Woodworking Supplies and Resources near Osan AB, ROK
I’m putting this post together for any other military or DOD woodworkers that end up getting stationed out here at Osan AB in South Korea so they have some idea of what’s out there (and not) for them.
First, there is NO woodshop on Osan. The closest locations are Yongsan (1.5hr drive) and Kunsan (3.0hr+ drive). They are shutting down Yongsan and will be eventually moving the woodworking shop to Camp Humphreys, but the timeline right now is sometime in 2016. So if you plan on continuing your woodworking, bring your stuff. If you are going to be staying in the towers (Military Family Housing) on base, then there is adequate room for you to store your tools (and lumber in your storage cage) and work out on your Patio. Just think 4’ x 10’ space.
Second, for tools and stuff, Amazon/mail order is going to be your friend. Anything supplied/shipped by Amazon will normally make it to Korea in about ten business days. Other shippers can take up to a month (Lowes and Woodcraft). The BX here at Yongsan carries a small number of Black and Decker and Stanley tools (Circular saws, drills, jigsaws, and RO Sanders). They will occasionally have Dewalt and Porter Cable tools. The PX up in Yongsan has a somewhat better selection (They have yards) with ShopVacs and compressors, even Boiled Linseed Oil if you want. Buying tools off base, you run into the voltage/plug/transformer problem. On top of that, tools are anywhere from 50% to 100% more than what you would pay back in the states. It’s no wonder there are VERY few hobby woodworkers in this country.
Supplies such as lumber, stains and finishes, and relatively inexpensive hand tools can be had at a couple of really great places outside the gate. The number one place in my book is a Contractor supplier business called “Gaya Housing” that is right outside the Morrin Gate. Take a left out the Morrin Gate to “Little One highway”, turn right on “Little One” and less than an 1/8th of a mile on your right, (Just before the Pyeongtaek FireStation) is Gaya Housing. It doesn’t look like much, (got a couple of ladders outfront and a gate that goes back to the yard), but I can get just about all of the General Finishes and Minwax water based interior stains and milk paints, interior urethane, and even water based exterior finishes. I think there is an aversion in this country to oil based stains and finishes because I have only found one place in country I can get them. The owner of this place, Do Hun, speaks fantastic English and is very friendly to the military community. He has a lumber yard around back and has imported construction grade pine from Austria, Canada, and Germany. He will occasionally stock hardwoods, but it’s rare and so far I’ve only seen Ipe from Brazil and Meranti (Still trying to confirm that’s what this is, they call it Pan Ki Lai in Korean) from Malaysia. Another great thing is that he’s got, in the back of his yard, a complete set of industrial tools that he was friendly enough to let me use. (Tablesaws, Drill press, band saw, planer, jointer, and a couple of things I’m still trying to figure out). There are several other lumber supply places around, but he’s the only one I’ve found that speaks English. And he’ll order things for you form his suppliers if they don’t have it in the store. Just be prepared to pay. A 450ml can of GF 450 Exterior finish cost me $40.00. I did just find out this weekend from Do Hun that he found a place in Suwon that sells Teak, Walnut, and Mahogany. Teak and Walnut were crazy expensive, but Mahogany seemd pretty reasonable for some reason. Maybe Philippine Mahogany/Meranti/Lauan? Haven’t checked yet. Great guy and definitely worth your time and business.
The only other resource local to here that I’ve found is a place called DIY Woodworking. Little bit further down Little 1 than Gaya Lumber. Keep going down little one for about a mile past Gaya, look for the McDonalds on your left and turn left. Go down the road for about 2 miles and DIY is on your left, one story building, with DIY in English on the sign in wood. He’s got a couple of bandsaws outfront and some other woodworking stuff (picnic table he built and such) on his wood porch. Nice guy, but speaks ZERO English. So bring a translator or have someone write a note in Hangul. I asked him if there were any other woodworkers in the local area and he laughed at me. He said he is the only woodworker/carpenter he knows in a 100km radius. I don’t doubt it. He can order any General Finishes, Minwax, or Liberon items. I get my Tung Oil and waxes from him. He can also order hardwoods, but you’ll pay. A 1”x6”x48” piece of white oak would cost me about $38.00. I haven’t bought any lumber from him. However, he CAN get oil based finishes. About $30.00 for a 450ml can. He’s also pretty fast. I can ask him for something on Monday and it’s in by Thursday. One other thing I remembered is that this guy can order pipe for pipe clamps. I got 6×5’ lengths of 3/4” pipe. You’ll pay hefty on this too. Cost me $110.00. If this seems steep, I would just remind you that he’s running a business (He custom makes furniture and teaches classes) so he could potentially see any of us as a threat to his business. Instead he helps, and in the process makes a few extra dollars. Works for me!
The last resource is actually a fellow Lumberjock. His name is Poisson on here and he’s supportive of questions, but he lives up in Seoul. So if you are looking for resources up there he’s good. But if you’re looking for things up there, you can also ask the woodshop on base.
I’m sure some of you are wondering about local lumber and working with some of the local varieties of trees. I’m not sure if it’s a language barrier or something else, but everyone I have asked says that the Korean Lumber is horrible to work with. I’ve probably asked about 8 people directly or through translators. I find it hard to believe that ALL the varieties of trees in this country are horrible to work with, but I haven’t found any lumber with “Product of Korea” on it yet. Will let you know if I do though! Lastly, there’s always me. If you find you are heading this way, feel free to give me a yell, even after I’ve PCS’d back to the states (Sept 2015). I’ll be more than glad to help in whatever way I can.
-- VR, Richard "Fear is nothing more than a feeling. You feel hot. You feel hungry. You feel angry. You feel afraid. Fear can never kill you"--Remo Williams