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Blackcreek Mercantile makes high-end wood products in the heart of Kingston |

Blackcreek Mercantile makes high-end wood products in the heart of Kingston



Co-owners and spouses Kelly Zaneto and Joshua Vogel of Blackcreek Mercantile Trading Company in their new showroom at 628 Broadway in Midtown Kingston, N.Y.
Tania Barricklo-Daily Freeman





KINGSTON, N.Y. In Midtown, in a former factory across Cedar Street from the Salvation Army, Blackcreek Mercantile Trading Co. is making high-end handcrafted furniture and kitchen utensils and accessories.

Blackcreek, which also has a showroom at 628 Broadway, is owned by expert woodcarver and furniture maker Joshua Vogel and his wife Kelly Zaneto, who have been renting the space for the last seven years.

PHOTOS: Blackcreek Mercantile Trading Co.

On a recent visit, as the sounds of an large electric lathe where an employee was turning an item in the background echoed in the background, Vogel was working on transforming a large tree branch into a wooden spoon using nothing more than an axe and two knives.

Above him was a wall covered with traditional woodworking tools like a drawknife and a frame saw, and below was a workbench were a collection of wooden spoons he sells under a separate entity called Joshua Vogel LLC.

Vogel, author of the book “The Artful Wooden Spoon” which teaches the process of carving wooden spoons, said he starts by using a small axe to create the rough shape of the spoon.

“A spoon has concave and convex shapes,” Vogel said.

As one works on carving a spoon, it’s key to know how to go with the grain of the wood, he added.

Vogel picked up a “hook knife” with a rounded edge and began shaving wood away until a spoon shape began to emerge from the large limb.

“It’s simple blacksmith work,” Vogel said, describing the knife.

As Vogel continued carving, he added that the work is “very accessible” and it’s easy to see if it’s working or not.

He shared a story about just how rugged simple woodworking tools are.

“A guy in Sweden found woodworking tools that were carbon-dated to be 1,000 years old,” Vogel said.

And Vogel said he knows when it’s ready.

“When it’s ready you put it in your mouth and see if it works,” Vogel said.

Vogel said he enjoys sharing his skills, whether it’s with an apprentice in the shop or a course on handcarving spoons he’s slated to teach for the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship this summer in Rockford, Maine.

Vogel said he never ceases to learn new things about woodworking.

“You’re never done learning, you get comfortable with it being a lifelong pursuit,” Vogel said.

Vogel discussed the many differences between different types of wood.

“Balsa is super lightweight, and on the other end is ebony, which is so dense it sinks,” Vogel said. “When you make a spoon, you can use cherry wood, sugar maple.

“You can’t make a barrel of many other things but white oak.” Vogel said.

This helps give distilled spirits their distinct flavor, Vogel said.

Vogel said local forests, and sometimes even trees within city limits, provide ample sources of wood.

Often residents drop off material, he added.

“Our neighbors brought in wood from a catalpa tree,” Vogel said. “It’s a big yard tree.”

But Vogel admitted he’s faced challenges like the emerald ash borer beetle which has devastated local ash trees in recent years.

“Sustainability is key, it dovetails into using materials in the right way,” Vogel said.

While his line of spoons is made using only hand tools, Vogel said power tools are used on Blackcreek products ranging from bowls and bread boxes to tables.

“We try to use a combination of tools when it’s the right tool for the right job,” Vogel said. “We’re adding value in the right way.”

Among the machines is one from South Dakota that once was used to make gun stocks but was adapted for a variety of furniture-making tasks.

“The process develops as we go along,” Vogel said.

While Blackcreek’s furniture is made with power tools, it’s still assembled mainly with traditional mortise and tenon joinery.

“You can’t do this with a computer,” Vogel said.

Vogel said his products are handmade because there is no pre-programming involved in making them.

Pointing to the employee on the lathe, he said, “He’s deciding the shape, not a computer, his hands are shaping it.”

“Somebody’s making that, not some robot machine,” Zaneto said.

“Someone’s name is on that, we’re not just making thousands at a time,” Zaneto added.

“This is a big deal for us,” Zaneto said. “We work here, we live here.

“We want to make this work.”

Vogel said many people like to imagine Kingston the way it was when people ranging from butchers to shoemakers lived in the same community where they worked.

“In part, this is really difficult,” Vogel said. “There are a lot of baseline challenges.”

Zaneto said she believes much of the growth of the Hudson Valley in the future will lean on many small companies instead of a handful of large employers like IBM, which once employed upwards of 7,100 people in the town of Ulster before it closed its facility there in 1995.

“There are lots of wonderful little businesses,” Zaneto said.

In a small room in the front of the warehouse, a traditional draw bench is flanked by Vogel’s wood sculptures.

Pointing to several sculptures, Vogel said he enjoys how sculpturing differs from furniture making.

“To me it’s different than making cabinetry,” Vogel said. “Sculpturing a single piece of wood and rendering it functional by a touch of craft motivates me to keep going.”

On a counter in the same room he showed off some wooden forms for a doorstop that was made in cast iron in a foundry in Richmond, Virginia.

“It’s a crossover between woodwork and metalwork,” Vogel said.

A native of New Mexico, who later lived in Oregon, Vogel then moved to New York City, where he became a partner in a high-end furniture-making operation. That’s where he met Zaneto, who hails from New Jersey.

But that business went a different direction, and Zaneto said they decided to set off on their own in the Hudson Valley.

Vogel, who admitted he was never much of a city person, said he was happy with the move, which first took them to Ashokan and later Kingston, where he started Blackcreek, selling oil for wood cutting boards.

Zaneto also grew to love the Hudson Valley.

“I love how there’s never any traffic,” Zaneto said.

Vogel said they grew and grew, adding the furniture and kitchen lines as they went along, and they moved from another space on Greenkill Avenue to their present location seven years ago.

Zaneto, who handles much of the business side of Blackcreek, said word spread, and people started to flood the small room at the front of their shop and she got the idea of opening a showroom despite Vogel being lukewarm to the idea at first.

Zaneto said she spoke to Patrice Courtney Strong, who talked with the landlord who owned the storefront space at 628 Broadway that once house a tatoo parlor.

Once they secured the space, Zaneto said they got to work stripping away two layers of lineoleum to expose the original floor.

On a recent visit, the showroom featured a sculpture piece and dozens of wooden spoons that Vogel did for his book on one wall and several tables and stools on display. Several copies on Vogel’s book sat on a shelf in the back.

“It’s a natural extension of what we’re already doing very close to the worksite,” Zaneto said.

Zaneto said they had a soft opening in March of 2016, and things have gone very well so far.

“Winter was a little slow,” Zaneto said. “Most of our clients are tourists, not locals.

But Zaneto said she remains concerned about the future as property values in Midtown continue to climb and climb, which she believes is driven in part by “speculation and gossip.”

“We don’t want to get priced out,” Zaneto said. “We’re not motivated only by money.

“We love what we’re creating.”

Instead Zaneto prefers what she calls a balance.

“Real estate bubbles are not sustainable,” Zaneto said. “These are challenges bigger than us, we don’t want to be part of the problem.”

Vogel said this comes has he’s seen a growing interest in woodworking among young women and younger people who can’t stand the thought of an office job.

“We had an employee start as an apprentice and stay on and move his family here,” Vogel said.

Blackcreek Mercantile Trading Company’s showroom is located at 628 Broadway, Kingston and is open Friday-Sunday from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. and Monday-Thursday by appointment. For more information, call (917) 797-1903 or email bcmt.co@gmail.com.

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