In pursuit of passion: India’s first DIY woodworking instructor

I have written before against the popular trend towards quitting your day job to follow your passion, and about defining success on your own terms. But behind this clarity, as is always the case, was a lot of confusion. Books helped a lot when it came to finding my answers, as did long discussions with the husband, who is uniquely qualified to talk on the subject. He is a living, breathing example of someone who has always followed his passion.

His first passion – for sports, and more specifically tennis, he converted into his day job. He’s been teaching lawn tennis since over 25 years, so he is intimately familiar with both the ecstasy and the agony of making your passion into your day job {which is possibly a post for another time!}

His second passion – DIY woodworking – is something that he has always pursued on the side. It also gave him the distinction of rightfully claiming to be India’s first DIY woodworking instructor, and he has been instrumental in getting several people interested in woodworking. I’m going to hand it over to him now, to talk about his passion and his thoughts on keeping woodworking a passion project rather than converting it into a full-time job.


Hi! I’m Abid Ali, commonly referred to as the husband around here! As Shinjini already told you, I’m a tennis coach by profession – I’ve been teaching lawn tennis since over 25 years. But I’ve been working with wood since much longer, roughly 35 years!

DIY woodworking instructor india

In his workshop

I belong to a farming family, and have grown up watching my father and uncles tinkering around with tools and completing DIY projects at home and at the farm. My woodworking journey started when my uncle, who lives in England and is an engineer by profession, gifted me some woodworking tools. In fact, I still remember exactly what tools he gifted me – a Stanley plane, a saw, two C-clamps, 1 hammer, a measuring tape, and a combination square! He also taught me the basics of working with wood. From there started my lifelong passion with wood.

I’m entirely self-taught, I haven’t had any formal education in woodworking; I don’t hold any degree or diploma. But what I lack in certificates, I more than make up with experience, and that’s what my students get: all of that experience, distilled down into clear processes and practical application.

Learn DIY woodworking in India

The woodworker, immersed in his creative process

In fact, the only reason to get into teaching – apart from prodding from the wife – was to help newcomers to enjoy and learn woodworking and DIY, to share my passion for wood and tools, and building things by hand. I also wanted to dispel the common misconception that a lot of people have – that woodworking is mainly about furniture making and that there isn’t much that can be built unless you have a huge workshop. My own workshop, after all, is in the back balcony of our home in Gurgaon. The wife will try and tell you that I’ve overtaken the entire house with my piles of wood and tools, but that isn’t entirely true!

Jokes apart, she’s been very supportive in allowing me to follow my passion for woodworking. From encouraging me to make new things, giving me design ideas, and the permission to teach DIY woodworking over the weekends, she’s been my pillar of support.

I mostly teach private classes, as I believe that ultimately you are going to set up a work area or workshop somewhere in your house if you are going to pursue the hobby. So I like to help my students to identify and setup their work area and help them with tool procurement. I tend to start my classes by assessing my student’s level of knowledge of woodworking; then move to safety aspects; tool introduction and care; give them information about real wood and man made materials (like plywood, MDF, particle board etc); how to calculate, select and buy solid wood, and prepare a cut list; and the different wood species available in India.

My instructions are centered on hand tools, so I introduce different marking and measuring aids; various cutting aids like saws; drilling techniques; use of chisels; hammering technique; how to use different pliers and screwdrivers. I then move to joinery; identifying different joints; different methods used to fasten wood (nails, screws, dowels, glue, specialty fasteners); clamping techniques and different types of clamps and their uses. I also cover assembly and introduce a few power tools like drill, jigsaw, circular saw, router, planer and sander.

And now I can almost see the wife fuming because, as she likes to say, I can make the dead want to die again when I start talking about joinery and hard woods versus soft woods and all of the reasons why working with hand tools is so much more rewarding than working with power tools!

DIY woodworking projects: learn boxmaking in India

Slide top box, made by Abid Ali

So I’ll talk about the kinds of projects that my students typically make during their classes. I personally like 3 projects for beginners: a bench hook, because it’s simple to make but involves good measuring and marking techniques and is a very handy sawing aid; a tray, as it will involve mixing mediums – solid wood with ply or MDF and is a good utility or gift item; and lastly, a small box, as all cabinet work is ultimately box making. It gives a very good idea of joinery, assembly, hardware fitting, accurate cutting, finishing etc.

I have seen a steady rise in the number of people wanting to get into DIY woodworking, especially women. It’s a small but enthusiastic group, and I’m really pleased to be able to pass along my love for working with wood to more and more people.

In fact, my students come from varied backgrounds. For example, Payal is a lawyer who wanted to try her hand at woodworking and DIY. She’s very innovative and creative, and has made a number of projects with just a handful of tools. Sanjive is an architect who has always been fascinated with wood. He likes to work on complex projects and takes his time with them, instead of working to a deadline. Sudhir sir is a retired CEO who pursued his passion for woodworking along with his career. He collected a lot of tools during his travels abroad, and now enjoys sharing his work by making gift items for friends. When I teach, it feels like I am helping a friend – it’s a great feeling to see someone start their DIY or woodworking journey!

learn woodworking in India

With his shop assistant, Simba

In the three years that I’ve been teaching woodworking, a lot of people have asked me if I will quit tennis and make this into a full-time job. My answer has always been no. I think we all need a passion that we do for the sheer love and joy of it. While earning some money from a passion project is perfectly fine, trying to make that purely about the money would be the quickest way to kill the joy and peace that I get from shaping something beautiful from a block of wood. Because when you’re doing this for the passion there is no timeline, no delivery schedule, no need to satisfy anyone else except yourself. A project may take as long as it takes, it may not shape up how you hoped it would, but you can chalk it down to experience and learn something along the way. Every hobbyist woodworker hits this fork in their journey of woodworking, where they start to feel that they have spent a lot of money on wood and tools, and wondering what they are earning from it. That’s when they start going professional. There’s nothing wrong with that, though I think that any amount of money spent on pursuing your passion is money well spent!


I hope you enjoyed meeting the husband and hearing his thoughts on woodworking, and on keeping your passion and day job separate and distinct! And I hope he didn’t bore you too much with his technical talk. 😉

If you’re interested in learning DIY woodworking, you can contact him on maxtennisindia @ gmail.com. And if you know anyone who is interested in learning DIY woodworking or picking up a new hobby, do share this post with them!

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14 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing this story. I can tell that the husband is truly passionate about his woodwork.It wasn’t boring at all. My mom would have loved taking a class like this.

  2. Time was when most of the men knew how to work with wood. i used to play next to my father who used to make doll’s beds and other stuff for us as kids. I loved using the planer on everything I could, just to see the wood shavings. so Dad used to hide it from me. At 83, he still does things around the house.

    • Oh yes! My father used to love tinkering with wood, too. But now most people I see around me have no idea how to fix even simple things around the house, woodworking isn’t even on their radar anymore!

  3. Lucky you to have such a handy man ( creative too ) around the house. It requires courage to go with your dream. Working with your hands is a satisfying and calming activity…. I’m sure I’d have loved to do this were I younger …. I’m amazed that one student is a woman.

    • Oh he’s quite the handy man, indeed! And there have been a lot of women who have learnt woodworking & gone on to set up workshops and pursue it as a hobby! This is just a small sampling of his students 😉

  4. How wonderful that both of you follow your passions and keep your ‘day’ jobs. I find Abid’s take on the not converting your passion completely into a money spinner, very interesting. I need to think about this, since I always thought that money followed when from pursuing your passion.

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