Not That Jewish Carpenter

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In an era of mass production and big businesses, he makes custom pieces himself to best fill his clients’ needs.
 

Don’t be fooled by the bearded, long-haired Jewish carpenter from Doylestown. That’s just Joshua Dukeman.
 
Dukeman is the founder and lead woodworker of Exile Woodworking, borderlining art and modern living.
 
In an era of mass production and big businesses, he makes custom pieces himself to best fill his clients’ needs.
 
Some of his new work will be featured at the Doylestown Arts Festival on Sept. 10 and 11.
 
“I’ve lived in Doylestown since I was a child, and this is the 25th annual Doylestown Arts Festival,” Dukeman said. “So it’s a big deal for them, but it’s also a big deal for me. This town has had a lot of influence shaping me as an artist and an entrepreneur.”
 
After originally enrolling in the College of Engineering at Drexel University almost 10 years ago, he soon knew that was not the right track for him.
 
“I realized very quickly that engineering is not what the Discovery Channel makes it out to be,” he laughed, “and it was not going to be as fun as I thought it was going to be.”
 
So he transferred to the Tyler School of Art at Temple University but worried that a career as an artist would not foresee a profitable future.
 
“Woodworking kind of became the bridge over that divide of making a lot of money but not being happy and being completely happy but not having any money at all as an artist,” he explained. “I like to make each piece unique in a functional art form. Instead of just getting some plain, square, pumped-out plywood table from IKEA, we can make a really interesting live-edge piece with natural walnut that came down 30 miles from my shop that is beautiful in its inherent nature but also in its design features. It becomes art and functional living.”
 
Dukeman grew up around woodworking, too, watching his father — who he called the “weekend warrior” for always refurbishing antique furniture or pieces around the house in his spare time — work with a general contracting company.
 
As a teen, he also refined his skills with different construction crews, working his way up each summer from rough framing to interior framing and finished carpentry to kitchen installations.
 
 “I just kept working my way down the line till I got to woodworking, furniture design, cabinetry design,” he added.
 
Now he makes any custom piece — cabinetry, bathroom vanities, kitchen tables, wall art, mirrors.
 
“Pretty much if you can vaguely describe it to me, I will find a way to build it out of wood,” he said.
 
Many clients in Philadelphia and Bucks counties have older homes that require custom designs to fit in unconventional places and utilize the space, like alcoves under stairwells or breakfast nooks.
 
“It’s building the product that you’re not going to find in a big-box store or even at [places like] Thos. Moser or West Elm — they’re not going to have custom pieces. They have well hand-crafted stuff, but it’s all still conventional sizes.”
 
At the arts festival, Dukeman will showcase a new concrete countertop, different-sized stools and maybe a credenza if he finishes it in time.
 
But for him, it’s the process, not the end result.
 
“I’ve put in a lot of late nights and weekends trying to really push the boundaries of what’s capable design build-wise. For me, it’s not really the finished product anymore. It’s the process of how something goes from log-form to finished product.”
 
The company name Exile has a few meanings: “I thought it would look cool on the headstock of a guitar,” said the 29-year-old.
 
But deeper than that, he coined the name from two of the master craftsmen he apprenticed for.
 
“They weren’t necessarily exiled from their countries, but they came to the United States to be allowed certain freedoms that they didn’t have,” he said. “Traditional craftsmanship in America is really being exiled by the big-box stores and mass production. People are much more interested in just the allure of something being 3-D printed or something pumped out by a CNC machine than an actual craftsman putting together a neat piece with their hands.”
 
He’s made a few Jewish-related pieces, too, like kitchenware for Shabbat or cutting boards for challah (even a round one for the High Holidays). 
 
When he has some free time, he’ll carve out some Judaica wall art or a few menorahs, but those aren’t his primary sellers.
 
“It’s definitely influenced from … going to temple lately and kind of getting into some of the more mystic Judaism,” he added.
 
So when his chai pops out of his shirt during an installation and people say, “‘Oh, you’re a Jewish carpenter,’” he just laughs it off.
 
“And now I’ve got a beard and long hair, so it really adds to the whole [Jesus] imagery.
 
“But I feel like there are way worse comparisons anyone could make,” he laughed. 
 
Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0737