Manage to get an old article about Melaka still exist Chinese traditional wooden barrel maker at Hang Kasturi Street, Mr.Chan Cheok Tiam.
Keeping the barrel-making business afloat
MALACCA:When it comes to wooden barrels, we very often think in terms of them being used to age and store liquor.
But actually, all sorts of food — fish, meat, vegetables, cooked rice our local nasi lemak, nasi kandar and even putumayam — can also be stored and transported in them.
The wooden barrel is an old but still useful remnant of the bygone days of sailors, traders and settlers. , and hence both the intricacy involved in making it and its usage is a heritage worth treasured.
It has been used for centuries as not only as containers to store and move food and drink, but also as wooden tubs.
For the past 50 years, Chan Cheok Tiam has been making the sole wooden barrels maker in Malaysia at his shop in Jalan Hang Kasturi near Jonker Street. He is still in business though he is way past retirement age.
“I believe age is no barrier when your job is your passion. It is better than being glued to the couch back at home. In fact, that would only slow me down,” Chan said with a chuckle.
He patiently explained how at his workshop at a backlane of houses where he fashions his barrels from raw wood to beautiful barrels through a series of complex processes.
A man, skilled at making barrels, and Just like all the many of them who mastered the art from their forefathers, Chan picked up his barrel-making skill from his late father, Chan Chow.
“Just like the m “Many of our forefathers who brought their trade from our homeland back in China. My father started this barrel-making business almost 80 years ago and, I am still running it though age is catching up,”
“Barrel, although looks classic in features, but “Making a barrel involves lots of patience. In the olden days, my father old man would cut down a tree, chop transform it into moderately thick planks, fashion them into the correct size and shape of staves for a particular type of barrel, and dry the wood himself,”before he even start to build one,” he said.
Many years of learning from an expert is required to master all the skills required.
Chan said a keen eye was needed to make sure assure that wood with any deformities are not used in barrel making.
Each stave must be strong and well-made and hence, selecting the right tree for the job is key. was quite a knack and experience only comes after years of mastering it from the experts.
“TWhile the staves have to be planed to be smooth ness on the outside and a little cupped inside. The bevel on their edges must be precise or they would neither fit together nor hold water.
“In the old days, barrels were made with wooden hoops, but now, at present, each stave is taped with metal hoops made by a blacksmith,” he said.
Some of the staves are soaked so that they can be curved properly, while some barrels are burned inside. Others are sealed with glue.
“If the barrel is to be used to store food, it needs to be relatively airtight so the sealing material does not contaminate the food,” he explained.
Barrels Chan makes his barrels with are largely made of the rare and tough wood such as jati, kayu merah, seraya batu and cengal as they are noted for their firmness and quality.
“It is difficult to get these original wood pieces these days and even if I can, they are expensive. So now, I get my wood pieces from old houses but I only use the ones that are of good quality,” he said.
“The most expensive piece I have ever made an d sold was a wooden bath tub, which I sold for RM800,” he said adding that his customers come from as far as Singapore to buy his barrels.
Chan, a father of three, believes that said, since he is now the only barrel-maker left in Malaysia. As and his children have who have no interest in the trade, traditional barrel-making looks set to become yet another extinct craftindustry handmade would be a thing of a past.
“Of course, we can get the mass produced ones from factories, but they will not have the original handmade touch,” he said.