Woodworking in Vietnam

Examples of Vietnamese Woodwork

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Detail of Temple Roof - Temple of Literature, Hanoi


In the formal parts of the Temple, the elaborate joinery that forms the roof trusses is brightly painted.


In the less formal areas of the Temple, the truses are left unpainted. Roof trusses are basically a series of short beams, mortised and tenoned together. The verticals support the weight of the roof and the horizontals keep everything rigid.
Two beams come together and are mortised into a column.
Detail of Roof Eave, Tan Ky House, Hoi An
This is a detail of the roof of Tan Ky House, an 18th century merchant's house now maintained as a museum. The seventh generation of the same family currently lives in the house.
Samples of Vietnamese Construction
Frame and Panel Door Construction
This door, which was in the process of being assembled when I wandered by, is built to the same standard as any Westener would build a door. This is a tradtional frame and panel construction. Large, long, tenons joining the stiles and rails of the door are pegged. The large tenons prevent the sagging occurs with time, and the pegging of the door together prevents door from coming apart if the glue fails. With the exception of an electric drill used to drill the dowel holes, all the work was done by hand.

These old chairs, which were stacked in a corner of the Temple of Literature, are typical of the local style.

Broken Chair
The back has been broken off this old chair but you can still see how it was put togther. The frame was mitered together with mitered tenons and then the tenons are pegged together. The seat, decorated by a simple relief pattern, is floating in the frame to allow the wood to move.

The Vietnamese tradition of woodcarving is long and distinguished, but except for one or two examples, most of the modern work I saw was extremely stylized and not particularly well done. This isn't to say skilled carvers do not exist any more, but rather that the carvers I observed were busy carving quick reliefs on furniture. In Hoi An, a small group of very fine carvers produce higher-end carvings, some of truly great style and technique, for what I assume is primarily a tourist market.

The carver is rapidly carving a deep relief of scrollwood across what could be a headboard or a fancy dresser front. He works with minimal guidelines sketched out on the wood. The work is clamped with his feet and he is rapidly working his way across the piece, carving to final depth and detail at one go. The wood being carved is hard rosewood, as is the large scrap being used as a mallet. The light in the workshop is a lot better than the photograph suggests; the beam of sunshine is just an added bonus.

The same two carvers as in the previous picture, but from another angle.
Carved Panel, Hoi An
This intricately carved panel was created in Hoi An. The panels depict mythical creatures which represent prosperity, longevity and other essential Vietnamese themes. The panel is about 6 feet long and 1 foot wide.

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