A Different Kind of Crafty: Philly Kids’ Woodworking Classes
Did you love wood shop? Now your kids can try it, too.
There once was a time when woodworking, wood shop, and other building skills disciplines were taught as standard in American schools. That’s largely a thing of the past now, but that doesn’t mean kids don’t have a chance to experience the joys of building things from wood.
A pair of local businesses — Manayunk’s Philadelphia Woodworks and South Philly’s OFC Philly — are seeking to bring back woodworking for a new generation, including great classes for kids.
Philadelphia Woodworks, at 4901 Umbria St., was established just over five years ago by Mike Vogel, a native of Cheltenham and graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. Vogel said he was “bitten by the bug” of woodworking while in college. After working in the finance world for 10 years, Vogel took the plunge, opening Woodworks in 2011.
“I was dreaming about having access to a fun woodshop,” he said. “So I took the risk of building a woodworking club, for everything from the casual user to more serious ones.” He compared it to going to the gym.
From the beginning, Vogel knew he wanted to offer children’s programming, although he waited awhile before introducing the classes about three years ago. The club offers classes for kids starting at age 9.
“I wanted everything established and fully vetted and figured out before we exposed children to a wood shop. We wanted to figure out everything we needed to do to make it safe for kids,” he said.
Philadelphia Woodworks offers classes that are one-on-one, as well as some sibling and group classes. Philadelphia Woodworks is offering a five-day summer camp this year, and also does work with special-needs children.
“We’ve got a great teacher, and a large set of resources,” he said. “(We’re in) incredibly high demand — our kids’ classes and camps sell out.”
Kids can design anything from a desk clock to a step stool to bookends, while smaller kids can make pencil and crayon boxes. Other times parents come up with ideas and the classes work from there.
“It’s a chance for kids to take something home that they love and can enjoy for years,” Vogel said.
The club has 120 members, and offers classes to over 1,000 people per year, though most are adults.
“It is a very inviting, very safe, very clean,” he said. “It’s a great place for a young mind to be expanded.”
The other place in town offering woodworking is OFC Philly (1918 S. Bancroft St.), begun in South Philly/Girard Park in 2012 by Erin Offenbacher and her husband, Nick Offenbacher.
Rather than a club, it’s a custom furniture and woodworking company. Erin Offenbacher, a longtime nanny with a background in education, decided to offer woodworking education, too.
“With all of this experience and my love of working with little people, I decided to combine that with my passion for designing and building furniture, and create OFC Philly’s enrichment classes,” she said.
OFC offers classes for several age groups: Tinker Tots (15 months to 3 years), Busy Builders (3-5), and Construction Kids (5-8.) All are aimed at “future engineers, scientists, artists and everyone in between.”
“Our classes are designed to teach basic woodworking skills and concepts, and to provide children with an appreciation and understanding of the raw materials which we use,” Erin Offenbacher said.
“We have wood identification games in which children sort wood blocks by shape, size, and wood species. In addition, we teach children how to use hand tools and allow for plenty of practice time by allowing kids to hammer nails into Play-Doh, for example,” she said. “The overall experience we want to provide is one where children are encouraged to be creative, and leave our classes more curious about the world.”
Photographs courtesy of Philadelphia Woodworks.