Life in the Village and beyond, based around the interests of my life.

Life in the Village and beyond, based around the interests of my life. Sunset at Telegraph Point.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Woodwork in Southern China - Old and New - Part 1

The love of my life (LOML) and I have had the good fortune to have spent some weeks of holiday in Southern China.  What a remarkable country, with beautiful people and stunning scenery.  Among the thousands of memories that we brought home with us are some images showing a glimpse of traditional and modern woodworking in its many forms - Chinese style.

 Southern China is not on the mainstream western tourist trail, and includes numerous groups of people from China's ethnic minorities.  In this sense it may not be totally representative of Chinese culture as a whole, but it is all the more interesting because of that.

So - just to be clear - we did not see any of the following:
  • Great Wall of China
  • Terra-cotta Warriors of Xian
  • Yangtse River Cruise
  • Bejing
  • Shanghai
What we did see and experience, was the warmth and hospitality of  beautiful people, who love their families, friends and their country - and love life above all.

Everywhere we went, there was a hive of construction activity ranging from national infrastructure - roads, highways, high speed train lines etc, down to house building and restorations of existing buildings.  Here is a snapshot.

Freedom of religious expression in China has led to the re-building of those temples and churches damaged during the Cultural Revolution - and the attention to detail is breathtaking.

Anyone who is a woodworker will appreciate, the skill and dedication needed to re-produce fine work on such a large scale.

In every town and city,  old buildings are being restored and preserved. Here are two on opposite corners in the city of Kunming.

On the left, a restored building - while on the right an original doctor's surgery and pharmacy first established in 1857.  Inside, there are consulting rooms and an on-the-spot herbal pharmacy.  Note the wall of herb cupboards and drawers in the background.

Out in the countryside, there are many combinations of traditional design and contemporary practice - with very pleasing results.

The tools and techniques would be very much at home in any woodworkers workshop.  The quick fix fence on the jointer is held in place with two nails.

I saw no evidence of A2 or M2 steels in the tools used, no cryo-treated blades, no high end big name manufacturers' tool labels, and spartan toolkits that make those of western home hobbyists, look palatial by comparison.  Yet the results speak for themselves.

 Look carefully at this picture and you will see three tools from everyday use - chain saw, tape measure and bow saw.  Somewhere out of shot there is a bandsaw, which slabs the timbers for lumber, and the evidence of volumes of work lies on the ground around about.

For simpler buildings these are all that seem to be needed.

Here is an animal shelter - completely weatherproof, with a bark roof held in place with tree-nails - we might call them wooden dowels.

I have so much more to share from this trip, but this will do for the moment.  Woodworking is so universal, that it can be found wherever we look. Southern China is no exception.

 It is great to be back sharing my own peculiar outlook on all that is wood - and other perspectives .....
.........and happy woodworking to all ................


  1. A wonderfull Sunday mornings read Tom. Glad your trip was so uplifting and an experience shared has reminded me how simple tools can do so much. Being a tradesman Coach/Motor Vehicle Builder. I used to carry a small tool box with enough to get buy. Now days I have more and often wish I had a bigger shed more tools. Then thoughts of my Dad working with a basic carpenters kit of a few handsaws, chisels, brace and bits made many an item from small to large bookcases and cabinets a rocking horse etc. Thanks the brilliant write up and interesting photo's

  2. Hi Tom and welcome back. That was a fabulous little essay on woodworking in China and, as Ray said, we WANT far too many tools when we in fact NEED much less. I don't know if I've ever told you but Helen, the family and I lived in China for 2 years and Helen was so besotted that she has managed to go back every year for the last 17 years. Like you she shies away from the tourist traps and, with her "smattering of mandarin" she backpacks into the more remote and exotic areas on her own. She's going again in a few weeks ... under the pretext of finding drawer handles to match the one missing from my Chinese coffee table reno! fletty

    1. Thanks fellas, there was so much to take in during our time away. My mandarin is limited to ni hao, xie xie, and what I thought meant " I do not want to buy, thank you.." - bou yong xie xie ... Not sure about the last one but it often drew a smile.
      there will be some more installments in the woodworking in China series, I just have to organise them.
      Love life and live ........