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On a recent family trip to Thailand, I managed to find myself drawn to the beautiful colors of Thailand’s great northern city of Chiang Mai.  Amidst the sparkling golden-leafed Buddhist temples that glittered in the tropical sunlight, the amazing beauty of wooden masterpieces made by Thai woodworkers really caught my eye. 


I was first drawn to the woodworking craftsmanship in Thailand by the beautifully hand carved panels and sculptures found in Thailand’s numerous Buddhist temples.  To my pleasant surprise, I learned that Buddhist monks frequently carve beautiful religious sculptures and murals that adorn temple walls. 



 Here's a sample of the amazing amount of detail that goes into one of their carvings.  I couldn't resist taking a photo of this whatchamacallit.  I can only imagine how many hours it took to complete this piece.  It would be an understatement for me to say that I'm no carver.  That said, from what I've heard most carvers enjoy working with carving friendly woods like balsa or lime because if it's lack of density and relatively soft texture against carving knives and chisels.  This specimen, as were most of the other carvings I saw, was carved out of teak!!!  For those not familiar with working with teak, this stuff is a lot harder and denser than balsa or lime wood.  I bet even if I started training every day for the rest of my life, I still wouldn't be able to carve something like this. 























My interest being sparked, I had to take a tour of a local furniture factory. The first thing that struck me was the smell of teak and rosewood.  Most of the pieces I saw were made of teak.  The factory contained numerous pieces of unfinished furniture waiting to be hand carved by skilled artisans.  I was fortunate enough to see some of the local artisans at work.  The photo to the right shows a barefoot artisan hard at work.  To my surprise and amazement, he seemed perfectly content sitting on top of a coffee table and carving away with a chisel and mallet without the aid of any template.  The workmanship was stunningly detailed and beautiful. 



























The enlarged photo above is a good example of the kind of work these craftsmen (and women, more on that below) can turn out.  If it's it's true that a picture says a thousand words, I'm wondering what's the word count for the photo above.




Here you can see a carving pattern being prepared.  Much like their western counterparts, Thai woodworkers affix paper patterns that help guide the artisan to carve out the design.  However, instead of employing rubber cement, a white glutinous adhesive made by dissolving tapioca starch in some boiling water was used.  Even though the patterns help make the layout a little more precise, the quality of the carving ultimately depends on the amazing skill of these craftspeople.  


For those of you who are thinking I'm throwing this photo here only as a token gesture to show how women can do just basic woodworking, think again...









As you can see, the lady to the right sure can carve out some mean looking designs!  I really liked seeing her setup--a bamboo mat, some cushions, a small wooden stool to prop up her work, and especially, the small tool tray containing her carving chisels, mallets, and other tools. 






Here's another lady hard at work carving out the top of a small side table.










Being the tool junkie that I am, I was on cloud nine while snapping this photo.

























I nearly flipped out when I saw this burled teak log.  I can only imagine the amazing figure hiding underneath all those bumps.  I was told that this tree was about two hundred years old.  It saddened me a bit that this tree was cut down, but I was glad to hear that many new trees were being planted in Thailand.  I read somewhere that the Kingdom's goal is to try and preserve and regain much of the forest growth that had been taken during much of the British logging expeditions starting in the 1800s.  I was told that as a rule, no tree was to be cut down for a hundred years.  I'm not sure if that meant the tree had to be at least a hundred years old before being cut or that there was a logging freeze for the next hundred years.


It was a bit odd to me that there was a huge teak furniture factory when the Kingdom of Thailand has banned all logging of it's teak trees for the time being.  After delicately asking around, I was told that most of the teak lumber at this factory came from neighboring Myanmar (Burma).  I did have mixed feeling about this--I'm no avid tree hugger, but I do believe in the importance of responsible forest managment.  But the political and social instability of Myanmar and the standard of life for many of the people in this region are factors that really complicate the issue.  So I guess I reserve comment on this issue.   


So how does one transport furniture in Thailand?  I'm sure there are moving vans and that sort of thing in Thailand.  But I thought this photo was much more interesting.  A human powered furniture moving tricycle!  How's that for cool!  Forget about rising fuel costs, just have a hearty bowl of Tom Yum Goong and that's as good as super unleaded fuel in the gas tank! 















I'll let the finished pieces below speak for themselves, save for a short caption (I can't keep my mouth entirely shut--this stuff is just too amazing!)




Elegant lounge chair with detailed mother of pearl inlay.
























Folding screen with a gazillion hours of hand carved work.































I'm guessing this is a day bed or sofa of some sort.  It does have a traditional Thai style to it.
















It is apparent that the richness of Thailand not only lies in its culture, cuisine, and hospitality, but also in the quality of its woodworking.  I would highly recommend Thailand to any woodworker planning to take a vacation.  Plus look at the view of Phuket Island in Southern Thailand.  It's scenes like this that'll really seal the deal.  Actually, this is a photo of Phang-Nga.  The waters off Phuket Island are turqoise and absolutely breathtaking.