Inventive Blacksmiths of Sorong, West Papua, Indonesia




About: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output devices. His detailed drawings of traditional Pacific...

At the far western tip of Papua, on the outskirts of the town of Sorong, is a place called Tempat Garam. This means "salt making place". The Mombrasar family of blacksmiths have their shop there. They build boats, make any kind of tools, and invent labor saving devices.

Adults, from left to right: Vincent Ambrar, Fredison Mombrasar, Andreas Mombrasar, Elisabet Dimara, Delilah Mombrasar. The kids were moving around too much for me to get their names straight.

Their address is:
Kapiten Patimura
Pandai Besi Awak Soba
Tempat Garam
Klawasi Sorong
West Papua Indonesia

Note: If this instructable wins any contests, I'll send it to them. They could do amazing things with it.

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Step 1: Chainsaw Powered Sago Grinder

Yohanis Mombrasar shows me one of their inventions, a chainsaw powered sago grinder. The local staple is sago palm starch. The sago palm grows in dense stands in fresh water swamps just behind a barrier beach. The whole trunk is composed of starch and fibers.

Step 2: Chainsaw Sago Grinder Billboard

The family has a knack for clear visual communication.

Big chainsaws are plentiful here because of the timber industry. The area has valuable hardwoods sought by Malaysian Chinese traders.

The traditional method of making sago starch is to fell a sago log and pound the insides with wooden hammers until the starch grains are separated from the fibers. I've read that even that way, it's 1/10th as much labor as rice cultivation. With a power tool like this, it would take very little time to produce large quantities.

"Pandai Besi" means "blacksmith" in the Bahasa Indonesia language. Just like our word, it literally means "iron pounder"

Step 3: The Product Line

Here are some of the things they are ready to make at any time.

The local stores carry mass produced machetes and sickles like we have but no one wants them. The local people appreciate a finely crafted steel tool made to exactly suit the work they do.

Step 4: Prices and Volumes

This is how much their major products cost and how many they can make in a month.
This is an impressively well organized operation.

Step 5: The Forge

It was their day off, but Elisabet and Andreas kindly offered to show me how their forge works. It's a very sociable operation. Elisabet sits on the throne and works the bellows.

Step 6: The Bellows

The piston pump is made from two sections of water pipe and some wooden piston plungers.
The gasket material is very soft and hangs down on the upstroke, allowing air to pass around it.
It looks like these gaskets are made of soft foam. I've also seen them made from many layers of woven plastic bags.

Step 7: The Tuyere

That's our English word for the pipe that blows air into a forge. Some call it a "tweer".
Theirs is made exactly as it appears, there are no valves. The iron rod in the middle is only there to set the spacing between the two nozzles that blow air from the pistons.

The nozzles blow air at a hole in the side of a slab of tile or stone that stands vertically.
The side blast probably reduces the problems with clinkers clogging the tweer. That's a chronic problem with American forges, which blow air from below.

Andreas lit some wood shavings and piled charcoal on them. Elisabet worked the pistons and after a few strokes the forge was roaring.

Step 8: Ambai Style Canoe

Here's one of their fishing canoes. The design is from Ambai island.
I didn't ask if they have relatives there, but that island has a strong blacksmithing tradition.
The crossbeams are exactly 1 meter apart, which is how much room a paddler needs.
The outrigger log is a hibiscus branch, which is very light wood.

Step 9: Huge Dugout

They are repairing this huge dugout canoe. The local water taxis are like this.
I think it's made from a smaller log which is spread open with steam, but I haven't seen it done.
I think the style is from Ambon Island, but I could be wrong - anyone have better info?

Step 10: Cocounut Grater

Here's another of their inventions, a coconut grating attachment for a hand cranked knife sharpener.
You hold half a coconut against the spinning cutter and put a bowl underneath to catch the grated coconut.

The ornate wooden thing in the foreground is a speargun with a trigger mechanism made from a nail.

They also make really nice traditional coconut grating tools.
I bought a couple of those, when I find the photos I'll add them.

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    23 Discussions


    4 years ago

    These people and their harvesting of sago pulp was featured in "guns, germs and steal" (pbs); the women did all the work, it was/is labor intensive...seeing this is made me happy!


    4 years ago

    wow, thwt was my country, Indonesia

    You are not only innovative, you're staggeringly interested and observant.
    We're lucky to have you looking out for us.
    Sorry we missed you at the Maker Faire.
    Keep up the amazement and inspiration.


    8 years ago on Step 10

    Great contribution - thanks. I'm impressed with their technology. (The more you understand about technology, the more you respect these kinds of solutions.) Maximum respect to these innovators.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Is there anyway to find or get some of the hand tools they make? always looking for that sort of thing... seems the hand made stuff is made with so much more care and so forth than the stuff you can find in the big box stores here in the states...

    1 reply

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Try sending them a letter to their addr in the ible. Maybe you know some missionaries to Sorong who could buy for you. let me know how it goes!


    9 years ago on Introduction

    people in countries are the ultimate DIYers I want to do this for a living if I can.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    you die VERY SOON...
    if you use a chain saw too noiseytough it would be fun!!


    9 years ago on Introduction

    thank you...

    I'm very proud see our country man in this website..

    just come to Indonesia, you'll see any brilliant idea... :D


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Brilliant ... Just Brilliant ... Thank you for sharing this with us. They look like lovely people. Fredison is the father of invention ... neccesity !


    10 years ago on Introduction

    wow i would have never used a chain saw too do what they are doing
    they are so smart where they need something they make
    when we(state-side) need something we buy it...i feel like they have a more fullfilling life style then us


    10 years ago on Introduction

    A friend of mine is a professional fisherman. He told me he made a fillet knife out of steel straps that were used to wrap around shipping crates. Tell them about that.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    hello, do you have a picture of the sago grinder in use .


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Note on the perahu (canoe). I'm pretty sure that the big one is natively Papuan. I don't ever remember seeing the big ones in Ambon, just the thinner types, but I could be wrong. Also, on a side note, how long have you lived/worked in Indonesia/Papua? And where at, exactly?

    2 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I lived in Jayapura for a few months in 2004 and did some traveling. Java, Madura, Bali, Southern Sulawesi, Kri Island near Sorong. Where are/were you? What kinds of boats, blacksmiths, and ingenuity are you seeing?


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    born in Ambon and lived there (on and off) till '98 when things got heated. then lived in Jakarta for a while and then Papua for about two and a half years.. now I'm State-side for college. most of my knowledge is from older videos of the place that I saw while I was in Papua, and memories of Ambon from when I was younger.. which is why I said "I could be wrong".. anyways.. as for ingenuity..? well the Malukans make some of the best wood boats out there, or so I've read. the kids in my neighborhood always make little "spear guns" using rubber bands and broken umbrella parts. and an old military man who used to live next door had a couple spear guns like what you have pictured, but shaped more like rifles, with stocks and all... that's all I can really remember right now, but I'll ask my parents if they can remember anything as they'd be more likely to.