Mahjong is a much beloved entertainment in Hong Kong. Mahjong tiles could only be hand-carved before machine-carved ones were introduced. In the past, we purchased a set of mahjongs through placing an order, with customisable tile sizes, colours and materials, from the craftsmen. Not only did the craftsmen hand-carve a full set, but also repair individual mahjong tiles.
It takes a craftsman around two days to hand-carve a full set of mahjongs with 144 tiles. The carvings on these mahjong tiles are much deeper and distinct compared to the machine-carved ones which are more rigid and less lively. The materials used for hand-carved ones are usually of better quality so they are more durable. Nonetheless, as it takes more time to hand-carve a full set compared to the machine-carved ones, hand-carved ones cannot satisfy the increasing demand for mahjongs, making it less appealing and gradually being replaced by machine-carved ones. This new method of making mahjong is indeed faster and costs less, but is no comparison to the delicate and sophisticated work of the craftsmen.
To Make Hand-carved Mahjong
1. Carving: with the edge of the carving knife, carve out straight or curved lines. Repeat the carving to intensify the strokes;
2. Applying talcum powder: making it easier to remove excess paint when it is dry;
3. Applying colours: with a Chinese writing brush, apply red, green or blue colours on the mahjong tiles;
4. Removing excess paint: scrape off the excess paint after around 15 minutes;
5. Final touch: gently wipe the surface with paint thinner.
Cheung Shun King
Mr Cheung Shun King is a mahjong tile artisan and the owner of “Biu Kee Mahjong”. Master Cheung Shun King (Master King) started off helping out in his family-owned shop, performing minor tasks such as cleaning mahjong tiles and delivery. At first, he developed the skills of carving mahjong by observing the masters at the shop. He then became skilled in the craft himself and inherited the career and the shop from his father and grandfather.
Master King has been in the industry for over 40 years and to this day he still insists to keep the store opened daily, providing mahjong made of quality materials and delicate carvings. Besides the traditional mahjongs, Master King also carves personalised words or patterns on the mahjong tiles for customers.