Thursday, 30 June 2011



My name is Sushil Eapen and I live in Bangalore, India. My hobby is woodworking - and I enjoy quiet moments during my spare time making wooden furniture or accessories for the house in my workshop that my kids aptly named ‘Dad’s workshop’.
Ever since I can remember, I had a passion for taking things apart and putting them back or repairing appliances in the house. My early exposure to woodworking was during my school days when all the boys had to attend carpentry classes. However, the real interest in woodworking picked up during my college years when I had access to some carpentry hand tools at home. The tool selection was limited and so there was not much opportunity to make interesting things. This was during pre-internet days, and we did not have access to woodworking magazines or forums at that time.  However, the interest in woodworking remained with me during my graduate school days in the United States and during my 12 year stay in America. I am a self trained woodworker and make no claims to be exceptionally gifted in this skill.
When I built my house at Sunny Brooks in Bangalore, I made sure that there was some space set aside for a workshop to pursue personal hobbies. The workshop has access from the garden at the south end of the house. I wanted to make sure that it was private and that I will be left undisturbed while  pursuing creative projects. Sometimes our one year old cocker spaniel Phoebe will come into the workshop, trying to get me to play with her or occupy a corner of the shop chewing some left-over piece of wood.

Once the house was ready, the next step was to furnish the workshop appropriately for the woodworking hobby. I had a bunch of basic tools with me, and so I decided to build the work bench myself as one of my early projects.


Along with the workbench, I made a pegboard to hang all my woodworking tools and mounted it on the wall above the bench so that I can easily reach for them while I am working.


Tools
I use only hand tools for my hobby and the only electric tool in my workshop is a Bosch drill which I use mostly for drilling holes on the wall. Recently I found an old hand drill from a shop in Bangalore and I take pride in the philosophy of ‘Woodworking Unplugged’. Electric tools are very convenient, but I like to work the old fashioned way – using hand tools. I prefer to take my time on each project. It is the journey and not the destination that I enjoy and it doesn’t matter to me if it takes a month to finish a small project which could be completed in a day by an expert woodworker with modern electric gadgets. Depending on my mood and time availability, I may work for an hour or two each evening or longer during weekends until the project is completed. Sunday afternoons are the best time for me to be in the workshop. I usually turn on the radio and listen to music while I work, and there is a table fan to cool me down if gets warm during early afternoon. Fortunately, I live in a city that has fantastic weather around the year, and it is quite cool in the workshop most part of the day.

I also like to collect woodworking hand tools while I travel. I brought a set of Stanley chisels, a fast-cut saw, a bench plane and some carving tools from the United States during my travel a few years ago. I also brought some chisels, a wood saw and a bench plane from Japan last year. The Japanese saw looks different from any that I have seen in India and it has a long wooden handle wrapped in cane, and a thin cutting blade. The wooden Japanese bench plane is also interesting and I use both of them quite often for my projects. The rest of the tools are all from local hardware stores in Bangalore.  I sought the assistance of the carpenters who did the woodwork in my house during construction to select some good quality chisels and a hand saw.  
Projects
After the basic workshop furnishing was in place, I was actively looking for some projects to keep me occupied in the workshop.


During one of our family holiday in Pondicherry a few years ago, on the east coast highway I spotted a small shop selling old wooden window panes. When I examined the assortment, I had a feeling that the wood beneath the old paint was good, and so I loaded up as much as I could buy in the trunk of the car and brought it back with me to Bangalore. My first project was to create a magazine rack that could be mounted on the wall, and I decided to work with the window panes from Pondicherry. I used a paint stripper and carefully stripped away the old green paint and some great wood emerged from underneath. I loved the grains and the deep brown color of the seasoned wood and went on to cut the pieces for the magazine rack. It took me hours to bench plane the wooden strip to perfection, and when the two magazine racks were completed, I decided not to paint or polish. It was a good decision - it would have been a shame to cover the natural wood color with chemicals especially since the wood itself is perhaps several decades old. Before starting a project, I usually browse the net for ideas, but in the end I try to use my own original ideas – after all the objective of the hobby is to use creativity and originality. The final product of my creation is usually not of ‘exhibition’ quality but it is all in the eyes of the beholder and the personal satisfaction is immeasurable. As I alluded earlier, it is the journey that gives me pleasure and not the destination.           
When my family noticed that most of the woodworking projects are remaining in the workshop, there were several requests for making small accessories for the ‘other’ rooms in the house. I decided to pursue one such request for a small mantel shelf for the bedroom wall. The Pondicherry window panes came handy again and after many hours of planning, measuring, cutting and planing – this wooden mantle emerged from ‘Dad’s workshop’. There were several black furniture items in the bedroom and so I decided to paint the curved support pieces black color. I had to use a few wood screws to mount the shelf to the wall, but a touch of black paint did the trick to hide the screw head against the wood.
To give you an idea, this project took over a week to complete including a weekend. An expert carpenter would wonder why it took that long to make a simple shelf, but for me it is not the speed of completion but it is all about the chance to vent out a bit of creativity, planning the project in my head, selecting the wood, careful measurement and sometimes the agony of making mistakes made along the way. In carpentry, experts say that ‘you measure twice and cut once’. How true! The trick lies in carefully measuring the wood using a tape measure, marking right angle lines using tri-square and finally cutting along the straight line using the hand saw. The final finishing work is usually done using a chisel and one of my selections of bench planes.

Wood is relatively expensive in India due to high demand and limited supply. I try to use recycled wood as much as possible. There are depots across the city tucked away in obscure locations, that sell recycled wood from torn-down roofing structures or large pine crates. They are a treasure trove for woodworking hobbyists. New wood is available in numerous lumber yards in the outskirts of the city, and there are a few near my house that sell local and imported wood. It is interesting to visit these lumber yards and see wood stocked in various colors, hardness, sizes and shapes. Most of these businesses are not very friendly towards hobbyists, but there are a few who don't mind people browsing around the back corners of these yards.
As I see it, the woodworking has many advantages. It provides me a bit of ‘my time’ to think while I am working alone in the workshop. After the busy schedule at work, it gives me a lot of pleasure to spend some time on my own doing something creative and I really look forward to coming home and resuming what I left behind the previous day. At the end of each day, I can see the incremental progress – and it always something to look forward to when I come home after dealing with the pressures of the typical office day. I really believe that woodworking also tests your critical thinking skills – it is essential that you have to analyze, weigh options, and make decisions related to joints and fit. After doing a bit of woodworking myself, I have a developed deep respect for professional carpenters especially the master carpenters at project sites that plan and decide the selection of wood, type of joints, taking measurements and making sure that the fit is perfect. One thing I learnt early is to study the direction of the grain before planing or using the chisel for the cut. It is very important because the wrong decision related to the grain direction can cause wood to split, especially while using the chisel.
Woodworking also gives a lot of exercise, and in the sedentary lifestyle that we live these days it is great to get a bit of exercise and enjoy the process all along. Sometimes I have to use a hand saw to make long cuts, and I will need to take frequent breaks to give the arms a bit of rest. Planing can also put some strain on the back, but it should be fine as long as you don’t stretch in crazy angles or put too much stress without taking breaks in between.
Finally, having a hobby like woodworking gives me a reason to get away from TV watching and I can categorically state that it is so much more satisfying to go to bed knowing that the last few hours were spent in doing something creative and interesting versus sitting in front of TV and surfing channels for want of something better to do before sleep.

Recently I was browsing the web and noticed that a number of young people in Bangalore had expressed interest in learning carpentry during weekends. So I have decided to offer weekend classes whenever time permits. If you are interested, you can email me on sushileapen at hotmail.com (written this way to avoid spam emails). You will want to write about yourself, explain to me why you are interested in this hobby and how you plan to pursue it if you learn the basics. Keep in mind that I am not a professional but I will be happy to get you started by teaching you about the tools and the basics of woodworking. There will be a fee – primarily to put a value to the learning, and as a means to channel funds for two of my favorite not-for-profit organizations in Bangalore.
ACTS Education is a not-for-profit organization founded by Ken Gnanakan and undertakes projects related to education, health and environment. Several ACTS schools can be found around Bangalore and they have educated and changed the lives of thousands in our country.
Enfold India is a registered trust founded by Dr. Sangeeta Saksena and Dr. Shaibya Saldanha and does wonderful work in the area of child safety. Donations for this trust will go long way to help provide education to a large number of young children and parents in our country.

We need to encourage people around us to think creatively and come up with original and innovative ideas that lead to creation of new products or improved services. Many original products have to be designed and created in India that others aspire to own. Our education system often stifles creativity, and fails to produce original and innovative thinkers. Through woodworking, I hope to inspire at least a few from our country to think creatively leading to a new outlook towards work and life.

While I am not in my workshop during evenings and weekends, my day time avatar - Managing Director of a publishing company division in India