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'Woodworking Gym' Debuts in Manayunk Sunday

Philadelphia Woodworks hosts grand opening April 22.

Describing Philadelphia Woodworks seems straightforward, yet odd at the same time. Essentially, the member-based woodworking organization gives hobbyists access to the Umbria Street studio's equipment, space and storage. Owner and founder Michael Vogel describes it as a social club, for those excited to work with their hands. Employee and web guru Grace Latz calls it a woodworking gym.

Philadelphia Woodworks fits all of those definitions, and certainly provides something different for Manayunk.

The Backstory

Located at 4901 Umbria St.—right across from the —Philadelphia Woodworks will host a grand opening Sunday. Vogel leased the former furniture store in July 2011. With the help of mostly volunteers, he transformed the space into a functional, yet cozy woodshop clubhouse, complete with lumberyard, library, kitchen, storage area and a massive workspace.

Philadelphia Woodworks began listings its services and members began to seek it out, from Valley Forge to New Jersey. On Sunday, the space is ready for the public at large

For many, Vogel said woodworking appeals because "there's a permanence of larger structure. When you make a bedroom set, table, you know it's going to last a lifetime."

In his life, Vogel completed two 180s. After studying architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, he entered the world of finance. That lasted nearly a decade, when he decided, unprovoked, he needed to work with his hands again.

The idea for Philadelphia Woodworks arrived from the idea that people who aren't professionals or artists lack access to woodworking equipment. He wanted something like that to exist, so he assumed others might, too.

"My own experience led me to believe this is needed. Some people have an innate desire to have access to a woodworking shop."

Vogel said he didn't test focus groups or survey people because it wasn't possible. "I can't take 10 people off the street and ask them what they want, as if this is a normal thing."

What the 'Wood Gym' Offers

Latz moved to Philadelphia six months ago for the city's rowing history after graduating from the University of Wisconsin. A Michigan native, she grew up with her father making most of the family's furniture. She said Philadelphia Woodworks provides someone like her a chance to use her hands.

"There's nothing quite like this around here. The sense of community and experience levels are great. You have beginners and people just starting out," she said. "You can pick people's brains, like 'How am I going to get around this knot?"

Membership packages vary, depending on time of day, frequency used and how long you're willing to commit. A three-month unlimited access membership, for example, costs $159. Philadelphia Woodworks also provides pay-as-you go plans. Members must also undergo safety certification before using the equipment.

The 8,000 square feet facility features 5,600 square feet of shop space. It includes a variety of tools, such as:

  • 10-foot SawStop Cabinet Tablesaw
  • 12-foot Powermatic Jointer (helical cutting head)
  • 20-foot Grizzly Planer
  • 2 bandsaws
  • 3 drill presses
  • Dozens of clamps
  • Lathes

Latz also said the ventilation system and natural lighting greatly enhance the space. View the complete tool list here.

Classes are also on the way. They were a logical decision, Vogel said, for two reasons. First, there's an obvious economic benefit—this draws people into Philadelphia Woodworks who wouldn't otherwise use the space as a member. The other reason, he said, revolved around his own abilities.

"Not to be a narcissist, but I catered to myself. There's certain elements I need education on, so I thought, 'What would I want?'" he said.

For more information, visit Philadelphia Woodworks' website or Facebook page.

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