Colonel Bala's Workshop

The Colonel's Workshop
Passion conquers all obstacles. Retired Indian Army Colonel CV Bala, who lives in a remote Madhya Pradesh town called Mhow, has pursued his love for woodworking with rare single-mindedness. He scours Indore, the nearest large town, and Delhi's Chawri Bazar for tools. He has also imported a large number of accessories, tools and so on from abroad to build a dream workshop. He has built an impressive workbench and several useful projects for his home in the last few years, yet again proving "where there is a will, there is a way".

Col. Bala responses to a questionnaire:

Col. Bala in his Workshop

Question:  When and how did you come to woodworking?
It was 2007 when we got our Shit Tzu pup, that  bundle of joy that brought smiles to our faces. Since we were living in a flat in Dwarka Delhi, at that time, I had to make some space in one of the balconies for her evacuations. I wanted to make a wooden frame and a base, so that sand could be filled, where she could poop and pee, especially during night time.

The problem was getting the simple frame and base made. I went to the lumber store and bought some 1 1/2" by 3" stock and quickly nailed it to form the frame and a piece of plywood which was lying around the house became the base. All was nice and quiet, when curiosity struck. I wanted to make a dog house. A little search on the Internet threw up large number of plans videos etc. Suddenly it all started getting interesting. I knew where tools were sold in Delhi, the famous Chawri Bazar, which I had visited many times as a child with my father who again was a DIY man.

Drill Bits Cabinet
The first tool I got was a Chinese made circular saw and couple of C-clamps and a #4 hand plane. First time when I switched on the saw, it was scary. I bought some cheap lumber like Meranti and learnt to cut and plane. Then I hit upon the New Yankee workshop videos available on the Internet. That changed the whole scene and slowly I started accumulating fancier tools. I then came across Shopnotes magazine from Woodsmith. I was curious to find out how they make such beautiful drawings of plans. I wrote to them asking how they did it, and they let me on the secret called Autodesk Inventor, a 3-D modelling software. I obtained a copy with a free student licence and the fun began. I bought the plan for the CD Storage unit from New Yankee Workshop, re-modelled it using Inventor and came up with three different versions. Since I did not have a planer, I got it planed from the lumber shop. Ordered the router bit with the required profile from Yash Tools and made a simple 4 drawer cabinet. By this time the dog house was quietly forgotten!

Shop made Router Table
Question:  How did you learn woodworking and develop the necessary skills to operate machines and tools?
Once bitten by the Woodworking bug, I had to learn the skills. Even though there were a lot of videos on tool usage on the Internet, it was all in the American context. We would hardly see any of the tools here in India. So I thought I would ask some carpenter to teach me some technique on using a hand saw a hand plane, using chisels etc. To my horror, nobody was willing to share his knowledge. I even offered myself as a helper but they would just laugh it off. Then I met an Ex-Air Force Officer and since I was Ex-Army, we quickly became friends. His house in the society was under renovation and he was staying somewhere in Punjabi Bagh. I quickly offered myself to supervise the work in his house and thus, I sat there closely watching the carpenter rip 8'x4' plyboards accurately with a hand saw. I casually chatted and praised his work and slowly he let me in on many things on using tools. I would come back home and practise on cheap wood. Most of the learning has been through the Internet. Another source of inspiration was the woodworking show. I would attend all the days it was on to learn about new tools.

Joinery with a Router
Question:  What was the most difficult part of the learning process?
The most difficult part of course was using hand tools, and learning to sharpen them. One might be a master woodworker, but if the tools are not sharp you can get nowhere. Another difficult part was learning to use chisels correctly, how hard to hit them, the right mallet to use etc. Then there was the very difficult matter of safe woodworking. This I learnt the hard way. There were a couple of occasions when my thumb nearly got chopped off on the table saw and once on the router with the bit spinning at 22,000 rpm. Nowadays before I switch on any power tool, I do a dry run to make sure things are in place. Yet another problem was constraints of space and the frustration on not getting the right tool.  At that time Amazon was still not exporting to India. Things have changed since then. Availability of raw material was another constraint. That led me to scrounge around for wood from demolition sites and second hand stores. Overall I am still learning. I still practice cutting with a saw, cutting a dovetail, practice hand mortising as a ritual every other day, even if they are not meant for any project.

Routing
Question:  You seem to have built up a very impressive workshop. How did you do it sitting in Mhow?
After my son completed his schooling, I wound up my setup in Delhi and came to Mhow, which has since become my home town. Here, I had a slightly larger space here; in fact I have occupied the entire first floor for my HOBBY shop. I went around looking for reasonably priced stationary tools. Felder was out of reach and machines made in India were worthless. Neither did they have any finish nor were they accurate. You could not use them for fine work. I had learned this a long ago in Delhi, when I bought my first Chinese circular saw. Since then I striven to get better tools. After a lot of search, Metabo seemed to be a good choice. They had an office in Gurgaon, I went and bought and planer-thicknesser and a 12" band saw.

Earlier I had bought the Bosch Contractor saw, which is an excellent tool.  I would go to Indore buy an odd tool from Bosch, Hitachi or DeWalt. As far as the clamps are concerned, just before I came to Mhow, I went to Chawri Bazar to get packing materials. That was the day Stanley had opened a shop on the Ajmeri Gate road. I happened to be their first customer. The first thing I saw was the array of clamps. I straight away ordered around 50 of them of various sizes. They were thrilled with the order. They agreed to ship the entire lot to Mhow. Along with it I bought a handsaw, a back saw, coping saw and large amount of coping saw blades. Then I had two projects in mind. One was to make a workbench and a router table. I bought the workbench book and poured over it for about a week and designed my own using Solidworks. The Teak wood came from Indore and It took me about a week to build it. It is six years old as of now. I imported the front and tail vise screws from Lee Valley in Canada.

An Array of the Colonel's Clamps

Question:  What are the tools you reach out to the most? Which are the tools you cannot do without?
I actually do not have any preference for a particular tool. Each tool has its own personality and each has its quirks. As the stock becomes big the tool should be small so that it becomes easier to move the tool to the stock. Of course the table saw is something I could not do without. I actually like hand tools, especially the dovetail saw. Another tool I really enjoy is the mortising chisel. Routers are another of my favourites. I have three of them and two more are in the pipeline.

Making a Door
Question:  What kinds of projects did you start out with and what kind do you make nowadays?
Like I mentioned earlier, it all started out for a simple Dog house, But the CD storage Unit was the first thing I really built. When I put it on the drawing room in Dwarka, I couldn't believe, I managed to build it. Then I built another one with eight drawers for a friend who paid me for the effort. It was rewarding. These days I enjoy scroll saw work and wood turning, especially making table lamps. This seems to be more popular with friends. I am currently working on a Modular Kitchen project. Next in the pipe line is a tool storage wall cabinet and library system for my tons of books.

Question:  How do your friends and family react to your hobby?
I receive a great amount of support from my family for whatever I do, especially my wife who has been instrumental in buying me all the tools.

[ends]

Comments

  1. I too want to retire with a hobby something like this. Its great to read your blog and everytime get excited to see a new post.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Banerjie & Col. Bala Sirs

    This is a fantastic post.

    One of the issues that I've had is starting with woodworking is the the amount of time I need to spend in getting wood square, planed, and the right size, is so long that i forget what it is that I am doing.

    I noticed in your workshop Col. you had a Metabo thicknesser. Other than Gurgaon is there anywhere else, say of the west coast of India, that I can try and buy one.

    Any help on this will be appreciated.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks Umaji,
    I have given the details in Ask the expert section on Indranils Blog site. You can read that. If you still have question do revert back

    ReplyDelete
  4. very nice blog. More informative. Thanks for sharing you can also refer this

    scrap buyers in jayanagar

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great Work Colonel saab ... I loved the way your shop is set up. Cheers

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  6. Sir, enjoyed reading whole article. I too have pasion regarding woodworking. The main problem I face is sourcing tools. Sir, I would like to have a talk with you. If you don't mind can we have a talk over phone ? My phone number is +91 9766491181

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hi Bala!
    Stumbled across your blog. Nice one. Was looking for a portable workbench. Could not find one. Do get in touch.

    ReplyDelete
  8. @PawanSeth, you can take a look at YouTube. There are plenty of them out there. Or have look at B&D portable workbench

    ReplyDelete

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