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