The 67-year-old deftly cuts a plank coming from a massive log by using a storey-high band saw. “We are among the few, if not the sole, people still doing it in Hong Kong,” he tells visitors.
It had been a thrill to find out Wong at the job and tour his ten thousand sq ft sawmill, chock-a-block with assorted logs of various species, age and sizes. But just a few decades ago, timber businesses like Chi Kee were common.
Wong and his seven siblings grew up playing in their father’s lumber yard, Chi Kee Sawmill & Timber, which began operations in North Point in 1947 before relocating to Chai Wan then its current site in 1982.
Although 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 can be a rare survivor inside the twilight industry.
This has given Wong more time for his personal pursuit of sculpture and carpentry. However, he is a lot busier of late after his business arrived at public attention as one of the first slated to become cleared to the controversial North East New Territories Development Plan.
Intrigued artists and design students begun 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.
Whilst the fate of his factory is uncertain (he hopes being relocated to some suitable site), Wong is delighted this has been drawing a great deal buzz.
“These are typically crafts and livelihoods worth preserving,” he says. “We need to look at a society’s sustainability; setting up buildings are only able to take you up to now.
“When I’m too busy to support workshops etc, I share my knowledge on our Facebook page which my daughter set up to me. I speak about everything, from what different types of wood are ideal for to how to use different tools and the wisdom behind techniques like mortise and tenon joints [every time a cavity is cut into a bit of timber to slot in another using a protruding ‘tongue’]. The page is now quite popular.”
However, artist Wong Tin-yan attributes the fascination with Chi Kee as well as its owner all the to a revival in woodworking among younger Hongkongers as opposition towards the government’s development plan and support for small enterprises.
An art complete Chinese University, Wong Tin-yan credits outfits like street art collective Start From Zero and SiFu Wood Works well with promoting craftsmanship and fascination with woodworking, especially among teenagers.
Lung Man-chuen of Mr Lung’s Wood Workshop is a pioneer on this movement. The 83-year-old master craftsman started running classes with assistance from St James’ Settlement, and has since rekindled many people’s appreciation of traditional wood crafts. Now, Lung’s new workshop into Kwa Wan teems with students willing to discover how to make basic furniture pieces, such as a rustic, nail-free bench. One of 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 working together with 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 access to lots 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 should think about society’s sustainability; setting up buildings could only help you get so far.
“Also i create a point out host [woodworking] workshops at schools. I want students to sense of themselves specifically in this materialistic world what it’s prefer to make one’s own furniture,” he says. “To make is actually a human instinct and there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had from this. People are so bored from the homogeneity [of what’s available] that they can crave something different. They desire something unique and creating your very own is among the ways. And creating is also among the best strategies 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 there is also a surging fascination with 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 help make table Hong Kong to buy using recycled wood, may be the closest to achieving a sustainable business model.
“Needless to say, we can’t resume making everything manually due to labour cost and efficiency, but mass-produced products from international brands will not be always durable and seldom takes into consideration the tiny homes and humidity in Hong Kong,” Wong Tin-yan says. “The best thing is always to have choices from both worlds to ensure each person’s preference could be met having a relevant choice. And it doesn’t matter the things you choose, but learning the difference between them and why there’s this type of difference inside the cost is vital.”
Start From Zero is rarely short of 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. Throughout the years, the crew, including artist Katol Lo, made an identity for his or her stencil art, cool T-shirt designs and guerilla stickers.
And simply while he became totally hooked on street art, Chan fell deeply in love with wood after he started picking up junk wood and making use of it in their work.
“By far the most appealing thing about woodworking is the fact that whatever I think of I will construct it immediately. It’s this type of versatile material and there are numerous methods for you to handle it,” he says.
As his skills improved, Chan started receiving orders to produce furniture and make 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 has now create an ordinary schedule for short- or long-term projects, making 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 ended up being a passing fad – a lot of people just sign up for one class, viewing it as an exciting gathering with friends with dexopky64 bonus of the cool part of Dining Chairs Hong Kong to take home. But Chan believes that is certainly not really a bad thing.
“From 10 individuals who were intrigued enough for taking up street art, at least two have kept doing it. I’ve been at it in the past 10 years and I’m more keen about it than in the past.”
As for his obsession with woodworking, Chan suspects it would remain with him for at least a decade. It’s the medium he or she is spending almost all of his time on. And that he is confident once people try their hand at their very own wood project, they will likely fall for the beauty and deeper meaning behind each item.
“After the last Clockenflap we was required to dismantle this wooden house we designed for the event but we saved the wood for other uses. One of those doors now hangs during my room in the home. Furthermore, i produced a stool personally right after the event – which means that this stool is a lot like it offers 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 personal hands and another purchased from Ikea, which would you dispose of 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 produce forks, spoons and rings.