A new school for woodworking will open in Philadelphia next month, offering a range of courses in basic woodworking and advanced furniture making. 

The Philadelphia Furniture Workshop took up residence in a refurbished industrial building in central Philadelphia and will break ground with its first class in May. The school was launched by Alan Turner (photo right), a lawyer and part-time woodworking instructor (not necessarily in that order) who plans to grow the school over the next few years and then operate it full time in his retirement. 

For serious craftsmen and beginners
The 3,500-square-foot classroom workshop also will host private studio space for professional woodworkers in the area. The first craftsman to move in is Mario Rodriguez, a regular contributor to Fine Woodworking, who will become the school's first artist in residence. Rodriguez will teach a packed schedule of classes beginning in May, and will build private commissions.

Turner and Rodriguez both believe that the Philadelphia region is ripe for another woodworking school. Currently, the area is home to a few schools that teach carving and basic woodworking. However, they see potential in the growing number of suburban homeowners in surrounding Pennsylvania and New Jersey who might want to learn basic woodworking skills for home repair or to furnish empty rooms in their house.

"New Jersey has more homeowners per square mile than any other area in the country," Rodriguez said.

In addition to classes aimed at the do-it-yourself crowd, the school also will offer classes in advanced woodworking, such as period furniture making, turning, and carving. Turner plans to bring in guest instructors to supplement the advanced course taught by Rodriguez, who is a well-known instructor around the country.

"My goal is to take amateurs and kick them up a notch," Turner said.

A business built on passion
Turner was introduced to woodworking when he was 6, while shadowing his father around their home workshop.

"It was a wonderful way for me to spend time with him," said Turner, who considered his father an "excellent amateur woodworker."

After pursuing a long career in law, Turner shifted his attention to woodworking about five years ago when he began teaching basic woodworking classes through a night-school program called Mainline School Night serving the suburban Philadelphia region. It is a not-for-profit educational organization that offers more than 500 classes on a variety of subjects.

His classes were run out of a former high school woodshop, which lacked power tools and quality workbenches due to years of neglect. As a result, he limited his classes to small projects built with hand tools, and in turn honed his own skills in the essentials of woodworking. Over those five years he day dreamed about opening his own school, and eventually made good on his plans.

"This is very much a labor of love for me," he said. "It's my commitment to the craft."

For more information, visit The Philadelphia Furniture Workshop online at philadelphiafurnitureworkshop.com. Or, browse Fine Woodworking's directory of woodworking schools to find a program in your area.

April 15, 2006