Making Woodcraft Grow in Penang

Originally from Klang, Nick Pereira is among a handful of people who possess a passion for woodworking, and for everything that has to do with wood. He has been making a living out of woodworking for years, and runs a small woodcraft workshop known as “Woodsmen Makerspace”, at the Hin Bus Depot. There, he creates his own projects and organises monthly workshops teaching the basics of woodwork.

Pereira was never formally trained to be a carpenter, though, and came across the craft by chance. He enlisted for voluntary work in Timor-Leste as an English teacher. Apart from his teaching duties, he was also assigned to help out with community service – particularly in building shelters – in remote parts of the country. The first project that he participated in was the building of a women’s shelter for victims of domestic abuse.

The entrance of Woodsmen Makerspace at the Hin Bus Depot.

It was then that he first realised he had a talent and passion for woodworking. Upon his return from Timor-Leste, he came across a Sunway-based social enterprise, Epic Homes, which constructs community shelters in the jungle for the Orang Asli. There, he started to build larger houses which required much more complicated skills.

As his woodworking abilities matured, Pereira ventured into more ambitious projects with the Ministry of Youth and Sports, where he led a welfare mission to Cambodia under the flagship of MYCorps. He took his team to the underdeveloped parts of Cambodia, where they built schools and nurseries along with basic facilities such as latrines, water tanks, waste incinerators and furniture for the local community.

Not long after returning to Malaysia, Pereira was invited to conduct a woodworking workshop at the 2018 George Town Festival. He fell in love with the vibrant arts scene and decided to call Penang his home.

“What truly inspires me is that the nature of my work allows me to meet people from all walks of life, and allows me to spread the joy of woodwork. I am not doing this for profit; I want to get people to be more active with their hands, and to adopt new skills – be it woodworking or pottery or gardening. People nowadays are too attached to their smartphones,” he says. Apart from creating handy appliances from wood, woodworking trains its practitioners to manage time carefully and to have good self-discipline, as the amount of profits depends entirely on how consistent one is in accomplishing each task.

“I feel highly satisfied when I am able to create something beautiful entirely from scratch. Apart from my own projects, I have never stopped participating in community work, which fulfills my aspiration to help the underprivileged community living around us. I derive a lot of joy from engaging with people.”

But in this day and age where a chair can be 3D printed, are there still many who practise woodworking as a hobby or career? According to Pereira, yes, there are. “Most do it for commercial gain. Woodworking is not a cheap hobby as the machinery and tools cost a huge amount of money; it also requires skills and experience.”

What truly inspires me is that the nature of my work allows me to meet people from all walks of life, and allows me to spread the joy of woodwork.

Pereira observes the absence of locals among the participants at his workshops, which mostly consist of expatriates and their children. “Looking into the future, woodcraftsmen in Malaysia are ageing, and the younger generations are too mentally entrenched in conventional jobs such as being lawyers and doctors which they think pay better. This will be challenging to the development of woodworking not only as a hobby, but also as a career in Malaysia. It will take a while to break the mindset that woodworking is a low-grade job,” he says.

Pereira has been actively collaborating with Arts-ED – a community-based arts education organisation – since May this year, running workshops that introduce woodworking to secondary school students with the aim of advocating the craft as a hobby and a potential career. He also actively engages with youths on this subject through informative seminars which he has organised at Universiti Pahang Malaysia and Scoopoint, a co-working space.

Responding on how vocational schools can help to propagate woodworking among their students, he says, “Vocational schools should build better facilities for woodworking. It should also equip students with higher-grade equipment and materials.”

He emphasises that vocational schools should aggressively approach large corporations such as IKEA and Rozel to provide internship opportunities for their students. “Our local education system focuses too much on theories which are abstract. More priority should be placed on practical learning by organising field trips and hands-on learning sessions for students,” he adds.

Thanks to Penang’s lively arts scene, Pereira feels that it is a place where public interest in woodworking can be rapidly nurtured. And while it will take time, with such passion, perhaps Pereira will yet see woodworking become a popular hobby, or even a regular career choice for future generations.

Enzo Sim is a Mass Communications graduate who has an unwavering passion towards International Relations, history and regional affairs of South-east Asia. His passion has brought him to different South-east Asian capitals to explore the diverse cultural intricacies within the region.

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