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March 8th, 2002
Woodworker turns his hobby
and passion into a profession
Many of us have hobbies, and many of us have professions. Lucky are the few whose hobby is also their profession.
Danny Birnbaum , a 25-year-old former Glendale-based woodworker, is one of them. It is [like] basically taking my hobby and turning it into a career, he said.
Birnbaum is currently finishing his masters degree in woodworking and furniture design from the School of Fine Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
He will be showing some of his creations at The Common Wealth Gallery in Madison on March 2, 6-8 p.m., for his thesis show, entitled Danny Birnbaums Details, which is the final hurdle he must leap before obtaining the degree.
Birnbaum entered the field innocently, when he was about three or four years old and first played around with wood and things of that nature. By age 11, Birnbaum excelled in shop classes at school, where he began learning more about furniture [building] and techniques.
Apart from a little guidance in shop class and watching episodes of the Public Broadcasting Service series This Old House, Birnbaum seems to have been blessed with an innate talent that nobody else in his family had.
My dad is not handy at all, he is a desk-jobber, he said. My brother is a lawyer in Florida.
While most pre-teens dream of going to the toy store to buy toys, Birnbaum dreamt of going to the hardware store to buy tools. His family was always supportive of his passion for woodworking.
I got a few tools from my grandfather, and it used to be a treat to go and pick out a tool from the hardware store once a week, he said.
Birnbaum became so proficient that by the time he was in high school, he was employing himself and friends to build sheds and decks.
Birnbaum could have forgone higher education and joined the job market right after high school, but his parents urged him to continue.
It was a matter of finding a degree in college [for woodworking] because I wasnt good at other things, he said.
Birnbaum found the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York and enrolled in its School of American Crafts because it was the number one school at the time for that program. I had some of the best teachers in the world and they taught me not only woodworking, but [also] business skills, proportion, design everything.
After graduation he was offered a scholarship to continue his studies at UW-Madison. Though his degree will be from the School of Fine Arts, Birnbaum does not consider himself to be an artist.
I am more considered to be a craftsman, he said. I am part of the Furniture Society and in a couple of weeks I am moving to [Hackettstown], New Jersey, where I am part of the Woodworking Guild of Upper New Jersey. Ill be setting up my own business. My girlfriend is there and there is a lot of cash to be made for woodworkers there.
Birnbaum said woodworking is always a new challenge and you are always learning, and that is what he likes about it the most.
Birnbaum said most of his work lately has been high-end veneer work on small delicate pieces [that are often] art deco-influenced. However, once he gets to New Jersey, he plans to design and build things like kitchen cabinets, the bread and butter work.
In the meantime, he said he is searching for the bumper sticker that reads, My boss is a Jewish carpenter, usually sported by Christians. Birnbaum has no messianic ambitions; he said he is just happy to be a Jewish woodworker.