my room in your own home. I also made a stool for myself after the event – so this stool is like it has experienced the foremost and second world wars before arriving during my flat. It has a lot of stories behind it,” he says. “It’s like, from a piece you made with your own hands and something bought from Ikea, which would you get rid of first?”
Advocates of a more laid-back lifestyle, the organisers offer an array of urban farming and craft workshops, including sessions on wood carving and turning, to make forks, spoons and rings.