If you asked anyone what metal is used for, you would probably get a few common responses like the foundations of a building, or for smaller items like cutlery. But there is an entirely different potential for metal to shine on its own: as a beautiful, even artful centrepiece. Meet Matthias Yong, a man keenly aware of all that potential, who has grown to love working with metal; it’s quite literally his career.
Yong is a metalsmith and runs the company Baremetalco along with a partner. Metal fabrication is a very uncommon job to have in Singapore. It is especially unusual in the case of Yong, considering that he will be only 26 years old this year. You won’t find many people his age working around the same line of work as him, if at all.
When you learn about his family background, you could assume that metal fabrication would be a natural progression for Yong. After all, his father started a stainless steel fabrication company called Make Yield back in the early 90s that specialised in sheet metal fabrication — producing works for the likes of the F&B and the health sector. But despite growing up in his family’s workshop and helping out with jobs during his teenage years, metal fabrication wasn’t high on his priority list.
“To be honest, I didn’t quite enjoy it compared to the other ‘fun’ part-time jobs my friends were doing [that had] more attractive per hour rates,” Yong explained.
In fact, Yong tells me that it wasn’t until his national service that the thought of going into metal fabrication crossed his mind more seriously, born out of a mixture of hearing his peers make plans for university and him not having one of his own. Taking up creative metal craftsmanship during that period lit his fiery passion for the craft over time, and that in turn, soon also led to the creation of Baremetalco in 2017.
Baremetalco’s beginnings did not yield much in the way of job opportunities. Instead, Yong used his free time to experiment with his metal crafts and make random items, showcasing them on Instagram. And it was through the social media platform that the company was able to get exposure on his crafts, allowing him to get more work. Ironically, the growth garnered from the success has meant that Yong doesn’t get as much time to experiment as before, something that he laments.
Today, Baremetalco’s list of jobs consists of a mixture of commercial work and design-centric showpiece crafts for client’s homes, like a commission of a globe piece which was to be given as a gift to a mathematical professor. Yong also particularly cites a fairly recent work project of fabricating and installing a curved stair handrail as probably the most challenging job he has attempted thus far.
Much of the magic happens at his workshop at Toa Payoh Industrial Park. However, you might have some trouble actually finding it since the entrance doesn’t feature any company branding, apart from some subtle signage of the family’s Make Yield business.
Noise quickly envelops you upon entering the workshop. From the whirring of the water cutting machine to the rhythmic clanging and buzzing made by employees working on structures — it is like a symphony for metal-work is at play, an admittedly loud one at that.
The main floor of the workshop feels a little like a maze to navigate through. Alongside the large machines, workers take up a good portion of the space as they work on metal crafting. The rest of the floor is made out of prior metal-work projects strewn about. A few gems stick out, such as a chair made out of stainless steel sheets and vintage spoke rims.
It is a rather hectic area to be in, but you’ll be surprised to know this isn’t where you’ll find Yong usually. Instead, he’s more likely to be located just one floor above.
Hidden within the maze of machines, workers and metal sculptures is a staircase right at the corner of the main floor. The second floor is likewise mostly occupied by a combination of metal-working machinery and the occasional metal sculpture, like the metallic dog that greets you as you gradually ascend the stairs; very fitting.
But over at one end of the level, there is an area partitioned away with transparent panels — that is the office for Yong, and it is where he spends most of his time during his workdays at the workshop.
The air-conditioned room is a shared office for Yong and his partner, each having their own designated spaces. Furnishings include a small table centred within the room, a fridge, and a rack holding spare parts and trinkets. Workbenches aren’t excluded from the area, with a metal fish installation sitting on the desk while it awaits further work.
Yong’s personal area houses his work computer, which he uses to manage his projects and also do a process called drafting. Using the 3D-modeling software on his computer, he creates a model of his clients’ items to be fabricated later.
While Yong says that the work process for commercial and individual creative client work is the same — they are told what is needed, and Baremetalco comes up with detailed drawings for them to approve before proceeding with fabrication — he is slightly troubled over how the commercial side operates.
The commercial world of metal fabrication is a lucrative one for Yong. Still, he also points out that it is very competitive because people will usually opt for the cheaper option between similar options. Craftsmanship holds little power for these types of instances.
That is why Yong hopes his business could focus on the creative side of metal-working in the future, primarily where his passions lie. Outside of his office is a small work area that Yong uses to experiment and hone his skills, though it is mainly used during the weekends as he has no time to do so during his regular workdays.
The work area itself is like stepping into a place from the past. Alongside the workbench and the neatly laid out tools, there’s an old grandfather clock tucked neatly at a corner and an antique typewriter, kerosene lamp, and an old-school fan decorate the adjacent table; all while a vintage ceiling light hangs over the space. It perfectly encapsulates what Yong actively does here, which is going back to the roots through the traditional technique of metal shaping.
Metal shaping entails using a hammer to shape the metal into a particular form, all of it done by hand. If a large structure is to be crafted, that’s not a problem as many sheets of metal can be joined together to form a bigger object — the Statue of Liberty being one such example that Yong highlighted.
It’s a manual process that requires time, effort and patience from the crafter, but the end product is really unique and can’t be replicated easily by the regular CNC machines. It gives off a beauty akin to the Japanese view of wabi-sabi with its minor imperfections from the human-made dents.
“[It’s] all human-powered, but I find it very therapeutic; it makes me re-love metal for the next week because sometimes they are literally hard to work with,” Yong says.
A nearby display cupboard showcases much of the collection that he has made, from simple things like bowls, to more elaborate designs such as a couple of locking lips made from sheet metal. They are all items that Yong is proud of, and he continues to regularly update both the company’s and his own personal Instagram with pictures of what he has worked on.
Still, Yong insists he has much to improve on when it comes to the traditional techniques of metalsmithing. He is highly critical of himself and does not hesitate to point out particular parts that he could have done better on a specific item. “A life goal of mine is to travel overseas and learn from other metal crafters because there’s so much else that I want to learn,” Yong divulges.
For now, Yong is just keen to share his passion with others. And he hopes that by showcasing metalsmithing, others can develop an appreciation and curiosity for the craft, just as he did before starting Baremetalco.
If you’d like to see more works from Matthias and Baremetalco, you can follow their Instagram or visit their website.
Photos by Brandon Neo of the DANAMIC Team. Additional visuals courtesy of Matthias Yong and Baremetalco. Insider Video by DNMC+ Productions.