Whereas most in his age group run the rat race to climb the corporate ladder, this young chap was so determined to work in a sunset industry three years ago that he sought far and beyond to learn the basics of the trade.
Never mind that he was advised by local plywood suppliers that there was no future in woodworking, and that he should seek his fortune in the banking or financial industries. Louis Kwok, who is a commercial photographer by trade, wanted to express his creativity in three-dimensional form, which he felt photography lacked. Traditional woodworking also intrigues him because of its “organic nature”.
He says: “Wood is still alive and breathes even after a tree has been chopped down. It continues to expand, contract and warp, sometimes in uncertain ways. Because of this organic nature, I have learnt to respect the material further.
“Different types of timber have different qualities and, because the subject is so vast, it seems like a never-ending learning process.”
While he had no luck in finding someone in Singapore to impart woodwork skills to him, he found a sensei in 2012 in Tokorozawa, Japan, who specialised in crafting traditional tables and cabinets. Kwok had one-on-one tuition for three full days. He says: “It gave me a good foundation. I learnt how to use Japanese tools, which are very different from Western ones.” Western saws, for instance, are forward-cutting implements that use a downward force, whereas Japanese versions are backward-cutting tools.
“I like Japanese saws, because as you pull, the blade straightens,” he says, making clear that the type of tools used doesn’t affect the outcome of an item. It is simply one way of production.
In 2013, he enrolled in a six-month course at the prominent Peter Sefton Furniture School in Worcestershire, as well as a two-day, one-on-one course with renowned English box maker Andrew Crawford.
Back in Singapore and armed with new skills to pursue his hobby, Kwok set up a workshop in his Normanton Park apartment.
While he did not intend to start a business, commission orders came trickling in soon after he started Tumblr blog Kjung Woodwork – Kjung being a play on his Chinese name. Local leather restorer and shoe-shine store Mason & Smith approached him to design a presentation tray. Male friends asked him to create “man boxes” to contain menswear accessories. Bespoke requests from the public also came through. He declines to give a price range for his creations as “it depends on the piece”.
Kwok hasn’t given up his day job as a lensman – he runs an eponymous photography firm – and wants to continue honing his woodwork skills. When asked if he intends to expand this business and retail his creations, he says: “The beauty of my work is that I can’t make multiples of the same thing. Every piece is a one-off.”
- Kjung Woodwork
- Louis Kwok