10 October 2018

Woodworking in Bhutan

Bhutan is a small kingdom at the eastern end of the Himalayas between India and Tibet (China).  We recently spent a week there visiting forts and Buddhist monasteries, hiking through forests and paddy fields and along the way meeting the friendly people who live in this truly beautiful country (and I say that having visited dozens of countries around the world).

Punakha Dzong (Punakha Fort)

There are many unique aspects to Bhutan, one of which is that all buildings must by law be constructed in a traditional style.  This typically includes lots of timber for beams, posts, joinery and furniture.  This has kept a skilled carpentry and joinery workforce alive and well.  

Courtyard inside Punakha Dzong

Monasteries and forts receive the most detail, however even houses and office buildings are constructed with intricate features and wooden joinery. 

A new building under construction in the capital, Thimpu

Timber is harvested from within the country, with the government overseeing felling and re-planting to maintain a minimum forest cover of 60%.  Bhutan is a net carbon sink; it absorbs nearly twice as much carbon dioxide as it produces from industry, transport etc and the main export is hydropower to India.

Trees are milled close to where they are felled, often with portable sawmills - the Australian made Lucas Mill was in evidence in several places we passed through.

Milling of logs in a rice paddy field

After milling, the wood is air dried in stacks by the roadside, usually with a corrugated iron roof to protect it from the rain.

Timber stacked for air drying

Complex joints (with no nails or bolts) are formed with basic tools.  Some large powered machinery was also seen. 

An outdoor joinery shop

Once the joinery is completed the components can be embellished with carving ready for assembly on site.

Relief carving

Monasteries are often high up in the mountains.  Traditionally this would have required much hard labour to haul materials up to the building site although now this is often done with a powered flying fox.  

An extension being added to Chagri Monastery

Bhutan's most famous building, the Tiger's Nest (Paro Taktsang) burnt down in 1998 but was skillfully reconstructed, using traditional methods of course.

Paro Taktsang

29 May 2018

City Gallery

On display in Wellington at the moment (and along with the MONIAC also exhibits from New Zealand's entries in the Venice Biennale) are Michael Parekowhai's On first Looking into Chapman's Homer:

And Michael Stevenson's This is the Trekka:


I have been wanting to see this machine at the Reserve Bank Museum for several years, since reading about the New Zealand economist and inventor Bill Phillips.  As the only visitors on a cold and rainy Wellington Monday, we were treated to a demonstration of this early computer by a very informative Museum staff member.

Just after the Second World War and around the time the US military commissioned the ENIAC electronic computer (initially for calculating artillery trajectories), Phillips built a computer for assessing and demonstrating the effects of changes in a nation's economy such as interest rates, taxation, government investment and foreign trade.  The difference with Phillips' machine was that rather than using the flow of electrons to calculate complex equations it used the flow of water.

Water is often used as an analogue for electricity when explaining the 'flow' of electrons and the effects of a constriction (a resistor), a one-way valve (a diode) and suchlike but Phillips' machine was literally an analogue (in both senses of the word) computer, where the changes in the levels in transparent containers represented the various changes to metrics in the economy in a continuous (or non-digital) way.  

The device could also demonstrate the time lag between changes in one aspect and another as money flows around the economy.

Phillips built the first MONIAC while he was a student at the London School of Economics.  Copies and replicas of the machine are located at various universities and institutions around the world.

31 March 2018

Next Bus Due: 1978

A 40-year-old bus timetable discovered in our old shed.  Five buses a day serving Orewa, Silverdale, Dairy Flat, Waitoki, Kaukapakapa, Helensville, Parakai, Wharepapa, Woodhill, Waimauku, Huapai, Kumeu and on into Auckland City.

Cost for the approx 70km trip(!) from Dairy Flat into the city: $1.05 or 78c if you buy a 10 trip concession, but adults pay a child fare if they travel off-peak so this would be 30c on a concession if you leave after 9.00am.  From Dairy Flat to the city would have taken approx 1 hour and 40 minutes - not bad considering the circuitous route.

Using the Reserve Bank's inflation calculator, a 30c bus ticket would cost $1.31 today, and the journey on the Northern Express takes about an hour from the Silverdale Station off-peak and costs $6.20 on the HOP card.

So, it's a bit quicker today, more direct, more frequent and nearly five times the cost.

20 February 2018

Recent Projects

Conventional paid work has unfortunately been interfering with my woodworking as of late, but I have been able to make a few things:

Computer standing desk
Lamp 'shade'


Spice Tray

Also making an appearance in the workshop is a new Festool Kapex mitre saw, which I have installed between two big banks of drawers faced with poplar plywood, recycled jarrah for the handles and a couple of Bunnings acacia panels for the benchtops.

Workshop drawers