In 1984, Sandeep Saran from Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, graduated as a mechanical engineer. As a part of the curriculum, he honed his skills to use the lathe machine and other tools from his workshop to make things from wood, metal and other materials.
“Even my friends and classmates requested me to work on their assignments to score better marks,” he recollects.
After graduation, he soon joined the family business of operating a single-screen theatre in town. However, he continued to make wooden items as a hobby. “We learned using basic tools, and it did not require electricity. The equipment helped create items and finessing with filers and fitting them as needed,” he tells The Better India.
The 60-year-old says he began using his free time to make wooden frames, pen holders and other items. Eventually, he moved to bigger furniture items like making a rocking chair for himself, a garden bench, a centre table and cabinets.
Soon, there were many who started inquiring about his furniture. “Friends and families started asking about my furniture. When I told them I made it myself, they were quite amused,” Sandeep says.
Shortly after, requests started pouring in. “I agreed and customised the items according to their needs. Some required a tall chair, others asked for shorter ones, while a few asked for a desk organiser. I made them according to their requirements and also continued to make wooden products as a hobby too,” Sandeep says.
But the furniture soon occupied space in all the rooms in his house. Not knowing what to do with the items, Sandeep launched Kaath Kagaz, a walk-in home studio, in 2017.
All the wooden products are made from up-cycled or waste wood. Sandeep also uses solar energy for his products, making them environment-friendly. The small-scale business earns him a revenue of Rs 12 lakh to Rs 15 lakh a year.
Zero carbon emission furniture
About the journey, Sandeep says he started making the bigger furniture after he learned that the Diesel Locomotive Works, a company manufacturing locomotives for the Indian railways in the city, bought spare parts and accessories from USA. It would arrive in Southern Yellow Pinewood crates, which were heat-treated and sourced from sustainable forests of Mississippi. “The wood was heated, treated, dried and seasoned. There was also timber that came from parts of India. I used their waste materials and up-cycled them. The quality was such that the furniture could last for three to four generations,” he explains.
He shares that humans generate massive amounts of carbon emissions, and using wood also amounts to an unsustainable practice. “With rampant deforestation in India, I did not wish to add to the non-environment friendly approach,” he says.
Sandeep started sourcing wood from fallen or dead trees. Sometimes the lightning-caused a tree to fall with dramatic imprints of the damage. He used it creatively to draw unique shapes out of them.
Eventually, he started requiring power tools. To reduce energy consumption coming from the coals, Sandeep installed solar panels. “All the manufacturing and home electricity needs are met through renewable energy. I have not installed air conditioning as it is not good for wood. I do not prefer it for personal use either, so there are fewer carbon emissions,” Sandeep says.
Sandeep says the studio saw frequent visitors when there were no COVID-19 restrictions. “Customers ask for planters, pen holders, lights, ladders and customised orders. I build the items as the appropriate wood becomes available. I do not work as a commercial business or wish to scale up. It is more on the lines of a cottage industry,” he says, adding that he does not spend any money on marketing or has no website either. But word-of-mouth has taken him this far.
Neha Gupta, a Varanasi-based lawyer, is one such customer who has become a regular customer since 2018. “I have bought wooden cutlery, a bed, television cabinet, sliding-rocking chair and more furniture for the living room. It is his style that makes Sandeep’s work unique. He does it very passionately, and it is visible in the precision in joints and finishing that comes with his products.”
Neha adds that she also got a customised table made from him with ice storage at the bottom and an arrangement that keeps the beverage cold on the table. “Such customisations are not possible from furniture in the market,” she says.
Sandeep says that it is a common compliment he receives and the reason behind such kudos is the investment of time and learning that has gone into it. “I ensure that every product comes with high quality. If there is slight damage or work that goes wrong, I discard it and start over. The quality only comes when you spend enough time making the product, putting your energy and heart into it. The commercial markets do not have the liberty to spend a lot of time making a single product. Creativity is not time-bound, and that is why my wooden items are unique,” he adds.
Citing an example, Sandeep says that once he found wood struck by lightning. “It was shaped similar to fish. The lightning caused a hole in the wood that looked like an eye. I carved the wood into a table. A product like this one is difficult to find in the market. It came naturally,” he adds.
He says that there were no major challenges while coming up with his venture as it was always a hobby which evolved with time. “It is a constant learning process where one has to learn what products to use. That comes from experience. I try to bring creativity and make the piece of wood useful, preventing it from becoming waste. I have a couple of men to help me with the work and make my job easier,” Sandeep says.
However, he urges people to respect nature and refrain from using plastic. “Plastic items do not last long and contribute to the carbon emissions. We must take steps to reduce pollution at all levels,” he says.
“Nature is loving and equally unforgiving if not respected,” he concludes.
To enquire more, check the Instagram page of Kaath Kagaz here.
Edited by Yoshita Rao