A writer’s Wood Academy experience

Published January 13, 2021, 7:00 AM

by MB Lifestyle

I came, I saw’d, I built a spice rack! Irwin Pundamiera of Wood Academy teaches people how to make clean cuts, simple furniture, and lasting memories.

By Redge Tolentino

Safety first

One early Saturday afternoon, a female beat cop, a tattoo parlor owner, a pair of engineers, an entrepreneur from Cavite, and a writer (and his editor) from Manila Bulletin find themselves in a small workshop along Aurora Boulevard. They are brought together by that most primal of instincts—a desire to make furniture they probably saw on Pinterest. 

Wood Academy’s Irwin Pundamiera

A robust man with a cross-fitter’s build, Irwin Yabut Pundamiera of Tabla Primera, welcomes the class to Wood Academy (WA). He explains that WA was built as an “open source concept” for everyday people to pursue their woodworking in a (literal) safe space. He gestures to the modest room’s dimensions, and boasts that everyone from jailguards to judges, bartenders to brain surgeons, have come and gone from here. Fingers intact. 

Indeed the morning of one’s beginner’s WA journey starts with safety. He invites the class to call out the most common injuries in woodworking. Flying fingers, gouged eyes, and torn skin flit through everyone’s imagination. He confirms all of these true, and adds healthy anecdotes on toxic fume inhalation and the threat of electrocution. But this is all fear designed to make the class attentive to how not to lose limbs. 

Some of the tools Wood Academy provides to participants

The most common woodworking tools are explained, as well as their safe uses, their capabilities, and their strengths and weaknesses. Master carpenter Irwin explains, for example, that while handheld saws are more flexible, when it comes to consistency, nothing beats table-mounted spinning blades (of death). Irwin also goes into the finer points of nailing, sanding, and glueing before carefully noting why goggles, gloves, and heavy-cloth aprons are standard issue for carpenters. 

After the safety briefing, the intricacies of wood are revealed. Participants come to learn what “bends,” “crooks,” “cups,” and “twists” mean when it comes to wood. The differences between face, grain, and end grain are explained. Even the real meaning of “board feet” measurement is finally decoded [(thickness x width x length)/12]. The class “ohhs” and “ahhs” at the price of oak (P390), Narra (P410, but illegal), and Teak (a budget-busting P460). And for this reason we are introduced to humble yet high-quality pinewood at P120 per board foot as our material for the day. But first, lunch.

Making a spice rack, creation

Post-refuelling, we re-enter the workshop to find Irwin flanked by two senior carpenters. He assigns pairs or threes to each and we set out to (carefully supervised) work. 

Each student is given two long planks, which we take to our desks, already laden with a pair of clamps, a handheld circular saw, a sander, and metal rulers. Each of us then takes turns slicing the wood into smaller sections with our handhelds at our desks, before lining up for heavier cuts using table-mounted, mechanical-arm circular saws with laser guidance systems that wouldn’t look out of place on a gundam. “I have never felt so much fun turning wood into smaller wood,” thought at least one person, as he pulled that trigger. 

The author with master woodworker Irwin Pundamiera

With all our blocks assembled, Irwin instructs us to take a crucial but oft-overlooked carpenter’s tool and tells us to scrawl a line across each block face. He explains that the goal now is to erase those pen marks from our blocks with our power sanders. The tiny flecks that flew from the sander’s surface joined those of my classmates’ and soon the room took on a Santa’s workshop vibe. Indeed, with the sawdust settling, our hair began to take on a sort of vague whiteness.

Approaching around 4 p.m., the room’s pace grows hectic. We are told that our final goal is a three-tier spice rack, and we arrange our blocks of wood starting with the base, a back wall, and two sturdy sides linked with little rails that I imagine is used by the spice to lean on when they’re tired. 

The author with his spice rack

Eight pairs of hands work to slather glue on surfaces, followed by screwed on clamps and oddly satisfying thwacks! Irwin explains that the nails only hold the pieces together til the glue sets. It’s sort of like the honeymoon phase in relationships—nice, but it’s the longer-term stuff that matters. A few dabs of wood glue to replace holes made by the nails, a bit more sanding and, just like that, each of our kitchens could now accommodate 45 more standard-sized McCormick spice bottles. 

What we took home

The day ends with diplomas, photoshoots, thoughts on how fulfilling it is to create rather than order stuff with a click, trading ideas on what our next creations would be, and how when it comes to supporting the economy. It doesn’t quite get more local than seeing something built right in front of you. 

Wood workers, one and all

We came home later that night not just with a new Instagram-worthy post, but also a greater appreciation for the woodworking community, the feeling of having done something full-feeling, and a memory we’d always remember sitting in our kitchens.

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