Philadelphia Woodworks carves a mark in Manayunk

It’s a familiar narrative: a young professional turns 30 and undergoes a drastic career change to pursue his or her true love. For Michael Vogel, that passion was woodcarving, and he resigned from a financially rewarding career in investment banking to pursue it.   In eight months, Vogel gathered a team of wood hobbyists and volunteers to transform the 8,000 square-foot warehouse space on 4901 Umbria St. in Manayunk into Philadelphia Woodworks, which opened today. Vogel says his woodworking space is the only large one in the city to include industrial dust collectors, and an assortment of laithes, saws, sanders, drills and hand tools.

“Everything here is, at worst, professional grade,” Vogel says. He also invested in new equipment like a Sawstop-equipped table saw, which halts the blade within fractions of a second if its internal computer detects contact with flesh. “It comes at a huge premium cost, but we’re already over budget,” Vogel jokes. “Safety is a huge concern here.”

Membership fees range from $39 a night to $159 per month, depending on usage.  Vogel says Philadelphia Woodworks offers open studio time and a class series for all skill levels. He is still planning curriculums based on interest and demand, but Vogel says prospective members can expect workshops about crafting furniture items, like chairs and cabinets, along with specific wood carving techniques for more advanced students. His shop also sells hardwood – primarily from domestic trees like maple, oak, walnut and cherry, and reusable wood that has been salvaged, for the green-minded artist.

Philadelphia Woodworks business manager Emily Duncan compares the new space to a clubhouse environment – with accommodations like a lounge area with sofas, a large television and a full kitchen to encourage students to stay for as long as they need and take a break to relax and recharge during longer projects. “With woodworking, you either use it or lose it,” Duncan says. “It’s good to have other people around to bounce ideas off of.” The extra space is something 40-year-old Carlos Soler, of Coatesville, will need for one of his pet wood projects – an aerodynamic-shaped rocking chair that he expects will take a couple hundred hours to fully assemble. Up until recently, Soler only had room for a few smaller tools in his basement, which he used in his spare time between working a computer technology job and raising two kids. Soler responded to a Craigslist post asking for volunteers to set up and build the Philadelphia Woodworks space. Now, he will work part time as a shop manager to help students. “The best employees are the ones who find you,” Vogel says of the people who came forward to help him get Philadelphia Woodworks up and running. Many of these volunteers will be working as part-time staff from now on. “Loyalty is a big part of what we do here,” Vogel says.

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