Hanoi family crafts a dying tradition with hope

By Gia Chinh   August 21, 2018 | 09:42 am GMT+7

A steadily shrinking market has not stopped a Hanoi family from crafting wooden mooncake molds for the last 35 years.

The family of Tran Van Ban, 53, in Thuong Tin district, Hanoi city has been making mooncake molds out of wood for over 3 decades. Their working calendar runs from third month to eighth lunar month, which is scheduled around the moon cake festival in September.

The family of Tran Van Ban, 53, in Thuong Tin District, Hanoi, has been making mooncake molds for over three decades. Their working calendar for this product runs from third to the eighth lunar month, when Tet Trung Thu,or the Mid-Autumn festival, is celebrated in September. Mooncakes are a delicacy served during this festival.

Each mooncake mold has a distinctive shape and requires numerous procedures. First off, I have to turn a solid block of wood to a specific frame that the client has ordered, Ban said. The modified log is then sawn according to the desired measurement. There are many wood types in use, but Mr.Ban is currently mainly working with Faux Acajen. Faux Acajen dots the majority of Vietnams streets and parks. The species can sustain vehement climates and can be grown in various terrains. Not only is the wood rot resistant, its leaves and barks provide many health benefits. Thus, Faux Acajen has a high economic value.

Each mooncake mold has a distinctive shape and requires numerous steps. “First off, I have to turn a solid block of wood to a specific frame that the client has ordered,” Ban said. The modified block is then carved. There are many types of wood used, but Ban works mainly with xa cu, or faux acajen, a kind of softwood. Faux acajen trees line the majority of Vietnam’s streets and parks. The species can sustain tough weather conditions and grow in diverse terrains. Not only is the wood rot resistant, its leaves and barks are said to carry many health benefits. Thus, this wood has high economic value.

Ban carefully measures and adjusts the mold to meet the customer orders size.

Ban carefully measures the mold’s dimensions.

The timber source comes from direct sellers in the village. The family also goes to Hanois downtown center for Faux Acajen snags or those uprooted due to city traffic projects.

The timber is sourced from villagers who sell it. The family also goes to Hanoi to buy faux acajen pieces or timber from trees uprooted for traffic projects.

After being measured, the unfinished mold will go on the drill-press table for designing the crust.

After the mold’s dimensions are measured, the wood block goes on to the drill-press table for carving and smoothing the mold’s interior.

We didnt have machinery like this before to flatten the inside part of the mold so this stage would take a whole day, we even messed it up sometimes. Now with the device, it takes less than a minute, Ban said.

"We didn’t have machinery like this before to smoothen the inside of the mold, so this stage would take a whole day, and we even messed it up sometimes. Now, with this device, it takes less than a minute,” Ban said.

To test the quality of the mold, the craftsman makes a clay mooncake and places it into the mold to see if the measurement and decorative designs on top and side of the cake come out correct.

To test the quality of the mold, the craftsman makes a clay mooncake to check whether the measurement and decorative designs on the top and sides of the cake have come out correctly.

The most meticulous procedure is the embellished designs on the crust, either a spiritual animal or decorative patterns (Vietnamese lotus flower is the most common). While reframing, drilling and sawing can be done by machinery, carving these designs is done completely by hand. Once the intricate content of the mold is finished, the craftsman proceeds to forming a handle for the bakers convenience.

The most meticulous work is carving designs into the mold, whether they are mythical creatures or floral and other decorative patterns (Vietnamese lotus flower is the most common). While reframing, drilling and sawing can be done by machines, carving these designs is done completely by hand. Once the intricate design inside the mold is finished, the craftsman makes a handle for the bakers’ convenience.

Bans family produces about 500-600 molds every year. The prices vary depending on the size, from VND150,000 to 300,000 ($6.50-13) a mold. His primary customers are traditional mooncake producers.

Ban’s family produces about 500-600 molds every year. The prices vary depending on the size, from VND150,000 to 300,000 ($6.5-13) a mold. Their customers are traditional mooncake producers. Ban, who says his family inherited the vocation from village elders, says there are less than a handful of families persisting with this vocation. His family makes other wooden artifacts during the rest of the year, when it is not mooncake season. Ban is hopeful that in the near future, people will shift back to using wooden molds instead of those made with plastic or other materials, recognizing its health benefits.

 
 
go to top