Slipping out of Modern Shackles to Unite with Nature- HDG Provides the Venue

/Report by Greg Niederhaus

To see more of this outstanding woodwork from HDG, please visit our album: [ more photos ]

Last year at this time interwood reported on the budding HDG Academy of Traditional Woodworking. Back then there were a mere fifteen students who ventured to step out of the shackles of modern society and surpass their limitations through woodworking, and there was a long waiting list of more waiting to get involved with HDG.

The academy holds an annual achievement presentation where its students present their works and explain the process of building them. This year we attended the contest and discovered that the previous number of fifteen students has grown to ninety four. Indeed, Professor Lin's dream of rekindling the art of traditional craftsmanship amidst this high-tech society seems to be taking hold and flourishing. Professor Lin is the inspiration, the backbone, the igniter of this flame.

***The Setting Just getting to the academy is a journey that affects one's mindset. It's not a long trip out of the heart of Taipei, a metropolis that has morphed through the years of high-tech infrastructural development. In its outskirts still remain the original subtropical mountainous terrain, and on the way to Linkou where the academy is, students wind out of the smog through steamy jungle scents and sounds of wildlife that the concrete capitol of Taiwan tries to squelch.

They come from all walks of life, from all economic classes and by all forms of transportation. A Mercedes Benz, an old work truck, a bus, a bicycle…it doesn't matter. They come to escape the concrete jungle and practice the merging of their hearts and hands with wood. And when they reach their destination they are breathing deeper, feeling the primeval energy of nature and focusing solely of the project they have meditated on in their dreams since their last journey out here.

**To do for Others is to do for Oneself With a rich background in forestry and 24 years teaching furniture design at the National Taipei University of Technology, Professor Lin emphasizes respect for the environment, the Zen of wood and the creation of furniture that lasts longer than it took the tree to grow. All of the wood used at HDG is sourced from sustainable forests. The master craftsmen teaching at HDG combine technical skill, creativity and years of experience in their encouragement of students producing aesthetically pleasing and functional home furnishings. This is a non-profit academy, and along these lines nearly all of the students' projects are built to be gifts for their loved ones. To bring out the true potential of the wood one needs to become one with the wood. One needs to feel its life while respecting that no other piece on earth is the same.

**Some of the projects We encourage you to visit picasaweb to get a look at all of the HDG works because there are just too many to share with you here. Last year's presentations were breathtaking, and this year they are even better. Here we would like to highlight some of our favorite pieces with some brief commentary for each: The joining of these two pieces increased the glue surface ten-fold, forming a joint strong enough to support a one-legged chair. Were it to be forced to the break point, it would not snap at the joint.(1) The glue-up process for this piece was multi-staged. A fine blend of several species.(2) This piece exhibits new forms of beauty when viewed from changing angles.(3) Lots of joinery hidden in here would go unappreciated to the untrained eye.(4) Finished with sodium hydroxide (lye) or, natural soap, this bench capitalizes not on the sheen of lacquer or oil, but the flatness of the soap and shadows to bring out its intricacy.(5) This is a carpenter's podium. Equipped with specific places to put various planes and chisels, it has an adjustable platform for his work plan.(6) They emphasize the power of imperfection at HDG. Not only can we learn from our mistakes, but we can glorify elements of nature that many would readily discard.(7) Again, sometimes the natural lines of the grain cannot be improved upon.(8) Contrasting colors in the same species bring out stunning simplicity.(9) Notice the through tenons with pegs on the legs of this standing drawer unit. (10) Here is an example of minimizing material used where not necessary, while maintaining structural integrity where strength is needed.(11) The multi-level surface of this living room table would provide a gentle segregation of family activity at the same time on the same table… Keeping water colors away from the laptop as an example.(12) This brute of a work table promises an indefinite service life under serious pounding. The grain exudes decades of survival through harsh weather.(13) This bench surface combines countless lapped lengths of Beech with embedded tiles of wickedly grained exotic woods. Now here is something original: The wooden tiles serve as an actual xylophone!(14) Chinese style benches and stools are very popular. Each one created by HDG's students is unique.(15) We can't help but share two pictures of this chair. Inspired by woodworking legend Sam Maloof, this classic design boasts complete sitting comfort and zero ornamental frills. (16)

**Everyone is a Winner The point of this so called competition at the HDG Academy of Traditional Woodworking is far from determining the greatest talent among its participants. It is an achievement presentation designed to celebrate the fruits of the process of bringing new life to trees. Of all the secrets hidden in each tree on earth, only a fraction get discovered and appreciated. It has to do with Fate and Karma. The woodworker never knows what cards he/she will be dealt until work has begun and cuts have been made. To encounter knots and twists in the grain effects decisions on which pieces join together and how they are shaped. The woodworker is flexible and learns to adapt. This is his/her fate. The Karma is about the trees. We kill them so we may use them. They sacrifice themselves for us. But all things that live die one day. A tree could fall over in the forest and rot away to oblivion, as happens everyday. Or it could be a more fortunate tree. To end up in the hands of a woodworker who gets to know it, who respects and eventually loves it… The tree has evolved into its next life. It becomes a part of the Human existence in which its strength and beauty enhance our lives while we appreciate the uniqueness of its non-duplicative grain. Here at interwood it is a true joy to witness the activity at HDG. Last year Professor Lin described his endeavor as “a universal movement towards the rebirth of traditional craftsmanship.” The steep rise in student enrollment attests to the increasing popularity HDG is receiving in Taiwan society. It is refreshing to see these people discover new dreams, and take part at a facility which helps make them come true.

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