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Woodworking with Diego de Assis


 
 

In Pará, the Brazilian Amazon

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Diego de Assis

 

Surucuá is located near the city of Santarem, in the Brazilian state of Pará, in the Tapajós/Arapuins Extractive Reserve. It is one of the seven riverine communities that participate in the Tapajós Indigenous Workshops (Oficinas Caboclas do Tapajós, OCT), which is a project sponsored by the Amazonian Institute for Environmental Research (Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazônia, IPAM).

The OCT promotes traditional furniture crafts of the Tapajós region, including benches in animal shapes, using the natural shapes of tree trunks, and the use of several native wood species including yellow Sucupira (Bowdicha nitida), Jacarandá of Pará (Dalbergia spruceana), black Cumarú (Dipteryx odorata) and Muirapixuna (Chamaecrista scleroxylon). The timber harvest is duly managed and licensed, and deadfall trees are also used.

 

In February 2011 I spent a week in Surucuá, invited by the OCT to teach a workshop on “Furniture Assembly and Disassembly.” The main objective was to teach local artisans, who came from nearby communities, how to make threaded parts, so that their furniture could be easily shipped and assembled by the end purchaser.

In this article I describe the workshop and my experience with this group, which brought so many pleasurable hours of working and learning.

Why threaded parts?

The OCT program has long looked for practical ways to simplify the assembly of its furniture, by screwing the parts together. To achieve this goal, the workshop was divided into two sections: The first task was to teach attendees how to make tap and die sets.

Using old techniques would have several advantages, including the use of available tools, wood scraps, and recycled metal parts, and the possibility of making other sets locally, including those in the different sizes that might be needed.

The second task was to teach the artisans how to make the male parts of the assembly as an independent element, because it is not usually possible to cut the male threads directly onto the leg of a bench or table.

It was also necessary to focus on technical issues that contribute to the process, including adequate seasoning of the wood parts, and the use of a lathe, which was improvised for this workshop using an electric drill.

The hard woods normally used are difficult to season, reaching a stable condition only after months of air drying. Green wood leads to several problems, including failure of glue joints, checking, and loosening of assembled parts.


 
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