Toolbox: Paa Joe’s Hand Plane

In our weekly feature, we ask artists to describe the one item that they couldn’t do without. This week, legendary coffin-maker Paa Joe—who celebrates forty years in the business this year—talks about the rudimentary hand plane he uses to perfect his creations.

When making coffins I don’t do sketches; I feel the design, I feel the idea. Families come to me, sometimes with a toy or a picture, and I just start making it straight into the wood. Our coffins are completely smooth—no corners—thanks to my hand plane. I will spend hours using only the plane to shape and smooth the surface. I sketch with it, until the shape appears from the block of wood—whether it’s a pair of Nike trainers, a mobile phone or a beer bottle.

In general, I’m not sentimental when it comes to my tools—we just use whatever is best for the job; the best plane, the best hammer and the best saw is essential when creating our one-off pieces. I saw the block of wood down to size and hammer the pieces together, but the plane is the tool that forms their individual shape. It’s a physical job, so my son Jacob helps me with the workload. I started my career as an apprentice and, in 2008, Jacob became mine. We spend a lot of time around the coffins, so when they’re finished we sometimes go to the funerals to see them off—when they are good, it is hard to watch them go into the ground.


Paa Joe and Elisabeth Efua Sutherland, One Does Not Take it Anywhere

Until 10 February 2018 at Gallery 1957 II, Accra