Back in the habit: This bank officer turned to wood carving to escape the stress of the quarantine 2
Carving with the use of a rotary machine, as Rommel Parong had done, shapes the wood with power and precision.

Back in the habit: This bank officer turned to wood carving to escape the stress of the quarantine

Rommel Parong discovered the joys of wood carving in the middle of the ECQ, a quiet pursuit that helped him to always think forward. BY FRANCES SALES
ANCX | Jun 07 2020

With more time spent indoors, men are given a chance to go back to long forgotten hobbies and crafts. In this series called "Back in the Habit," ANCX will share these passion projects, bonding activities, and little pockets of joy that these have rediscovered within the comforts of their home.


As a senior executive at a major bank, Rommel Parong is used to long hours at work and commute. So when the Covid-19 pandemic hit and people were forced to work from home, he suddenly found he had a lot more time on his hands. “This quarantine period actually gave me extra hours since I do not have to travel to and from work,” Parong says. “I was able to save two and a half to three hours of travel time daily.”

Back in the habit: This bank officer turned to wood carving to escape the stress of the quarantine 3
Because he was working from home, Parong shaved off two to three hours of his day, which he in turn used for his hobby.

What does one do with that much extra time? At first, Parong took up two online courses related to his work. As the quarantine stretched on, however, and he still had to deal with stress from work and anxiety over the growing health crisis, he knew he needed to turn to new distractions.

His old friend, his saxophone, called to him to play it again. He also made new friends with kamagong sticks and a power tool to take up a new hobby, wood carving. “The hobbies help me relax,” Parong says. “They give me mental breaks and are great stress relievers by helping me focus on non-work-related tasks I like and enjoy.”

While Parong enjoyed the familiar strains of his saxophone, he realized sheepishly he can’t be too loud. “Practice is limited as I need to consider the neighbors!” Wood carving was a quieter pursuit so he decided to pour himself to it. “I got interested with wood carving and engraving when my son gave me a power tool as a gift recently,” he says. “Using a Dremel 3000, I was thinking of carving a few wood pieces during my spare time.”

Wood carving is an ancient human activity. It involves a piece of wood, carving tools, and long hours of patience and solitude. The tools are usually a carving knife, a gouge, a coping saw, and a chisel. Then there’s Parong’s Dremel—a rotary machine that shapes the wood with power and precision.

“I was given a power tool and enjoyed using it. The wood that I’m working on now is kamagong. This was the wood that was available to me during the community quarantine. Thus, I have to practice with what I have,” Parong says. “After setting up and doing a few practice carves, I realized that wood carving using a power tool is intimidating.”

Back in the habit: This bank officer turned to wood carving to escape the stress of the quarantine 4
A saxophonist, Parong decided to pursue wood carving further because it allowed him to practice it without being noisy.

Kamagong is a hardwood—difficult to shape but looks beautiful and lasts longer. Carving isn’t simply shaping a wood to whatever design you wish. The wood carver needs to consider the parts of the wood that are hard and delicate. He will then base the design on that specific wood grain to create a piece of art.

Beginners usually start with softwoods to familiarize themselves with the wood and to get used to working with the sharp tools. Beginners will also usually pick a simple shape to practice on. In Parong’s case, he not only picked a hardwood, he also decided to make wands. “I have a few wood wands at home,” he says. “These are similar to the magic wands used in Harry Potter and other fantasy movies.” 

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With his shock of white hair, Parong can be the Philippines’s very own Ollivander of the famous wizarding books. Perhaps he should open a wand shop like the wand master! Parong waves the thought away. “It is too early to tell if this is a viable business. For now, it is a good hobby that makes me enjoy and think at the same time. It keeps me thinking out of the box and diverts my attention from work.”

A patient man, Parong knows that to be good at wood carving, he’ll need more practice. “It will take time before I can become a good wood sculptor,” he points out. He says he needs to understand the craft first—getting intimate with different kinds of woods and grains and familiarizing himself with the many carving tools he yet has to acquire.

Back in the habit: This bank officer turned to wood carving to escape the stress of the quarantine 5
Parong decided to work with Kamagong to create his wands.

“I realized I should have the right carving bits, right size of the wood, and be familiar on setting up and using a power tool. It is my first time to use a power tool and should consider safety to prevent accidents,” Parong says. “But similar to my saxophone experience, it made me think on what do I still need to do to improve further and on how I can move forward.”

Even as the quarantine rules have relaxed, Parong is aware that working from home will be the new normal until a vaccine and a successful treatment are found for COVID-19. Whether that happens or not, he will be making wands, walking canes, and more artwork as a testament that even through difficult times, people can learn new things and create magic.