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! 


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.

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.


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.


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?

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.