The 67-year-old deftly cuts a plank coming from a massive log using a storey-high band saw. “We are among 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 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 like Chi Kee were common.
Wong along with his seven siblings matured playing with their father’s lumber yard, Chi Kee Sawmill & Timber, which began operations in North Part of 1947 before relocating to Chai Wan after which its current site in 1982.
However the timber business in Hong Kong has steadily declined in recent decades as cheap, Furniture hk became easily available and manufacturing shifted to mainland China. Chi Kee can be a rare survivor inside the twilight industry.
It has given Wong much more time for his personal search for sculpture and carpentry. However, he has been a lot busier these days after his business came to public attention as one of the first slated to be cleared to the controversial North East New Territories Development Plan.
Intrigued artists and design students began to seek him out 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 become relocated to some suitable site), Wong is delighted it has been drawing a lot buzz.
“These are generally crafts and livelihoods worth preserving,” he says. “We need to think about a society’s sustainability; putting up buildings can only help you get thus far.
“When I’m too busy to hold workshops etc, I share my knowledge on our Facebook page which my daughter set up for me personally. I talk about everything, from what different kinds of wood are best for to how to use different tools along with the wisdom behind techniques for example mortise and tenon joints [when a cavity is cut into a sheet of timber to slot in another with a protruding ‘tongue’]. The page is becoming quite popular.”
However, artist Wong Tin-yan attributes the curiosity about Chi Kee and its particular owner the maximum amount of to some revival in woodworking among younger Hongkongers as opposition on the government’s development plan and support for small businesses.
A skill graduate from 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 help of St James’ Settlement, and it 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 furniture pieces, such as 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 desire for 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 usage of plenty 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.
These are crafts and livelihoods worth preserving. We must think about society’s sustainability; putting up buildings are only able to require up to now.
“Also i produce a indicate 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 produce is actually a human instinct and there’s a great deal of enjoyment available from using it. Customers are so bored by the homogeneity [of what’s available] that they crave something different. They need something unique and creating your own is probably the ways. And creating is additionally among the best ways to challenge society’s existing or mainstream value.”
For the past 2 yrs, Wong Tin-yan has also been bringing about 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 fascination with 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 create Dining table Hong Kong to order using recycled wood, is the closest to achieving a sustainable enterprise model.
“Obviously, we can’t resume making everything by hand due to labour cost and efficiency, but mass-produced products from international brands are not always durable and seldom takes under consideration the tiny homes and humidity in Hong Kong,” Wong Tin-yan says. “The best thing would be to have choices from both worlds so that each person’s preference can be met using a relevant choice. And yes it doesn’t matter everything you choose, but understanding the distinction between them and why there’s this kind of difference inside the asking price is important.”
Start From Zero is rarely lacking enthusiastic people hoping to grab 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 with regard to their stencil art, cool T-shirt designs and guerilla stickers.
And simply while he became hooked on street art, Chan fell in love with wood after he started collecting junk wood and using it in his work.
“The most appealing thing about woodworking is that whatever I do believe of I could construct it immediately. It’s this type of versatile material and there are so many methods for you to handle it,” he says.
As his skills improved, Chan started receiving orders to create furniture and make installations at events including 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 popular that he has put in place a consistent agenda for short- or long term projects, making anything from an easy clothes hanger to coffee tables, mirror frames and stools in his studio space within a Ngau Tau Kok industrial building.
Chan says he would not really surprised if woodworking turned out to be a passing fad – a lot of people just sign up for one class, viewing it as being a fun gathering with friends with dexopky64 bonus of your cool bit of Dining Chairs Hong Kong to take home. But Chan believes that is possibly not bad.
“Away from 10 people who were intrigued enough to take up street art, a minimum of two have kept carrying it out. I’ve been at it for the past 15 years and I’m more enthusiastic about it than ever.”
Regarding his obsession with woodworking, Chan suspects it is going to remain with him for at least 10 years. It’s the medium he is spending almost all of his time on. And the man is confident once people try their hand at their particular wood project, they may fall for the beauty and deeper meaning behind each item.
“Once the last Clockenflap we needed to dismantle this wooden house we designed for the big event but we saved the wood for other uses. Among those doors now hangs within my room in your house. In addition, i produced a stool personally right after the event – so this stool is much like it provides experienced the first and second world wars before arriving in my flat. They have a lot of stories behind it,” he says. “It’s like, between a piece you made with your personal hands and another bought from Ikea, which would you throw away first?”
Advocates of the 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.