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Snohomish biotech refugee opens woodworking center

A Snohomish biotech refugee opens a center to teach woodworking

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By Mike Benbow
Herald Writer
Published:
  • Derrick Burke, owner of Puget Sound Woodworking in Snohomish.

    Mike Benbow / The Herald

    Derrick Burke, owner of Puget Sound Woodworking in Snohomish.

  • Derrick Burke is the owner of Puget Sound Woodworking in Snohomish. Burke made these two pieces of furniture.

    Mike Benbow / The Herald

    Derrick Burke is the owner of Puget Sound Woodworking in Snohomish. Burke made these two pieces of furniture.

  • This guitar is under construction in the studio of Derrick Burke.

    Mike Benbow / The Herald

    This guitar is under construction in the studio of Derrick Burke.

SNOHOMISH -- In 2007, Derrick Burke was a biotech worker who produced investigative drugs for clinical trials, a great job he likens to "ultra high-tech beer manufacturing."
Like a lot of people in that industry and many others, Burke was laid off toward the end of that year. Unlike a lot of people, he'd seen the layoffs coming and started thinking about what to do next.
"I wanted to turn my love of a traditional craft into a modern business," he said.
The traditional craft that Burke loves is woodworking, another business where people are being laid off in droves as the housing industry and the general economy continue to struggle.
Burke was undaunted.
He went back to school at the University of Washington's Bothell campus to earn a master's degree in technology management. With his new degree, he's opened Puget Sound Woodworking at 105 Ave. A in downtown Snohomish, a community he's lived in for many years.
The small business, which had been a storage room for another business until Burke took it over, looks a lot like the traditional wood worker's shop.
There's a beautiful, old wooden floor, brick-lined walls and a stack a rough-sawn hardwoods in one corner. There are some heavy wooden work benches, table saws and a lot of tools.
There are also some of Burke's beautiful pieces of furniture in the shop. Burke plans to make some items for sale, just as traditional shops do, but he wants his business to focus more on selling tools, hardwoods and skills to other interested hobbyists.
"I'm trying to create an entirely new center here for people who want to make things with their hands," Burke said.
He believes that many people are tired of poor quality products and are interested in doing more things for themselves -- making things they can be proud of and use for many years.
He said studies show that the average age of people who take up woodworking as a hobby is 47. "More people are doing it as they retire and trying to make a little money as a hobby," he added.
Rather than trying to do just that as a business, Burke is hoping to develop a group of teachers who are knowledgeable about things like furniture making, carving or producing guitars or a bow to shoot arrows.
He'd like to develop a large number of classes from beginning woodworking on up to teach people the correct and safe ways to do things and to sell them the equipment that he likes and believes in.
Woodworking is a skill that takes planning and experience, Burke said. "You have to get out there and make a lot of mistakes," he said. "But classes can shave years off the learning curve."
Burke isn't sure how big the market will be in Snohomish County, but he knows from experience that the area is under-served.
"I had a trip I made every month where I went to Bellevue to get my blades sharpened and then I would go to Seattle to get equipment and hardwoods and inspiration for some designs," Burke said. "All woodworkers in Snohomish County do that."
He hopes to make those trips superfluous, or at least to become a popular stop on that trip for local woodworkers. People are invited to check things out during an open house April 2 and 3. For times, call 425-749-7771.
Burke will be available, as will other teachers who will offer classes in their specialties. Burke said he's hoping to talk with experienced artists who have a specialty they'd be interested in teaching.
Puget Sound Woodworking
Owner: Derrick Burke
105 Ave. A, Snohomish
425-749-7771, ext. 1
pugetsoundwoodworking.com
Open house: April 2 and 3

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