Newbie's Woodwork

Do you fancy woodworking and are you totally new to it? Where and how do you begin? Being the wife of a Master Carpenter, I have access to tools, space and the ultimate mentor to guide me through my projects. 

For those we are not in the same position, first, locate a local Maker’s Space/ DIY workshops etc. for access. They normally offer weekly or monthly passes where you are given a space and access to tools, over specific hours to work on your projects. In Singapore, check out Home Fix XPC at www.xpc.sg, to kick-start your cause. Once you find the right space, you will inevitably meet someone who is able to guide you through simple tasks or direct you to someone who can. Alternatively, bring your tablet along and learn a few tricks from Youtubers! Life is about continual learning and exploration.

Find a project that is close to your heart: In my case, I have a piece of 24-year old solid pine wood side table that is still in usable condition, but because it is aged and no longer to my taste, it has been sitting around in a corner of my home without any purpose. Instead of throwing it out (which will add more rubbish to landfills, and there is also no point giving an aged piece to others), I’ve decided to give it a new lease of life by updating it. One of my spare room could happily accommodate a nice side table! 

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Next, plan what you are going to do: I have a good idea of the look and feel I want for this piece and I will not deviate too far from what it is right now. I’ll need to dismantle the entire piece, sand down the existing lacquer layer and give it a new coat of paint before reassembling it. That, to me is always the simplest way to start honing your woodworking skills. Begin with the basics and don’t give yourself a mountain of a task to embark on your first project!

Doing it: This is walking the talk. After dismantling my side table, I’ve learnt a good habit from my mentor. He would keep all screws and parts in a box, so there is little risk of losing things. Properly stored, I started sanding down each flat piece with our trusted Festool hand sanding machine using 120 sand paper. When sanding, put on ear plugs and a dust mask for protection. Make your life easier by sanding along the grains of the wood. As you are sanding, you will see a distinct change in colour as the surface wears off, use your hands to touch and feel if you have sanded down sufficiently. In my case, I had to ensure that the entire lacquer layer is removed, exposing a smooth solid pine wood surface that I can paint on. Sanding takes patience, don’t rush it and enjoy the process because there is a great sense of satisfaction when you are done.

Corners, gaps, profiles and sides require more detailed sanding, which means using a 400 sand paper to manually sand down these parts. Even more patience is needed here!

The fun begins when you decide on the type of paint and colour you like to use. I’ve always liked the shabby-chic, restored look and since I have been reading up on natural, environmentally friendly paints, I decided to go for MILK paint. These paints are made in the USA from real milk solids and dissolved limestone, and are USDA certified to be bio-based.

I bought a sample set from the US directly, just so that I can try them out on this risk free project. As with any new thing, you try till you get the right mixing consistency for the effect you are trying to achieve. Altogether, I made three layers of paint job with sanding in between. I wanted to have some raw wood lines showing through to reveal its age; I have kept the old wooden knobs as they are, for remembrance while adding a touch of grey to the round base legs. The entire side table was finished with a coat of beeswax that is easy to apply and polish. 

Satisfaction Guaranteed: Not that the piece has to be perfect. The fact that I have set myself a project and an end goal makes completing it fulfilling. I am looking forward to having this side table to grow in my space!

 A shabby chic look in white wash milk paint.

A shabby chic look in white wash milk paint.

Wooden Boards

Oh, how we love the versatility of wooden boards! Share your love by gifting these wonderful boards as housewarming and Christmas gifts. So what exactly do we like about them?

Depending on where you are from, the kind of wooden boards that are available varies with the common tree species found in your region.  They are generally made with off-cuts from solid wood, but they can also come in beautifully crafted end-grain boards, where you get the colours and textures of a medley of end-grain cuts of wood varieties put together. These boards come in all shapes, sizes and thickness, which is great for different uses. Choose the style and look that suits your needs.

 Ding table decor board in solid walnut with solid maple wood inserts.

Ding table decor board in solid walnut with solid maple wood inserts.

Every home should have at least one wooden board because they are one of the most functional tool you can have in the kitchen. They are perfect for cutting on, they work well as coasters for hot foods or as chic serving plates for cheese, cold cuts or dried fruits. We love the look and feel of wooden boards over plastic ones. They give a sense of homeliness and warmth to the place and are complementary to any type of home styles. 

Besides, wooden boards are safer from contamination than plastic boards, and they are so easy to care for. Just use a mild detergent with warm water for daily washing. If you have to cut raw meats on them, use a bit of vinegar and water to get rid of bacteria. Try to keep separate boards for use on raw meats, fresh fruits and serving platters to make maintenance of the boards a little easier.

To prevent warping and cracks on the wooden boards in more humid climate, oil them once every 4-6 months or so with mineral oil or combine it with a little beeswax. Start with a clean and dry board. Clean them with some fresh lemon juice and salt, wipe off with a damp cloth, leave it to dry out, then apply a thin layer of mineral oil evenly over the surface with a soft cloth. Leave it overnight and remove excess oil the following morning. Voila! The board is well cleaned and ready for use again. 


Never soak any wooden boards in water as this will cause them to crack. Wooden boards that have become deeply scored from knife marks should be re-sanded and refinished to prevent bacteria build up. The advantage is that you will get a new looking board too! 

Over time, these boards do age well, they grow with you and on you.

 

SOME OF OUR HAND-MADE BOARDS & USES

Our Second Milestone

In December 2015, we decided to move into a bigger space on our own. It was not an easy time but we knew from the start that this move was somehow inevitable if we were on the right path. After locating a space and with the paperwork completed, we jumped right into DIY overhaul to keep renovation costs down. Apart from professional electrical works, we painted the entire space (with the help of JK) and laid new flooring for the studio area, all on our own!

Work in progress!

 Our completed new workshop.

Our completed new workshop.

Then, it was shopping for lighting and the basic wood working machineries that Till requires to get going. A jointer by German training, he needed three basic machines to get us started. A circular saw for cutting raw timber, a jointer-thicknesser for planing wood (this evens out sawn timber and prepares the wood for further crafting) and a spindle moulder for making myriads of profiles. To cap costs, we scoured the internet market for second-hand pieces that are still in good condition. 

 Getting the big machine levelled to perfection took hours.

Getting the big machine levelled to perfection took hours.

Through a local contact, we found the SCM SI 400 Nova BR Circular Saw that was on rushed sale, so we got that rather quickly. The ideal jointer-thicknesser, a SCM FS410 nova was sourced from Perth, Australia. It belonged to an Aussie carpenter who was replacing his existing one for another, so he was able to ship his old machine to us in a jiffy. The final machinery was the Felder 700 tilting spindle moulder. We found out from the grapevine that a German carpenter was liquidating his company and selling off his assets. This final piece took us months to find and was an even bigger deal to have it shipped over. All in, it took us 3 months of non-stop dialogues with umpteen shipping companies before we managed to get it shipped over (EU shipping laws can be tricky sometimes). 

 This tilted spindle moulder came all the way from Germany!

This tilted spindle moulder came all the way from Germany!

It was a challenging time for us but somehow, things just felt right despite having to take on this “gamble”. Striking out on our own was more of a passionate drive than an economically driven decision. However, I’ve learnt many times over in life that when one does things from the heart and leave the dollars and cents in second place, things will somehow fall into place rather miraculously. We have faith in our dream and we totally trust our instincts.

 The revamping of our design studio and meeting space in progress

The revamping of our design studio and meeting space in progress

After months of preparation and non-stop work, we were ready to have our first Open House in March 2016. It was a delightful time to have friends, clients and suppliers come together to join in with our celebration.  From sending us flowers, bringing in the booze to gift of a hand-made plaque, we felt their genuine support and love. This will certainly cheer us on our journey!

 So thankful for the support & love....

So thankful for the support & love....

We have loads of people to thank from the start to where we are right now. XPC Home Fix was an incubator for us, supporting us and helping us in all manner imaginable for a single craftsman’s start-up. Perhaps, the hardest thing to let go of is the awesome community we had found ourselves in. From exciting project feeds, woodworking workshops to getting Till localized in Singapore, we have connected with diverse talents and collaborated with dedicated makers, each having their unique vision. We are very much inspired by every one of them.

XPC!

JK, a serial maker became a buddy to us. We have grown very fond of his British humor, wonderful writing skills and most intrigued by his brilliance. Together, JK and Till would embark on installations, Taobao shopping sprees and mull over technical challenges, seeking solutions as a team.

 A heartwarming gift.

A heartwarming gift.

 Our journey has to continue. We have to maximize this new and larger place for bigger and more challenging projects, while making the studio area a platform for creative minds to meet and showcase our furniture “art” pieces.

To our readers, come check out our space!

 

Woodworking Workshops

2015 is about all running Workshops! Who would have thought that there are so many closet DIYers out in Singapore? Part of Till's aim here was to impart his knowledge and skills to the wider community and XPC Home-Fix has the platform for him to do just that.

chessboard

In groups of four or more, we have the curious learners to couples seeking alternative recreational projects together. Usually done within a one day, 6 hour workshop, we get our hands dirty building simple but useful everyday objects in the form of: stool, toolbox, chess board and mobile phone stand. What each participant walk away with is a newfound realisation that they can build, they enjoy the process and are looking forward to undergo the same process on a grander scale.

A FLAVOUR OF OUR WORKSHOPS

If you haven't gotten your hands dirty, you have not fully connected with your heart and mind.
What are you dreaming of making? And what's stopping you from doing so?

Customizing your furniture

We have heard many stories from home owners settling for temporary fixes just to fill a void in their space. They settle for cheaper furniture, those they would toss out once they are bored with them or quickly find an average replacement that is to their taste but fall short in terms of optimal function. 

Are you looking for custom-made furniture pieces that is one of a kind, and beautifully crafted? Do you need specific pieces to fit into the confines of your limited or even odd-shaped space? Do you have some funky ideas for your furniture, but don't know how and where to realise this dream piece? Perhaps, we can work with you to achieve that!

So, how do we normally do this?

First, we like a face-to-face meeting. Nothing beats knowing your environment and getting your style. We'll discuss what you have in mind for your space. We dive into details such as your needs, likes and dislikes, space layout, colour schemes, material preferences, wood types, talk budgets and take measurements (yes, we are crazy about precision!!).

With a pretty good idea, we come up with a few ideas and present them through sketching with the exact measurements. This gives you a clear idea of our design while we get more of your input and feedback to ensure that we are on the same page. We re-work the design until you are satisfied.

Once the drawings and materials are finalised, we get you a cost estimation and time needed for crafting. A quotation is done up and deposit paid to us prior to commencement of work. This dynamic discussion process takes about one to two weeks on average, depending on the complexity, artistic expression and certainty of owners in knowing what they want.

What are the main cost consideration? 

  1. Design – Simple or complex. This has direct impact on "Design & Crafting Fee".
  2. Size – Big or small.
  3. Materials – choice of solid wood, veneers or laminates, tiles, marble, etc, building in some buffer supply for the "just-in-case".

We keep our charges transparent and they are generally as follow:

  1. Materials - we endeavour to keep this at cost because solid wood is expensive.
  2. Design & Crafting Fee – Time taken by our team to conceptualise, design, sketch and craft. 
  3. Miscellaneous Charge – surfacing oils/lacquers, glue, screws, packing materials etc. It can be a long list and they seem like small stuff, but they do cost!
  4. Installation Fee – We do our own installation. Depending on how large the project is, cost goes up if we need to engage more manpower.
  5. Transport & Delivery – This varies according to size of the delivery. 

Keep your creative juice flowing and make things happen.

Our First Milestone

We have a good story behind us that led to our business in Singapore.

In 2013, Till made a few trips to Singapore to meet up with people in the design, interior and carpentry trade. As much as there is keen interest in his very specialised carpentry & joinery skills, there was no one particular place we felt was a true fit for him. Nevertheless, we are very appreciative of the warm responses and time offered to us. Mindful of obstacles and challenges before us, we took the decision to forge ahead with our little startup. We named it “+49 Woodcraft” because of Till’s background and our goals. 

One of the first things we did was to immerse ourselves into the local “hardware” scene, something foreign to the both of us. We scouted for makers’ spaces and checked out numerous hardware stores & raw materials suppliers across the island. We were thrilled by our finds, discovering treasure troves with a wealth of tools and materials. What made the treasure hunting even better was how helpful the shops’ “tow kays” are. As the jigsaw pieces slowly fall into place, we decided to stress-test the available resources making our first product, a coffee table.

Hardware

Just what can we build here at a Singaporean makerspace, given the lack of good commercial machinery that Till is used to? What are the available resources around here? Home-Fix provided us with a comfortable “lab” to work from while others offered supportive roles. We are both grateful to have so many wonderful, creative and helpful people around us. That definitely makes starting +49, a concoction of fun, doused with both pleasure, coupled with uncertainties, topped with hope.

We believe timing is everything.

On 9th June 2014, the day we completed our first "Made-in-Singapore" coffee table, the Straits Times did a coverage about us and so did the Business Times a month later. 

This marked our first milestone. We have our eyes set on our second!

Photo Credit: Matthias Ho, published in The Straits Times on 9 June 2014.


The journey begins!

As a child, I never liked sewing, painting or crafting because it was mandatory in school and I was always given a score to tell me how bad I was. But as I matured and at my own will, I began to enjoy creating things with my hands. Perhaps I saw it as an outlet to channel work stress or it was an excuse to mingle with creative people. I don't know. I started signing up for art jamming sessions in Hong Kong where I used to live, and taking art classes in Aix-en-Provence while I was brushing up my French. These were wonderful creating experiences that I wanted more of.

Last Spring, I had the chance to spend a few days in a commercial carpentry in Bavaria, Germany. A newbie, Till taught me a few simple tasks apprentices start with - sanding. Even though sanding is a laborious task, the entire process is about patience and opening of one's senses. 

This was the starting point of my relationship with wood work and it is also the beginning of a new adventure for both Till and myself.

Let's see what we can craft out of that block of beech wood.


A day at a German Schreinerei

Prior to 2013, I have only visited Germany once and that’s a quick work trip to Frankfurt, the country’s financial hub. In the spring of 2013, I spent five weeks living in the thriving capital city of Berlin. My Berlin stint aside, I flew south of the country to join Till in Munich, where I had the opportunity to visit a commercial joinery located 50km outside of the Bavarian city.

It was 7.15am when we drove along a windy road meandering around large plots of farmland. Till takes this road to work every morning and he could have driven with his eyes closed and still find the main door of his Schreinerei with ease. However, I wouldn’t say the same if one is not local. We passed several village Bäckerei until we hit one of Till’s favourite to grab croissants and cappuccinos. I’m a breakfast monster, so there is no way I’ll start my “work” day on an empty stomach.

As we neared the Schreinerei (joinery or carpentry), the smell of raw wood slowly engulfed the cool spring air around us. The fresh and earthly scent of wood drew me into a large double storey workstation where several carpenters, clad in pullovers and functional carpenter pants were already hard at work. The Schreinerei reminded me of my school days in the chemistry lab except that this is more complex and on a much larger scale. There are bottles of chemicals, lots of hand and measurement tools: Vernier calipers, micrometers, wooden tapes, levellers and even a pipette! Surrounded by so many gadgets and machineries can be really overwhelming, but at the same time, there is a certain order and tidiness to the place. Every tool seems to have a rightful place in here. Where gadgets are taken and used, they are subsequently returned to the same spot. There is ease in finding everything you need.

Behind the buzzing workstation is a huge wood storage area. Intrigued by the shelves of wood, I browsed through layers of timbers and quizzed myself on the various shades of temperate browns. For me, the most charming ones are the “fresh” pieces of raw wood that still bears strong relations to the forest from which they originated. Around 30% of the national German territory is forested and there is no more deforestation since producing sustainable timber has long been a tradition for them. For every tree cut, a certain number of the same tree is replanted, in accordance with the principle of sustainability and adhering to a prudent forest management scheme.

The lingering scent of wood made me eager to work on them. A newbie is typically given simple tasks of sanding and oiling, which I did with pleasure. I took my time to sand out rough edges and smoothed out surfaces while the experienced carpenters multitasked between planing, routing profiles, chiseling or spray painting. Everyone has their own project to work on and sometimes, I would hear chatters as they brainstorm the best possible way to make or to amend their lapses. “Could we angle it this way, or do you think it is better to use a parallelogram jointer?” It took me a few seconds to recall what a parallelogram is and a much longer moment to understand its application in carpentry. Even after they have arrived at a solution, I was still pondering over basic geometry (gosh.. and I had an "A" for Maths in school and used Calculus at work!). What I observed though is that they didn't take short cuts to amend mistakes. They discussed as a team and would re-do an entire piece if need be.

I value this quality in them - they take time to do their job because they take pride in what they do.

Despite being in the midst of a tranquil farming area, I sense such intensity emitting from each maker hard at work. From the "Chrchhhhh-Urchhh---Chrchhhhh-Urchhh---Chrchhhhh-Urchhh” sound of wood sawing to the buzzing noises from machineries, the silent story of each maker’s thoughts, focus and concentration is subtly told. Everyone works with a deep sense of purpose, unperturbed by the numerous Pirelli calendar girls peering over them nor the ambient alternative rock music streaming from FM4, a hip Austrian radio station.

At this Schreinerei, work starts at 7.30am sharp, with a 15 min break at 9.30am for quick bites before lunch at noon. To welcome me, we had a typical Bavarian lunch of “Weisswurst mit bretzel” or boiled white sausages with baked salted pretzels and honey mustard dip. This is one of my all-time favorite dish and whenever I am back in the Bavarian region, I'll always have it without fail! At exactly 12.30pm, work resumes with no further breaks till 5pm. By that time, the intensive manual work has worn everyone out and it’s time for the drive home to their respective families. The chaotic workstation is once again restored to its peaceful state, all cleaned out and ready for action tomorrow.

Having spent several days out here opened my eyes to fully committed makers. I look upon them with newfound respect and I’ve also learnt to appreciate the amount of planning, thinking, eye-hand co-ordination and hard work that goes into being a Craftsman.