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Recently I went for a woodworking class at Kampung Kampus which is a short walk away from Khatib MRT Station. We first saw it from the trains as the MRT line crosses the expansive waters of Lower Seletar Reservoir. I dropped the google pin over the location as we were passing and we retraced the path to a collection of huts nestled between tropical jungle, fish farms, and prawning tanks. A few weeks later I was seized by a whimsy to improve my practically non-existent woodshop skills and whilst searching online I discovered that ‘Kampung Kampus’ was conducting woodworking classes.

Looking to my own experience in Singapore’s education system, and considering how I have ended up working as an artist (and even pursuing a postgrad degree in design), I have always found it a pity that design and tech had been omitted from my secondary school experience. Amazingly, I have never done a single class involving wood before. The first material I used was blue foam during a innovation programme mentorship I did at a local polytechnic at age 15 whilst I was still in secondary school. As part of our secondary school curriculum, the crash course we received in D&T only involved learning to bend a piece of acrylic. I have memories of cutting styrofoam with a wire. But wood? I’ve never worked with wood! At the time, it had been rationalised that GEP students were bound for more academic pursuits, therefore the technical training imparted during D&T class was to be minimised so that we could focus our energies on developing broader soft skills and academic knowledge.

As admission exercises are being conducted for Poly/JC age students this month, I began imagining what if I was the one having to make a decision on my educational journey all over again? Let’s say I had chosen a more vocational route – what would I have selected if I had to pick from this basket of options available through the local polytechnics? Well, I would imagine myself potentially being attracted to Engineering, with its access to fancy machinery that I could never afford on my own – this of course is said from the perspective of a literature/arts/design postgrad who now desires to complement a conceptual/theoretical background with technical mastery. But when we look at admission numbers, Engineering is not the most popular course, in fact it appears that any course that is more “technical” than it is “academic” seems to be less popular. It is also as if the popular perception is that anything that involves working with the hands is less valued here, which to me seems quite misguided, since crafting and prototyping skills should form a vital complement to a creative and academic education…

BUT I DIGRESS

Let me tell you how I built a small step stool over three weekends. First you need to start with an idea. I wanted to make something of practical use in the house: a step stool that I could use in the house for wearing my shoes at the entrance of my house and reaching high cupboards.

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The wood at Touchwood begins as pine wood reclaimed from old pallets which has been treated beforehand, de-nailed, and left to dry

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Planing the wood by hand

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Ideally the planed bits should look like this

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Planing the wood with the planing machine

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Taking care to clamp with another piece of wood on top of the final wood to avoid dents

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Sawing by hand

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Pine wood after planing looks like this (much improved!)

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I spent far too long designing this and measuring it to fit the pieces of wood I had. Take note of the grain of the wood as this will affect the design.

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Measuring out wood with help of try square tool. I don’t have a picture for the next step because ALL HANDS WERE ON DECK, but next we used a circular saw to cut the pieces.

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Assembling the cut wood to check that I cut all the pieces for it

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Glueing and Clamping the wood to make larger planks

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Sanding the wood

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Giving it a little tap to create a dent where I’m about to drill the pilot hole

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Drilling pilot hole + countersink (a bevel which you drill to enable the screw to be inserted until it flush with the surface of the wood)

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Final assembly

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Pneumatic Nail gun (Airgun) for quick reinforcement

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My completed step stool!


With many thanks to Johanna (of Touchwood) for so carefully and patiently guiding me through the process!

Kampung Kampus is at:
91 Lorong Chencharu
Singapore 769201
See more of Ground Up Initiative’s programmes

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