Setting up shop #2: Frustration in Thailand

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Blog entry by Mark Gipson posted 02-28-2009 05:40 AM 1574 reads 0 times favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: Clearing the storage room Part 2 of Setting up shop series no next part

One of the reasons for writing this blog series is the hope that it may help fellow woodworkers trying to do the same in Thailand. I found it hard to track down information about where and what to buy so hopefully this may be of use to someone like myself in the future. Those of you not in the area may want to change channels about now.

Getting set-up to be able to start building things has been quite a frustrating experience. Woodworking is not a popular hobby in Thailand and there aren’t many places where decent quality basic hand tools can be found. The HomePro stores (large DIY stores like Home Depot or B&Q) have a decent selection of power tools and some hand tools and I am finding them quite a friendly place to shop. I live in Bangkok where there is a 1km long street known as ‘wood street’ which is full of lumber shops, some tool shops and a lot of shops selling mouldings, carvings and furniture. I’ll take some pictures for another blog entry on my next visit. While HomePro is quite a friendly place for a foreigner to shop I find that wood street is not the same story. Most of the shops seem slightly suspicious of foreigners, maybe they think I’m trying to hunt down some illegally logged teak so I can report them to the police! I did manage to pick up some rubber wood and my router there at a considerable saving compared to buying it in HomePro. You would think that a street dedicated to woodworking would have everything, but unfortunately that is not the case. My quest to find a plug cutter there last week met with total failure and blank stares from every store I tried. I am finding that most of the tools available in Thailand are of such poor quality that they might as well be useless and I treat some of them as disposable. There is no point using 50 bahts worth of water to clean a paint roller when the best you can buy only costs 29 baht!

I recently tracked down a hardware store in Nonthanburi (part of Bangkok) called True Value. This is by far the best place I have found so far as they stock a range of imported goods, mainly from the US. I came away from there with some lag screws (finally!), a small woodworking vice and a Master Mechanic smoothing plane. It’s the only place so far where I have seen a table saw that might be worth buying, they have a 10 inch bench top model from Performax. The table saws for sale on wood street looked like a total waste of money, the fences might as well have been made of tissue paper, where only fixed on one side and none of them had a scale or sliding mitre gauge, sigh. True Value also have a store in Pattaya and Chonburi and I recommend anybody in the area to pay them a visit.

I took the easy option for my first workbench, all HomePro stores have a wood centre which will build things for free if you buy the wood (rubber wood) from them. I downloaded some plans from Fine Woodworking for a basic bench and took advantage of their free building and delivery service. It’s not a bad bench and will certainly do me for the next couple of years until I want something with a thicker top and an end vice. I have a small front vice that I will fit soon along with drilling some holes for some shop made bench dogs.

I am going to slap some of Thailands cheapest paint on my workshop walls now to make it look a bit better, time to run through the pre-painting survival check list:

  • Large number of towels to soak up the sweat caused by painting in 36C heat
  • Large jugs of cold water to replace said sweat
  • 2 or 3 changes of clothes
  • Beer chilling in the fridge for emergency rehydration after completion
  • Boy scouts guide to scary looking insects and creepy crawlies (to be honest I usually run first and then have a look on the internet to see if I should be scared or not!)

Wish me luck!

10 comments so far

View Mark Shymanski's profile

Mark Shymanski

5623 posts in 4097 days

#1 posted 02-28-2009 05:46 AM

This is real interesting to read, thank you for posting it. Can you use a board-stretcher on rubberwood? I may have to move there :-)

-- "Checking for square? What madness is this! The cabinet is square because I will it to be so!" Jeremy Greiner LJ Topic#20953 2011 Feb 2

View noknot's profile


548 posts in 3826 days

#2 posted 02-28-2009 05:54 AM

You can still buy from lee valley they will ship you items there, as well true value they are a large chain. good luck get solar panels for the window a/c and you will do fine.


View Mark Gipson's profile

Mark Gipson

189 posts in 3765 days

#3 posted 02-28-2009 06:05 AM

I have ordered a couple of small items from Lee Valley as a test. I thought about getting a front vice from there but couldn’t stomach the shipping costs, $90 for a $55 vice. With mail order to Thailand you also have to run the gauntlet of the combined forces of the Thai post office and customs. The post office likes to steal stuff and the customs is very hit or miss. Some packages go through OK with no duties and others get hit with duties around 200 times more than the book says. It’s not unheard of for people just to tell the customs guys to keep their package.

Mark – where can I get this board-stretcher? It would come in very handy, do they keep it next to the long stands? :-)

View Sawdust2's profile


1466 posts in 4473 days

#4 posted 02-28-2009 06:25 AM

When I lived in Tep (40 years ago) I lived in Sappan Quai (Bridge of the Bull) then up in Udan Thani.

Is a baht still a nickel?
There was a time when I went to a store to buy some cloth. The salespeople said that they would charge this falong twice the price. When I responded in Thai that I would tell all my friends to shop elsewhere they rapidly changed their tune (and their price)

Choke dee, krup


-- No piece is cut too short. It was meant for a smaller project.

View kiwi1969's profile


608 posts in 3827 days

#5 posted 02-28-2009 06:54 AM

I hear you mate! The Philipines is no different. True value, Ace and Home depot are all here but they all sell the same brands and while you can buy a router they dont sell the bits! Thanks to fellow LJ manilaboy for pointing me in the direction of some specialist stores here. Do you get charged what the locals jokingly refer to as a “skin tax”? Like Lee, it certainly helps if you know a bit of the language. Foreigners always get a higher initial quote for most things and if you don,t haggle then you,re getting screwed. Customs rate as one of the most corrupt departments here, close behind the traffic enforcers, but a 500peso note usually see,s you right. Hole in the wall hardware stores are usually pretty good for the basics, if you order more than two sheets of ply they deliver for free!
Sweat and rust are your two worst enemies here and there is always a way around the tool problem, engineers here can work miracles. Try singapore or Australia for tools, should be less for shipping.
Anyone reading this may wonder why we bother living here, yes it,s a challenge at times, but if you,re here for long enough then it really hooks you in and something just makes you want to stay. And if it all gets too much you can always go to your favorite watering hole, crack open a San Miguel pale pilsen (1.30 US) tear the top off a pack of marlboro,s (0.80c US a pack) and order a barbeque (couple of bucks US) .

-- if the hand is not working it is not a pure hand

View Mark Gipson's profile

Mark Gipson

189 posts in 3765 days

#6 posted 02-28-2009 11:02 AM

I never thought of looking at Singapore or Australia for tools, do you have any links you can share?

Some places do try to charge a foreigner more and you have to haggle for a lot of things. Tools always have a price marked on them though which gives you a good starting point for haggling in the smaller stores. There are plenty of little hardware shops still surviving here which is great. If I need 1 screw to finish something I can jump on the motorbike and be there and back in 2 minutes, no need to drive miles to the nearest megamart like back home.
HomePro here do sell routers and some bits, amazing, but what made me laugh was that they sell dowel in imperial sizes but only stock metric sized drill bits!

View kiwi1969's profile


608 posts in 3827 days

#7 posted 02-28-2009 12:52 PM

try I haven,t used them but they are Perth based which is nearest to you.

-- if the hand is not working it is not a pure hand

View Will Mego's profile

Will Mego

307 posts in 4097 days

#8 posted 02-28-2009 07:41 PM

I would love to see pictures of wood street. Frankly considering the climate and access, wouldn’t using mostly hand tools be the way to go? Also I know of some people who live in far away places that have the metal things made for them, such as plane irons, chisels, etc out of all kinds of scrap steel (car leaf springs, for example) then do the wood joinery themselves. Either way, I’m really looking forward to hearing and seeing it come together. More pics!

-- "That which has in itself the greatest use, possesses the greatest beauty." -

View kiwi1969's profile


608 posts in 3827 days

#9 posted 03-01-2009 12:23 AM

You hit the nail on the head Will, necessity is the mother of invention as they say and never more so than in Asia.

-- if the hand is not working it is not a pure hand

View Mark Gipson's profile

Mark Gipson

189 posts in 3765 days

#10 posted 03-01-2009 03:59 AM

I painted the shop yesterday and need to get everything inside pretty quick, it is raining today for the first time in over 100 days. Having my workbench outside is not such a good idea any more!

kiwi is right about the sweat being a problem. A lot of people say that they pour their sweat into a project, over here it’s not just a figure of speech! When I was painting our salon I was starting to worry about watering down the paint too much with sweat. On my first footstool (not yet finished) I cut the top a shade too wide so I could practise hand planing it down to size. It was very satisfying but extremely hot work. One day I will have a new house with a huge custom built fully A/C shop, well, in my dreams anyway. Until then the most important tools are a big jug of water and a stack of towels for mopping the brow.

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