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Story of wood
Hanoitimes 15:05, 2020/12/28
For over five decades, the tiny lathe-store-cum-house of artisan Le Dinh Thang in Hanoi's Old Quarter area still attracts passers-by by its own beauty - the uniquely beauty that only be seen in Hanoi.

For more than 30 years, Mr. Le Dinh Thang has been attached with wood lathe in To Tich street, Hoan Kiem district in Hanoi. People might say that he is one among some last woodturning artisans in Hanoi.

In To Tich Street, Mr. Thang's store is the last one practicing the wood lathe profession/ Photo: Hoang Quan.

The best shopping places in Hanoi’s Old Quarter area can be found along narrow alleyways close to Hoan Kiem lake, where you can find retailers that have managed to retain their particular trades for generations.  In memories of Hanoians, the Old Quarter is not only the representation of Hanoi’s cultural values, but also the concentration of many old trades that were once part of the routine in the capital city.

Nowadays, in a modern world, many tradition crafts have disappeared but there remain artisans who are trying to keep the tradition going in every corner of the Old Quarter, which helps ensure that the past is not forgotten but preserved as evidence of a city with history of thousands of years. Hidden among high buildings, the store of the man born in 1967 features is only 10 square meters, on a street known as “carpenter street”. In the area, his store is the last one practicing the wood lathe profession.

A man with 53 years attaching with wood

Stopping in front of the only lathe shop on To Tich street, one will we see the silver-haired middle-aged man is indulging in the lathe machine. Being nested among tall buildings and shining-glass shops, Mr. Thang’s tiny lathe-store-cum-house still attracts passers-by by its own beauty - the uniquely beauty that only be seen in Hanoi.

Seeing visitors walk through his door, Mr. Thang stops his work to ask if we need help. As soon as we start our conversation about the wood-turning profession, the craftsman gets excited and talks passionately about his ancestor's trade, as well as his own life tied to wood. Thang said that in the past, most of the residents who lived on this street were from Nhi Khe village in present-day Thuong Tin district in Hanoi.

Mr. Thang's father, Mr. Le Dinh Trai, was a  skilled lathe worker. He started his career in To Tich street in the 1950s of the last century. Among seven brothers of Mr. Thang who grew up in this old street together with the knocking and clattering of the lathe machines, only Mr. Thang  follow this family’s profession.

In 1988, Mr. Thang was discharged from the army and began learning wood turning . Although he was exposed to wood from a young age and saw his father work every day, but   it still took him two years of apprenticeship to become a skillful worker.

The talents of the last wood-lather in Hanoi

Wood lathe profession requires a lot of patience. Particularly, the craftsman must have skillful hands for creating precise details in the work/ Photo: Hoang Quan

According to Mr. Thang, the job requires a lot of patience. Particularly, the craftsman must have skillful hands for creating precise details in the work. At the same time, the sharp eyes help precisely turning wood to make products which are perfect is size and with fine details without a measure.

The heyday of the carpenter street has long gone, the number of clients has decreased. Mr. Thang only has a small number of orders.  “I always put next to me a photo of my father working hard, as well as the arrangement of his store to keep the best memory of him and the profession that I inherited from him. It is also my motivation with work,” Mr. Thang said.

Days by days, he man of over 50 years old is always meticulous with each cutting line of his products. His traditional products are mainly pagoda’s artifacts, including candle sticks, fruit plates, trays, incense box, rosaries, among others.

''There are products that require absolute precision, some of which I failed to make and have to redo the process several times to satisfy my customers. There are people who sit here and wait until his ordered item to reach perfection to take it home,” said Mr. Thang.

In the diversification of different types of raw materials, especially objects made from plastics, to pursuing the job of wood turning with a stable income is a big challenge for traditional craftsmen like Mr. Thang.

More than 30 years associated with the profession have given Mr. Thang meticulousness and the iron will to preserve the traditional profession inherited from his ancestors.

TAG: Hanoi’s Old Quarter craft last wood lathe store in Hanoi To Tich street
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