A 68-year old Malay antique furniture restorer is sharing the secrets of his trade after revealing he will be the last in his family to make furniture by hand.
If you see an ornately carved Oriental antique chest in a Cumbrian shop, it may not be as old as it looks – it may have been hand-built by Choo Ah Cheng or one of his contemporaries. Cheng represents the final generation of a family of Malaysian carpenters who made furniture traditionally, by hand. While the craft is still kept alive in some Malay villages, Cheng’s skills are unlikely to be passed on to the next generation, as his children show no desire to follow in their father’s footsteps.
Cheng gained his apprenticeship on the tiny, idyllic island of Pulua Pangkor – just a short ferry ride away from the historic mainland city of Ipoh – where he now works as an antique furniture restorer, a trade he turned to around 20 years ago. As with Restoration work in Lancashire, each antique cabinet must be handled with extreme care, with all work done by hand. This can take several weeks, as Far Eastern furniture is often intricately carved.
The restoration problems faced by Choo Ah Cheng are a bit different to those of somewhere like Cumbria. An antique desk, for example, will be totally dismantled to check for termite infestation and then immaculately restored to its original condition, often in conditions of extreme humidity, and without original drawings.
Wood boring insects are a problem with antique mahogany partners desks in Lancashire too, but a good antique dealer will always ensure such problems are dealt with before sale.
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