Wood-Carving: An Art Since Mankind Till Mankind

Many things exist in this world that reminds you of some old good times, you have memories associated with them, good and bad both and sometimes ….tragic too.

Pieces of My Childhood, Etched in Wood

Same happens with me so many times that I started pondering upon “Wood Carving”. I remember when I was a kid and a started crawling and exploring things around me, I used to place my fingers in each and every curve and whole of carving of mama’s bed and chairs and tables, my tiny fingers felt so good and enjoyed the metrical movement over the carving But I hate it when my little finger stuck inside it and my mother scolded me for that.

When I grew up, it was more annoying for me that I cannot play with that wooden table and wasn’t allowed to make them my wickets because then it would be very cumbersome for my mother and elder sister to clean them. But with the passage of time I had to get busy with so many things that I almost forgot about bothering carving anymore but it wasn’t totally vanished from my mind it has gotten its place somewhere I my subconscious and latterly I realized it when one day I was gathering all my stuff and I have come to find that all my jewelry boxes, my bangle stand, my computer table, my doll’s house, even my pencil box….everything was made up of carved wood. And… It didn’t ends up there but the ondness of carving took us to Chiniot in search of the best carved wooden bed for m y sister’s wedding.

However, history of carving must have been started with the creation of this world or might be before that and if we talk about wood carving specifically, so we can say it without any doubt that the first toy man has got in this world to play with is the wood and accessories including leaves and stones.

Man started his journey on this earth by exploring the things around it and wood is man’s oldest natural resources for shelter and tools etc. and as soon as man started using wood as his tool the art of “wood carving” was born which is evident from different ages starting from Gothic period, Athens, age of Pericles, European beginning in 15 century or great Mughal era.

Process of Wood Carving

Now let us come to the process of wood carving which involves few simple yet laborious steps. This process can be as simple or as complex again depending on type of carving. First step is designing, then wood choice, then carving process including appropriate tools selection and painting and detailing.

Selection of Pattern/Design

Just starting the process first thing one should keep in mind is that there are numerous types of patterns that are used and designed in different kinds of wood. Let’s come to the types of patterns first. Some patterns are designed in floral motifs while some others are designed in animal motifs.

Geometrical designs by using stencils are also widely practiced these days in usually roof ceiling and doors. On the other hand some pieces are designed having all types of motif all together which requires greater effort and attention. Mosques and shrines are widely designed with carved wood with holy verses patronized in it.

Types of Wood

Well choosing a wood would be a technical and needs an expert’s advice because it depends of what type of pattern is going to be carved over it, either it should be hard or soft, which metal is going to be used on it, its color and durability etc. some wood log are too fresh to get moisture quickly while some wood log are too dry to get a cut quickly so wood piece should be chosen according to pattern.

Such as for a small carving hand-held object, brass wood and butternut is the best because they are soft, easy to carve and are stable when dry. Usually jewelry boxes and small decoration pieces are made up of them. However, hard sculpture and large patterns are usually designed on walnut, mahogany and cherry wood due to their toughness they are difficult to carve and needs hard metal tools to carve them.

Selection of Tools

After designing and wood choice, appropriate tools are needed to continue the carving process. Before starting the process the first and foremost important thing is to have a dust mask to protect the carvers eyes from any wood or dust particle as a wood can contain toxic fungi which can be hazardous.

Next step is to choose a wood grain and ascertain the right direction. Next step is to carving with the grain which includes the right choice of tool which in any case should be sharp enough to leave white streaks on the grain.

Soft wood can be easily shaped by a knife or by using a gouge but a hard and dense grained wood can be designed by chisels, u and v gouges, mallet and burs and accessories.

Roughing Out & Detailing

Next stage of carving process is roughing out of raw material and brings out the appropriate shape which includes working from large to small details by usually using U and V shaped gouges. The last and most important step is detailing and painting.

Wood Carving In Pakistan

The simplest form of wood carving is “whittling”, in which wood has been cut and designed with knife to create different objects in different shapes and figures. The art of wood carving originated in Pakistan since Gandhara civilization, which is famous for its rock and wood carved sculpture. The history if this art can be traced back from early Buddhist period under the Kushan rulers. Pakistan has a rich civilization and culture and have a wide range of wood forest that’s why many people especially in rural areas still prefer to utilize their this skill  of carving to earn the livelihood.

Besides, being a laborious work it is yet more affordable profession for many people and with the passage of time this art has changed it’s from sculptures and got influenced by the regional pattern that depicts local traditional designs. Due to these talented and hardworking people Pakistan is globally very famous for its wood carving especially wood work of Swat, Gujrat and Chiniot. Swat is famous for its dark black, sturdy and hued walnut tree wood and products made with this wood with beautiful and charming carving including jewelry boxes, furniture, doors, window panes, swings and balconies etc.

Cedar and pinewood are chiefly employed for woodcarving. Chiniot is worldwide famous for its breathtakingly carved and brightly lacquered furniture and its craftsmen have been nourishing this art with floral and geometrical pattern onto bran. Chiniot’s craftsmen and artisans have for centuries carved flowers and geometric patterns onto bran strands.

The most interesting fact to mention here is that in world war-II, there was too much unemployment. It was the time when in sub-continent, freedom movement was at its full swing and it was also a cause of unemployment. People of Chiniot were to go to Calcutta (India) and Multan (Pakistan).  Masons from Chiniot are thought to have been employed during the construction of “Taj Mahal” and “Golden Temple” both are situated now in India.

The role of wood carving industry in accelerating Pakistan’s economy and promoting its heritage in international market cannot be neglected. Many foreigners profoundly visit these places and admire the beauty of the art and efforts of craft work but unfortunately our government has not given any importance towards capacity building of local craftsmen in the areas of Chiniot and swat particularly as they are considered as the hub of this art. There are few institutes and vocational training centers which are providing wood working trainings but they cater the need of the selective community.

It should be expand on a large scale to facilitate and promote the skills on a widened scale. In swat and Chiniot native craftsmen still uses pencil to draw the designs and hand tools to carve the wood which is more time consuming while we have now computerized designed and there are timber and machines available in big cities for fast work. Local people should be facilitated with these equipment through which they can not only speed up their work to earn a better livelihood but can continue promoting their heritage which is now confined to the national museums.

It is vital to mention here that carved wood furniture of Chiniot competes with the most modem furniture industry of Italy which is known all over the world. The carving style of Italy and Chiniot is the same but the furniture here is more durable and has been exhibited not only in Pakistan but internationally to promote the wood-carvings and the talented craftsmen from Pakistan who master this art. 

It has been very well said that over the centuries woodcarving has undergone many changes but has never died. It is commonly observed that wood carving balconies, wooden panes and doors are mostly fond in rural areas and look more traditional and cultural and they are more durable and affordable price wise while on the other hand they are a very rare to find in cities.

Few years ago, people in cities found wooden-carved doors and window panes outdated and something that relates to the rural culture and plain doors and glass windows were promoted but now the trends have been changed and it has rather become a status symbol to decorate the homes with carved wooden ceiling, doors and many fashion designers and photographers use carved wood to decorate the ambience of their studios. So it is worth mentioning to say that;

“As long as there is wood and there is man, there will be woodcarvings”.