Experience Wood Carving with Backstreet Academy

Wood carving

Traveling is not just about seeing popular attractions, engaging in exciting adventures, or tasting delicious local food. It is also about taking part in the destination’s culture. It is about appreciating the unique trades, arts and crafts that locals uphold proudly. It is all about meeting humble locals and being mesmerized by their skills and talents. We were able to enjoy that unique experience thanks to Backstreet Academy. This was our first taste in cultural immersion, and it was a real eye-opener for us.

Sweetie, Alexa, and I didn’t have to travel far to experience this unique activity. It just involved a couple of tricycle rides to one of the barangays in Mactan, our home island.

We arrived at the modest Ferangeli Guitar Master, one of the many guitar manufacturers in Pajac, Lapu-lapu City, where we were to meet our host for this activity.

Ferangeli Guitar Master

While waiting for Ann, we checked out their store where uniquely handcrafted guitars and ukuleles are displayed and sold. If the client desires, Ferangeli luthiers can customize a guitar, ukulele, rondalla, and even violins according to the customer’s specifications.

Mactan-made guitars are world-class in quality and have been used by local and foreign artists. The woods that are used to make each guitar are carefully selected for their strength and acoustic quality. The manufacturing process is done in a temperature-controlled environment. Finally, each aspect of the handcrafted guitar is thoroughly inspected to assure excellent sound quality.

I drooled at the sight—and sound—of these guitars, considering that I am an avid guitar player. Perhaps Sweetie would want to give me a customized guitar for my birthday sometime this year. Hehehehe!

Ferangeli Guitars

Aside from guitars, Ferangeli also sells high-quality wooden handicrafts and shellcraft as souvenirs. Yes, all of them are painstakingly handmade by talented and creative artists. Their guitars, handicrafts, furniture, and souvenirs are sold both locally and internationally.

Ferangeli Accessories

According to the shop’s owner and master luthier Fernando Dagoc a.k.a. Andoy, the art and craft of guitar-making and wood crafting has been passed from generation to generation. Unfortunately, this seemingly immortal trade is dangerously threatened by high-tech and efficient technologies and tireless machines that spur mass production.

Sir Andoy is determined to save the craft of guitar-making. He showed us the back of his shop which he intends to convert into a school for luthiers and craftsmen. He also plans to put up a larger workshop, a conference room, and a showroom in his school.

Ferangeli School for Woodcarvers

We then met Ann Simora, a host for Backstreet Academy, which is a unique peer-to-peer online travel platform. The organization aims to provide travelers immersive and cultural experiences in the destinations they are visiting. While travelers enjoy these unique activities, the local community benefits from such tours and visitations.

Meeting with Ann of Backstreet Academy

Wood Carving

After the formal introductions, Ann led us across the street to this small, simple open-air workshop. It may not look much, but hundreds of beautiful and detailed wooden handicrafts have been painstakingly made here.

Circular saw

Our activity for today is to carve Woody from a block of wood. Who is Woody? Well, he is a wooden sea turtle paperweight, and his existence and appearance depend on our skill.

Loy, a craftsman, first primed up a grinding machine to cut out Woody’s basic shape. We left this up to him because the process uses an extremely sharp circular saw rotating at high speed on the grinding machine. A careless slip can literally sever our fingers from our hand.

Better leave this part to the experts.

Whitting out extra wood

In a few minutes, Woody began to take his basic shape. This initial stage is called cutting.

Smoothing out the basic shape

Various polishing and sanding discs are used to rapidly shape and smooth out blocks of wood. The artists use grinding machines to bring out the basic shape quickly to save time and effort.

Grinding discs

Now it’s time to whittle Woody to shape. After securing Woody to a makeshift brace, Manong Roger, the master carver, showed us the proper way of handling the chisels that will be used for carving.

This is hard!

Look at all those well-maintained carving chisels! Each one has its own purpose and carving pattern.

Carving materials

Here’s a closeup of some of the chisels’ blades. Be careful because those blades are quite sharp.

A variety of chisels

Under Manong Roger’s guidance, Sweetie started her work on one of Woody’s flippers. We were well aware of how awkward our position was; often, we had to go around the table to carve certain sections of our paperweight.

Manong Roger watched us with a bemused expression. He has been woodcarving for 40 years, and this turtle is just a piece of cake for him.

Carving Woody

We gently whacked at chunks of extra acacia wood on Woody’s flipper. But we quickly realized that there was a delicate technique involved to avoid accidentally cutting his flipper or taking out too large a chunk.

Manong Roger explained to us that we have to “bend” the chisel so that it will follow the contour of his flipper. In that way, his flipper will retain its shape. The technique also creates the downward slope of his shell. Yes, it is much harder than we thought!

Carving Woody

Another technique to make the work easier is to carve along the wood’s grain. In that way, carving is “softer.” Additionally, going along the grain prevents the wood from cracking.

Carving Woody

Manong Roger also showed us how to scrape imperfections and rough spots with a chisel. We don’t use a hammer for scraping.

Thinning out Woody's Flippers

Look at Sweetie’s determination to get Woody to shape.

Yes, it’s truly hard and exacting work for a surprisingly small piece of wood. It required a lot of patience, an eye for details, a little strength and creativity—things that could only be perfected through time and fiery passion.

Through first-hand experience, we began to understand and appreciate the talent of our humble local craftsmen. Now, we have a huge amount of respect for these artists who put so much heart and effort into their craft.

Go sweetie!

After Woody’s flippers were thinned out, we began to work on his carapace. Manong Roger drew lines to guide us as we carved out the shell.

Drawing out a guideline

Whew! This was truly hard work! We whittled and scraped chunks of wood for more than an hour. Still, we could not get Woody’s carapace to the exact shape and contour that we envisioned.


We were still far from getting the right contours, but it was getting late. The afternoon sun has started its slow dip on the horizon. Thus, we had Woody back into the grinding machine to smooth him out.

Grinding the curves

Once he’s nice and smooth, it was time to carve the scalation of his carapace. Since we were first-timers in carving, we asked Manong Roger to draw a simple pattern on the carapace.

The shell pattern was carved using a very narrow, V-shaped chisel which digs “trenches” in the wood.

Carapace patterns

Finally, we asked Manong Roger to carve out our turtle’s eyes and mouth. This is delicate work, and a slip can be injurious.

Gouging out the eye

At 15 minutes past 5PM, our Woody was completed. He may not look anywhere like his more expertly carved brothers, but we were still happy and proud to have him.

Thank you very much to Ann, Manong Roger, Loy, and Sir Andoy for this wonderfully unique experience. We always have a great appreciation for arts and crafts, and experiencing it first-hand gave us a deeper love for it.

We strongly recommend travelers to get in touch with Backstreet Academy so they can try carving their own wood sculptures. You can add this experience to make your trip and adventure a more culturally immersive one.

Finished Woody!

About Backstreet Academy

Backstreet Academy is a peer-to-peer impact travel platform empowering anyone in developing countries to create and sell a tour or activity to travelers who are looking for unique, local experiences. The local community, in turn, enjoys benefits as travelers participate in such tours and activities.

Their name comes from true travelers’ love in delving into the destination’s backstreets, hidden alleys, and unknown nooks. It is in these non-touristy places where they find the most authentic experiences that paint a very different perspective of the destination. Aside from learning from these unique experiences, travelers also connect with locals, appreciate their skills, and partake in their local traditions.

Backstreet Academy aims to become a travel platform that will democratize access to the tourism market, uplift impoverished communities, and connect people through intimate and memorable experiences. They envision a future in which travelers look for, appreciate, and take part of amazing local experiences as they would the popular attractions of the destination. From those experiences, they will feel a sense of connection and appreciation wherever they travel, bringing the world closer together while keeping old traditions and its people, not just alive, but celebrated.

For more information and to check out their offered activities, use the following details below:

Use these details to get in touch with their Cebu office:

  • Mailing Address: 7th Floor, Skyrise 1 Building, Inez Villa St., Cebu City, Cebu
  • Mobile: 0977-203-3565
  • Email: cebu@backstreetacademy.com

About Gian and Sheila

Rock climbers. Mountaineers. Sweethearts on adventure. Adrenaline Romance is a photoblog that belongs to a loving couple who has an eternal lust for adventure. The blog contains experiences, tips, itineraries, and other useful information regarding adventuring in the Philippines and beyond.

20 comments on “Experience Wood Carving with Backstreet Academy

  1. I’m sure your sweety would definitely give you a customized guitar on your natal day. That wood carving is very interesting, you guys are blessed enough to have tried such amazing craft. I remember way back 2009, I was serving an NGO and we are serving the people of San Fernando to have their craft be sold in the USA. It’s our way of helping their livelihood to be raised. Your blog post made me think of my old guitar where I used to rhyme with it when I feel so alone. Sad to say, the guitar possesses a long story to be shared. Hahahaha.

    • Hi Little Lai,

      Well, I do love guitars, and I long for a new one. Hehehe!

      You should try out wood crafting. It’s really interesting.

      Kudos to you for your endeavor as an NGO volunteer. We have high respect for people who help other people.

      • I would genuinely love to if time permits, I might as well visit that place and hopefully I could experience the same thing that you guys have enjoyed.
        Thank you for the respect and appreciation, helping in the NGO before molding me a lot.

  2. Great post and a really fantastic initiative. I was so disappointed when I went to Turkey and visited a regional tourist town that one of the ancient bazaars was just selling cheap imported goods when the area was well known as a traditional centre for pottery making. It would have been great to have somewhere for local craftspeople to demonstrate their craft.

  3. Ganyan pala ka-intricate ang wood carving process. Thank you for walking us through. Nakakaaliw ang proseso at nakakahanga ang dedication nila.

    I’m sure heartie, sweetie pala, had already made a note by now. Birthday wish granted na yan. Yahoo!

    • Indeed! The process requires nerves of steel, steady hands, an eye for detail, and lots of creativity. It made us appreciate our local craftsmen more than ever.

      About the birthday gift, I hope so. Hahaha!

  4. I like all of your posts and stories, but being a wood-worker back in my “starving artist” days, this one really hit home. Thank you! Keep up the good journey…

  5. That’s a great initiative from Backstreet Academy. It’s certainly an off the beaten path attraction. I wish I could experience it myself!

    • Hi Aleah,

      Indeed! Actually, they have a lot of activities that involve cultural immersion. Some of the things we love to try and experience with Backstreet Academy is making puso (hanging rice), preparing lechon, and cooking carenderia-style dishes.

  6. Fantastic post on a very interesting way to experience the real culture and traditions of a country. I will be looking up Backstreet Academy next time I visit a city they are involved in!

  7. Wow, this is great! Will look up Backstreet Academy after this 😀

    But woodcarving… I think it would take me a month and three missing fingers to make Woody. Bravo to the craftsmen and Sweetie!

    • LOL! Hehe! It’s actually manageable, but it really needs a lot of patience and a steady hand.

      Yup, Backstreet Academy has a lot of great activities for cultural immersion. Check them out. 🙂

  8. Great post & I’ve not across Backstreet before so thanks for the intro

  9. […] Source: Experience Wood Carving with Backstreet Academy […]

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