Koh Choon Siah

The Dying Trade of Woodcarving

MiF Oral History

01 NOV 18

“In the old days, wood carving was popular amongst the people, but now it’s a dying trade.”

The Woodcarver

Interviewed on
1 November 2018

My name is Koh Choo Siah, born in Malacca. This year, I am 62 years old.

I started carving at the age of 18. I used to make new products. Now I am doing repairs or custom-made. In the old days, carving was popular amongst the people, but now it’s a dying trade. Sometimes a customer will look for us to repair the old wardrobe, we will help them to fix it.

We learned wood-carving at a very young age. When we didn’t have skills earlier, engraving was not like this. We used coconut bark or the stem and started to carve from it. So, we experimented and found it out by ourselves.

We do all the temple furniture, all kinds of carved furniture but not the 3D type. Every type of wood is used. hemlock, merbau, rosewood or teak. It depends on the furniture that we want to carve. Cork wood is the most difficult to carve. Types of furniture depends on [type of] wood. For example for certain furniture it’s only suitable to use merbau, you can’t change it to teak.  In early days, merbau wood was not carved. Lately we started to engrave flower carving for merbau furniture. 

You can see there are only a few [in our team]. There is only one young guy here. So, many people in the industry ask us to continue the trade.

“…they pass a pattern to us to copy.”

Interview was conducted in Mandarin

[Before carving] I draw a picture. Look for patterns, those customers will produce photos for us. I will show you some photos. If they want more, they pass a pattern to us to copy. It all depends on the design the customer wants. It could be carvings of flowers or words.  Sometimes, we help and don’t charge any fees and I don’t earn much money. I am interested in helping. 

A lot of friends ask us to retire, but we don’t want to retire, because nowadays not many people are doing wood carving.  The problem is that it’s manual work. If the next generation is not interested, it would be useless to tell him. If you are interested, you will find it. If you are not interested, like my son, you can tell him but he will not be interested.

Photo Gallery

Thank you Mr. Koh Choon Siah