Monday, December 01, 2008

Nepali Woodworkers: the universal language of wood

Remember a few weeks ago, when I talked about my family members, Jill and Debbie, who were raising money for cancer awareness through their Trekking for Debbie website? I'm happy to say Jill just returned from her Himalayan trek, where she made it to Mt. Everest Base Camp, and summitted Kala Pattar.

I'm still looking at all the cool photos from her trek, but the most interesting to me were the images she took of Nepali woodworkers and stoneworkers. One of the guides on her trek had a brother who worked way up in the mountains. As they traveled from village to village, they made their way through a construction site, where various artisans (including his brother) were working.

Here's one woodworker, shaping a beam from a log.

Maybe it's all the wood chips on the ground that gives the illusion that this is pretty quick work. If you've ever tried to strip and shape a log, you know it's not.

It's funny how we (meaning me) get so dependent upon our tools. If I were doing this work up in the mountains, I'd be asking where I could plug in my planer. Which reminds me - one of Jill's photos shows a worker with about 10 sheets of plywood strapped to his back. He's carrying it up a mountainside, to a construction site. Can you just imagine that? I'll try to get that photo on here if I can find it again.

In another area, mortises were cut into the logs, with what appears to be amazing precision.

Notice the marking lines around the log - universal in any language.

One of the yak drivers from Jill's expedition, Romeli, is on the right, his brother, the woodworker, in on the left. Like every woodworker I know, he's got a pencil tucked behind his ear. I've poked more than one friend in the head when giving them a hug. I imagine he has, too.

In another area, craftsmen take stone from the mountainside and chisel them into blocks for making walls and buildings. If you've ever worked with stone, you know how hard this is on one's hands. I don't think my hands have ever been more beaten up than when I used to carve marble. That's probably why they ache in colder weather.

These workers amaze me.

Remember, this is all being done at high altitude. Sort of like working under water.

If I'd have been there, I would have pestered these workers with questions...

- do they work from blueprints when making the beams?
- what method do they use for sharpening their tools?
-what wood are the beams made of, soft or hardwood?
-when they're finished, how much are they sold for?

and most importantly...
-who buys the first round at the end of the day?

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