My personal parang collection # 1 – Some Duku Chandongs


Here are two duku chandong  from my personal collection. These pieces were sent to me by a supplier and I decided to keep them to myself as I kind of like them. They come from Sarawak , or sometimes known as Borneo . Both are made by different makers as you can see there is some difference in their styles.

In East Malaysia ( Sabah and Sarawak ) Parang are called Duku and they basically mean the same thing. Just like how East Malaysia has the Parang Panjang, Parang Lading, Parang Pendek, Parang Bentong, Parang Jawa etc, there also different names for East Malaysian parangs or dukus – ie Duku Tangkin, Duku Panjang , Duku Chandong, Ilang and many more. All these names describe a particular shape, however, some parangs are very difficult to categorize as they may have different elements from a few or many different types of parangs.

duku chandong ray mearsThe two Duku Chandongs in my collection

As you can see in the picture above, they are really well made. I love the simple and clean look of them. They both have some slight differences, which I’ll describe later on. The upper one is made of a dark – yellowish wood, which I am not sure is from which tree. The bottom one is made form a type of wood called Serian ( sometimes written Surian ) and the special thing about this wood is that it has sort of like a 3-D effect. It looks something like a cats-eye stone; if you have seen one before, you will probably understand.

duku chandong borneoThe Duku Chandongs unsheathed

They both come with wooden handles and sheaths , and that is  how traditional parangs are made. The more modern ones or those which are mass produced, are made with plastic handles and PVC sheaths. Wooden handles just make the parangs look much much better in my opinion.

As you can see form the above photo, the shape of the blade is almost identical and is a common duku chandong shaped blade. The famed bushcraft expert , Ray Mears once used a simillar parang in one of his episodes and since then, people have been referring it as the “Ray Mears Parang” , although all he did was use it. It is quite unfortunate that the Duku Chandong got a foreigner’s name, but at the same time, the duku chandong also got world famous.

ray mears duku chandongauthentic ray mears parang A

The above two pictures show the parangs in my hand, I would have to say that their handles are very very comfortable and you can chop with them all day plus the next without having any blisters or hot spots. These handles are traditionally shaped and what that means is that the shapes have been used for centuries and are proven to have an excellent grip and extremely comfortable. If I had to look for fault, I would remove the slippery shiny varnish the maker put on the handles. The varnish does make the colour and wood grain pop, but it also makes the handle slippery , especially when you hold the parang with damp or wet hands. Like all my other parang i use often, the first thing I would do is to roughen up the handle with a wood file.

parang knife chandong borneo

Above is a picture of both parang blades together. Notice the similarities in their shapes? you will also note the different finishing on each blade. The top one has a dark colour, and that’s how it looks after the heat treat . After the heat treat, only the edge is sharpened, compared to the bottom one , where the blade is semi polished with a grinder to clean it up a bit. Both methods do not change the way the parang handles, it just makes them look prettier. The definition of ” prettier” lies  in the eye of the beholder.

ray mears parang spine

If you noticed , the Duku chandongs are of different lengths, and different weight. The longer one is actually  lighter and quicker in the hand, compared to the one with the polished blade or shorter one. Being shorter, the spine is much thicker as you can see in the picture above. A shorter and heavier parang is more suitable for chopping and heavy work, while a longer and lighter one would be more suitable for brush clearing.

ray mears parang bolster

Here you can see the two different ways of how the bolster is made. One is woven using mono filament line while the other has a steel ring. I’m not sure how much they contribute to the strength of the parang, but without the bolster, it would really look odd, and I don’t think I have ever seen a parang without a bolster.

parang wooden scabbard and sheath

Here is a picture of the sheath . Both these duku chandong sheaths are made by gluing two halves together. I have seen similar sheaths , but made out of one piece of wood, where the slot for the parang is dug out using special tools. One piece sheaths are hard to find and are not common as they are much harder to make.

So there you have it, these are two from my collection. More to come in the future.

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Meeting a Blacksmith in Pekan Darat

In my last trip, I had the opportunity to meet Uncle Sobri who is currently working full time as a blacksmith. Uncle Sobri has his own shed which he shares with some other blacksmith. I was pretty amazed at the amount and variety of machinery he has. Although the place can be quite rickety, you can see that a lot has happened there. Some tools are really worn out and I am sure have been used very very well.

Uncle Sobri mainly makes rubber tapping knives now, as he needs to make something that is able to sell . However, all the rubber tapping knives he makes are sent further north like Baling and Betong, as Kedah itself does not have much rubber plantations anymore. According to Uncle Sobri, most have converted to Palm Oil.

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Uncle Sobri making Rubber tapping knives

When I dropped by on the second day of fasting, i did not see anyone else working, but Uncle Sobri. He was hammering his rubber tapping knives in his simple forge and anvil , tucked in one corner of his shed. He was gracious enough to take a short break and show me the shed and it’s surroundings.

The shed is pretty well equipped , and there are at least 3-4 furnaces , and about 8 power hammers and about 10 anvils scattered around . All are in working order except for one power hammer which has been dismantled for servicing, and a few other small machines where parts have been stolen.  Sadly, not many are used anymore, as the youngsters prefer to work in the factories now.

an old power hammeran even older pwoer hammer
One of the power hammers                         And an even older one

Some machines I noticed were bench grinders, a small wood lathe machine ( probably unused for 10 years ) , metal cutting machinery , hydraulic press, circular saw  and many more. I’d say this shack is pretty well equip. Only problem is there is no one using it.
anvilmore anvils
Anvils and more anvils

Waking around the shed, you can really see that this place has been used very well. According to Uncle Sobri, this shed was used by his late father. At that time, blacksmithing  was one of the main industries in Pekan Darat , and this place was bustling with activities. He said then, youngsters would come over after school and work at the forge for some pocket money, as well as to learn the tricks of the trade. Even the womenfolk would sharpen newly made knives and parangs in front of their houses for a few ringgit.

uncle Sobri with a Kacip
Uncle Sobri with a kacip.
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Uncle Sobri’s small workspace , with the furnace ahead and anvil on the left.

Below is one section of the shed that really amazes me. This section is where they clamp the rubber tapping knife to be ground down . Check out the amount of metal shavings! It looks like a huge pile of sand and even  like a sculpture . They must have not cleaned this place for ages, and I’m sort of glad actually. Even the wooden bench used to clamp the rubber tapping knives is very worn out. Try and count the number of nails holding it together and you should be able to guess it’s age!

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The sharpening / grinding section

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The clamping bench

Just about 2 meters away from Uncle Sobri’s workspace, there is another shed with another blacksmith. Unfortunately, when I was there, he was not around and I did not get the chance to meet him. From what I understand, this guy does make parangs . So i hope to come again soon and get some made up. I’m keen to see if he can make some nice and good pieces.
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Another workshop just nearby

 

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A recent visit to the Pekan Darat Blacksmith

Pekan Darat blacksmith shed
The Old Building in front and the newer one at the back

Recently I had the opportunity to drop by Pekan Darat again. It looks like PERDA has some big plans for Pekan Darat. It is reported that they have spent rm 1.5 million to bring the Blacksmithing industry back to it’s glory days.

Perda has extended the original metal working building towards the back , with lots of space for new machinery and tools. As of my visit in July, all they are waiting is the arrival of the machinery . Even the smaller shed on the right got a new cemented floor. From my first visit, it looked like it was being used regularly, but now most of the tools are missing .
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The Smaller Shed

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The signboard at the front of the shed.

I think it’s a good call to bring back the Blacksmithing industry to Pekan Darat . We’re keen to work together and see what they are able to produce.

Here is a link to a newspaper report to the Project by Perda – http://www.theborneopost.com/2013/03/17/rm1-5-mln-allocated-to-develop-blacksmithing-industry-in-pekan-darat/

 

 

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A short visit to Pekan Darat , Penang

 

 

What does Seki City, Mora , Solingen, Ayuthaya and Pekan Darat have in common? If you are into knives, Seki City  and Solingen will definitely pop up. These knife cities are well known and it was much of a surprise for me to know that Malaysia itself has it’s own knife city located in Pekan Darat,  Penang.

I visited Pekan darat about 2 years back after hearing about it from visiting the  Kraftangan office. It was not too far away but I’m not too familiar with the mainland part of Penang, so it did take some searching and asking around.

Pekan Darat is a small township in the middle of paddy fields, well known for the knife / metal smithing industry. Pekan Darat ( literally – Land town ) used to be famous at one point for it’s barter trading system, but that used to be a long time ago. Metal smithing was believed to have started there in the 16th century and the original Blacksmiths were brought in by the then Sultan of Kedah , to equip his men with proper fighting tools. At that time, there was war going on against the British who were in Penang , as well as the Thais ( Kedah – Thai War ) .

Once the war ended and peace regained, the need to make weapons decreased and the blacksmiths had to look at other products to keep their livelihood. This is when they started making knives, Parangs, Goloks, kacip , sickles, rubbber tapping knives and other agricultural tools.

Sadly, most of the blacksmiths now have passed on , or are too old to work. The younger generation seem to have passed this tradition and prefer to work in the factories for more secure and lucrative jobs. When I was there, I did meet one who was making some parang sheaths . He said he made them according to clients request only , and works when he feels like it.

Sad, but that is the state of the industry now.

 

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