We expect children to learn all the time; encouraging them to explore new interests and pick up different skills. But along the way – as we grew and our responsibilities piled up – learning something new is no longer much of a priority. Some have of course retained that inquisitiveness and are always on a roll and on top of their game. They continue to learn, for fun or to improve themselves, or to have new career options. 
Join us on this #KeepCurious project. Share with us the things that you are learning or the new skills that you have acquired, and inspire us with your stories. It could also be a wonderful family activity, to learn something new together. E-mail us at star2@thestar.com.my or send us your social media links.

My carpenter has been avoiding my calls. It’s been 10 months since I commissioned him to build me a storage bench and shelves for my kitchen. But I am still waiting for my shelves, with my utensils sitting on the countertop.

So when I learnt about Kayu Emas Woodcraft’s workshop for basic woodworking, it took me less than 30 seconds to sign up. I’d build my own bench, I thought, and show my carpenter that I don’t need him. (Or rather, I’d ask Zamri Yusoff, founder of Kayu Emas, who was running the workshop, to make my shelves for me).

My colleagues Ivy Soon and Mumtaj Begum signed on too, with ambitions of building a bench each.

The three of us are taking on The Star’s Keep Curious challenge this month, where we try to learn something new or pick up a new skill.

So recently, the three of us showed up bright and early at Kayu Emas’s premises in Bukit Bandar Puchong, Selangor, raring to build.

Having absolutely no prior exposure to carpentry (Kemahiran Hidup wasn’t introduced yet when we were in school), we assumed we’d be done by noon or at the very latest, by 2pm. How long could it possibly take to make a stool or a bench, right?

Of course, we completely underestimated what goes into making a piece of furniture.

Tool Time

The workshop was everything you’d imagine a woodworking shed to look like: There was a wall lined with all sorts of power tools, floor to ceiling racks of raw material, huge work tables and a floor that was covered in sawdust.

The workshop was already a hive of activity as the members of the Malaysian Woodworkers Association (of which Zamri is president) were rushing to build desks and other classroom furniture for the Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah Tahfiz school that was razed recently.

Watching the craftsmen at work got us excited and we couldn’t wait to start our project. Before he let us loose in his workshop however, Zamri briefed us on the safety rules we had to adhere to.

I’d assumed carpenters would use gloves to avoid splinters but apparently gloves are a big no-no: a loose thread of something caught in the powerful machines could spell disaster. The same goes with long-sleeved shirts – also a no-no. We were given masks, protective glasses and ear plugs too.

Next, Zamri showed us the various power tools we’d be using and instructed us on how to use them safely.

After learning what each of us wanted to build and assuring us that “nothing is impossible”, Zamri told us that we’d definitely be done by the end of the day.

Did he say “end of the day”?

Soon and Mumtaj who were both building benches, shared the same teacher – Mohd Izwan Izani, a young and skilled woodworker from Tawau, Sabah. I had Zamri to guide me to make my high stool.

Starting From Scratch

The first order of the day was sketching our designs and determining the dimensions of our projects. Once this was done, we got to choose our wood – new wood or recycled wood.

Next, we had to cut the wood to size. This was when the fun started.

Soon and Mumtaj took on the challenge of learning carpentry from Izwan who patiently taught them every step in making a bench.

Never underestimate how empowering it is to handle a power tool. We used the mitre saw – the whirr of the blade of the huge circular saw (also known as a chop saw or drop saw) was enough to get our adrenalin going.

It was scary at first – the circular blade of the mitre saw was huge and daunting but the whir of the blade as it cut through the wood was quite thrilling. Once we tried it, we realised that as long as we followed Zamri’s instructions, it was not so daunting to use and a lot of fun. We also got to use the table saw and jigsaw, and smoothened the surfaces of our wood with power sanders. The belt sander (which looks like a mini steam roller) was just too cool.

The hardest part of the build was putting the pieces together. The main adhesive we used was wood glue but we strengthened the joints using mainly biscuit joints and pocket hole joints. Drills take some getting used to and the first couple of nails I drilled split the wood at the hinges. Thankfully, our teachers were infinitely patient and we eventually got the hang of drilling and nailing our pieces together.

It was a full day’s work and by the time we finished (the sun had set, mind you) we were exhausted.

But more than that, we were giddy with exhilaration, beaming as we admired our handmade furniture.

Indramalar looks very pleased with her stool.

Meet The Teachers

Zamri and Mohd Izwan were wonderful teachers – patient and encouraging, guiding us along the way but letting us build our own furniture without taking over (sometimes we wished they did).

A former Royal Malaysian Air Force pilot, Zamri started running woodworking classes at his workshop in March last year.

Depending on the skills of the participants and the complexity of their builds, classes last from half a day to three days and cost from RM50 to RM300. Big projects – such as boat building – which use more expensive wood and are more complicated can cost up to RM1,500.

“We welcome anyone with a keen interest in woodcraft. If you want to build something, but don’t have the tools or the basic knowledge, just come. We will be more than happy to guide you. Don’t be intimidated because it’s really simple. All you need is a few basic tools, some creativity and enthusiasm,” says the 44-year-old who first learnt carpentry to make his own furniture because he had spent all his money on his house renovations.

When he started his business in 2015, Zamri mainly custom-made furniture and other wooden items for homeowners and businesses.

His business expanded quickly – carpentry is a business that is recession-proof, apparently.

But Zamri has decided to focus on creating “smart furniture” which combines his know-how in IT (he is also a trained IT professional) with his passion for woodwork.

Before our workshop, Zamri showed us a prototype for an interactive smart mirror – you can check your mail, plan your route to work or check the weather forecast while getting ready for work.

The woodworking classes are Zamri’s way of making sure that the craft he has grown to love doesn’t die off.

“Woodcraft is our heritage, our culture. If we don’t teach people the craft, this industry would cease to exist. The classes are not our main source of business. Participants pay for the material they use. As for our fees, they can pay us any amount … even a bucket of fried chicken will do. Bayar secara ikhlas je, (just pay sincerely),” says Zamri, a self-taught craftsman who learnt his woodcraft skills through YouTube videos.

Zamri and Izwan were such excellent teachers that the three of us are planning to go back for more lessons. We might be befuddled by the calculations and we might not be able to work independently, but we sure like to handle power tools. Who would have thought woodworking – with all that dust and noise – can be so fun.

If you want to try your hand at carpentry, visit their Facebook page at facebook.com/kayuemaswoodcraft or e-mail zeds@kayuemas.pro.