Monday, December 21, 2009

Recognizing the Value of Philippine Recycled Wood

Published article: Homestyle Magazine (September/October 2009 Issue)

After my 26-year romance with wood, realization has finally knocked on my wooden intellect that there is more to be learned in my chosen field of art. Through experience, I've learned that design and shop work are futile without knowledge of materials.

Prior to my discovery of the value of reclaimed wood, I used to deal with carabao loggers in the hills of Quezon. These were mostly farming families earning a measly living on loggings. It was a one-tree, one-job affair until greedy investors came in. Like a spark setting off an inferno, the increase in demand for wood led to a quick increase in logging activity. As forests started to resemble my bald head, guilt consequently set in, leading me t a new resource: recycled wood from old houses, buildings, and bridges.

My first affair with reclaimed wood was an old narra and molave post (which cost me two bottles of bilog gin on the barter market.) As I manipulated my design with hand tools onto the antiquated posts, I realized that uts density, qauality, and finish were superior to new wood, but when working with reclaimed wood, nails and bolts had to be extracted. Carbide tipped blades had to be employed in milling through its dense structure. In the course of these early stages of my learning and decision to utilize reclaimed wood, I often cursed myself for my principles of conservation.

As the demand for work eventually grew, so did the need for materials. This also led to the education of the mangigiba (demolition teams) on the classification of wood and prices, which was part of the whole process to standardize the growing industry. I studied how craftsmen used to build our old wooden houses: I found that they'd integrated different species of wood into the whole stucture, as varying species have unique qualities and properties. It's worthy to note that the basic skills of selecting the type of wood for each component for structural matters rest in the hands of the architects and engineers. But most importantly, selection on quality of timber is relied upon the sawyer.

Here are a few things I learned about certain types of wood:

Yakal: Is light yellow and turns light brown with age, and has a sour smell when milled. It is heavy and hard to work with. Used for posts, beams, joists, and other installations requiring durability and strength. It is usually used for houses built in the regions of Quezon, Camarines, Agusan, Davao, and Zamboanga.

Molave: is also called "Philippine teak". It is rich yellow-brown in color and finishes well, and is a very functionally diverse wood once used for railroad ties and shipbuilding. It works well for exposed surfaces such as window frames, sills, and exterior panels. it is also used for posts and beams and does well for cabinetry and superior joinery. Though very durable, it does not fare well when set directly on lime.

Saplungan: Is also known as "yakalsaplungan", but us harder, denser and heavier than yakal. it is yellow with brown streaks, and is thus also called "tiger molave". It was also once used for railroad ties and shipbuilding, and its attributes are akin to molave, though it is more complicated to handle for carving and sculpting projects. This wood was once abundant in the forested regions of Luzon.

Ipil: is yellow when "green" (newly felled) and turns dark brown when seasoned. It is a durable - and very stable - wood used for fine cabinetry, flooring, and interior panels. Also used for posts and beams in regions where yakal and molave are difficult to come by.

Dungon: is dark - chocolate brown in color when seasoned. it is also called "iron wood" and is probably on of the top 10 hardest woods in the world. Also once used for shipbuilding, it was sought after for crafting keels, ribs, and shaft mountings. Works well for high traffic floorboards, fascia boards, trellises, and outdoor decking.

The Philippines is one of the most biologically diverse nations in the world and was once host to over 3000 species of tree (the species mentioned above are just a small fraction of the types of trees I've worked with. Many more old woods, present in old structures, are yet to be discovered). We must realize the beauty and value of recycled wood. Our land, though one of the most biologically diverse, is also one of the most endangered. Let us save what is left of our forest for future generations to appreciate.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

CHAIRS by Benji Reyes

These are some of the chairs that I designed and produce in my Antipolo studio. All pieces are handcrafted from recycled wood and are hand polished in oil.

Private viewing by appointment only.




Lola Basyang




Wednesday, June 17, 2009


I don't consider myself an "expert" in the field of woodworking and designing. Though people seek my advice on design and materials, I have to be honest. This gives me a sense of fulfillment in my chosen line of field. My sincere gratitude to those who support and believe in my works! I just wish I had another lifetime to discover more possibilities on designing, working with wood and sharing my experiences in this amazing world of designing and creating.

For the young furniture designers wanting to be successful in their respective fields, I would like to share with you the path I took that led me to my progression as a designer and as a person. 

DESIGNING.......... understanding the word design, material and shop work knowledge, establishing one's artistic identity, earning an honest living. 

In that order lest we use the title "designer".  

Honestly, did you choose to be a designer for material wealth? 

If you are indeed creative, using this as the first step to success would divide your creative skills for designing to formulating ways in accumulating wealth faster. Most "designers" I know of who followed this path are more of  business men rather than a designer.  "innovators" for who they think they are.  A good designer should first learn to be honest to himself. The title "designer or artist" is not earned from schooling but is bestowed upon you by patrons and believers in your work. 

You might say that drawing a concept on paper is designing. Most young "designers" would search Taytay or Pampanga for a craftsman to execute their "designs". "The Craftsman".... (that,  I'll touch on in another blog.) with his knowledge in machineries and materials on putting together what is on paper would be your best bet for your "design" to come into fruition. Most often the craftsman would have to make adjustments in his best knowledge and judgement to rectify structural flaws he sees  with the concept. By doing so, he is being sure that he protects his reputation as a craftsman despite underlying his intellectual property rights.  At the end........ and again, Honestly? Was it your design? A TRUE and HONEST designer who is willing to learn and progress in his field would call it a collaboration. 

"Originality" is the key word. Try to think outside of the box. It will never be an easy path to success. You may have all the financial support but the price tag on having your own artistic identity is only achieved with patience, soul and time you put into the craft. It can never be bought! 

Study the market, What do people need? What has been done bought and collected? Be mindful that you have one chance to showcase your work to the public to be identified. Don't waste that chance to be tagged as a copycat! Have in mind what their reaction should be when they see your work........." Nice........ something new... (and most important....) 

WHO'S WORK IS IT?"  That's creating your identity. With this........ you're on the right path DESIGNER!

"I see your soul in your works"

as quoted by Manuel Vergara Torres

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Wood played a vital role in the emergence of man into the modern world. As an all important resource for fuel, tools and building materials, wood helped shape society as well as its economy. It is ironic that we profit from its value but pay little attention to its source. The wanton cutting of trees has led to the denudation of our natural rain forests. We try to justify our impetuous behavior by planting trees to "farm". Much of these trees planted are not endemic to its host region thus disrupting the local ecological system and resulting to more damage on the environment. Greed, need and lack of knowledge make man's oldest natural resource continue to shape our lives by being the major cause of floods, landslides and threat to our country's flora and fauna. 

                           The denudation of our natural rain forests

The Philippines plays host to well over three thousand species of trees of which a high percentage is endangered. Playing a minor role in the use of wood,  I try to play a major role in the conservation of our last remaining rain forests by introducing and educating people on the potential and values of recycled wood. In my 26 years of crafting recycled wood, I have witnessed an emergence of an entire sphere of recycled wood suppliers, furniture makers and most important, the end product buyers and collectors who now value our environment and locally made recycled wood products. There has yet to be a study made on environmental benefits in recognition of this new found resource.

                    reclaimed wood from demolished houses

Old wood is more durable than new wood. Besides being seasoned dry, sawyers used to select mature trees to fell. We can never compare denseness, quality of grain and strength of both old and new wood. What more to corroborate these facts than by seeing century old wooden houses still settled in and used by fourth and fifth generation homeowners.


  century old wooden house in Quezon province

          Reyes "tahanan" of recycled wood

       "Hilot Pavilion" Maribago Bluewaters Resort Mactan, Cebu

 With this new found resource, I have started its application in the designing and building of residential houses and resorts. I adhere to the principle of " build it once - build it right" thus engineering functional structures that will not only work well but will reacquaint its owners and guests on the miracle and beauty of wood.

We are all stewards of this planet we live in. Let us do our share and use our resources wisely so that future generations may take pleasure and appreciation of it and do likewise.


" WELCOME TO CYBERSPACE OLD DOG!" - This is me talking to myself before I start putting thoughts into words on my first blog! 

I always thought that BLOG was the sound of one falling out of bed. My daughters, Eena and Keesha have finally succeeded in convincing me to register on facebook and blogspot. This will be my way of sharing my principles and thoughts on designs and works for all you wood lovers.