A Different Kind of Carpentry

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Yinka Olatunbosun reports on a rare find at Fountain Fields, Ikeja where wood work isn’t just hard work

A good-spirited gathering of architects inside Ikoyi recently led this reporter to a state-of-the-art carpentry workshop in Oregun where carpenters have kissed tools like chisel, saw, pry bars and hammer, goodbye. It began as a light-hearted conversation over cocktails and the manager, Fountain Fields, Harry Eta-Besong, clad in well-tailored jacket introduced himself as a carpenter. Naturally, the warped image of a non-lucrative blue-colour job came to mind. As though that was not surprising enough, the distinguished-looking CEO, Kayode Oduwole, adorned in regal traditional attire, seemed to enjoy the surprised expression on the reporter’s face more than the content of his transparent glass cup.

“You should come to our workshop,’’ said Oduwole, sensing the curiosity in this reporter as regards the nature of wood work they peddle that make them look so polished.

Last week, the overdue visit was paid to the workshop that is equipped with high-power machinery to perform tasks in carpentry. Oduwole, a retired architect, spends his day time supervising the work of his employees who work from eight to five with a compulsory one hour break. He learnt a while ago not to neglect that oversight function to anyone. Precisely in 2008, he shut down the facility and only reopened five years ago.

“We had some internal problems and we had issues with the wood and paint,’’ he began. “The manager then began to compromise on standards. I am an architect and I was in active practice then. I was just doing this out of passion. But he decided to be unfaithful. I care about my integrity a lot. I shut down the facility in December 2008 and paid off all salaries and allowances. So in 2011, I began to research into how doors are produced in other climes,’’ he recounted.

In his research, he toured a wood work factory in Turkey and recorded a short video which he showed to this reporter.
“The machine they had there could only make the normal doors. But our machines can make longer doors. I went there to learn how these things are done. You see how that door edge is made. We decide to lift that edge to protect the door. We also place honey comb in the door carcass and add reinforcement to it. They don’t do that. They only place the honey comb in the carcass,’’ he said.

With protective masks fastened around the neck, he motioned to this reporter to follow him on a tour of the facility. No carpenter was sweating; the floor was clean except for a pile of wood scrapings that was heaped at the corner towards the exit door. Oduwole explained how each machine works over the noise from the compressor.

“They use this machine to make keyholes so that they are neat. We don’t use chisels. This is the wood molder- it can be used to carve wood. This one is used to measure the thickness of the wood for the desirable size to be achieved. This one cuts wood into various lengths. That is the edge binder. We use it to seal up wood edges to make them look neat,’’ Oduwole said as he walked towards a pile of fresh wood.
There are woods for making kitchen cabinet and it is rarely imported by carpenters because of its high cost.

“The door vent allows for ventilation. Instead of hammer and nail, this is what we use. Touch it,’’ he said, as this frightened reporter-guest jumped at the startling sound of a device used instead of a hammer that works literarily like a stapler. When asked if there is any hammer in the workshop, Oduwole smiled as he explained why the facility has ruled out old tools.
“We have but we don’t base our operations on such tools. We have a mechanised system. We try to simplify the work as much as possible,’’ he said.

He showed the different sizes of the honey comb to this reporter and the photo-journalist who squatted in front of the fountain of saw dust to take some shots.

“The only thing we obtain here in Nigeria is the wood,’’ he continued. “The South-west has the largest deposit of wood in Nigeria. We have the products and the quality that can compete with international standards. We have the capacity to make 96 doors in one day.

“We have produced doors for a college in Abuja in 2013. Then we had some people who were suggesting that they should have imported Chinese doors. But they gave us the contract and we executed it. I never met the school owner until recently. And when he found out that we made their doors at the school he was really happy. ‘We are enjoying those doors,’’ he said.
Inevitably, they have specialised at making doors, including well-fortified security doors one of which he invited this reporter to lift. It was the best answer to the question of why they are no female carpenters. And that seemed to be the hard part of the job, requiring no fewer than four men to move one security door.

While reflecting on security doors that work with codes, Oduwole explained that that technological innovation doesn’t come cheap.

“We do the key types. The price of making coded doors is high. Nigerians don’t buy it. A coded lock is about N350,000 and that doesn’t include the cost of the door. Unless there is a special demand by a client, we hardly make such doors. I would prefer if you bring the lock and then we make the doors for you,’’ he remarked.

The compressor relies on electrical power to release air to the machines. The machines all depend on the air to work. Once the compressor is full, it releases the air. The air serves as the driving force that powers the tool to work. It makes the job faster, while saving time and energy.

On the matters of safety, the manager revealed that there is a culture of training for the workers. New employees are not allowed to use the machines because a mistake can be very costly.
“We don’t allow non-professionals to operate the machines. We have carpenters and machinists in this workshop. These machines are very powerful. They can chop off the hands if one is not careful,’’ said the manager, Eta-Besong.

Weekly trainings on the new trends in the wood work industry are offered to the employees and they are also trained on etiquette as well as human relations to prepare them in case they meet with clients at the site during installations.

The facility used to attract other carpenters who brought their works for finishing.
“But some carpenters didn’t want to pay for the services that we render. We need to service our machines and pay salaries,’’ said Oduwole.

For him, good work is not synonymous with hard labour. With his own effort towards building the economy, furniture would eventually be struck out of the list of items that Nigerians need to import to the country.