Stafford Chamber President Indulges Woodworking Hobby at Home

Mar 28, 2018
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

This is not a story about what Rocco Manochio of Cedar Run does for a living or the work he does for the community as president of the Stafford Chamber of Commerce. This is a story about Manochio’s hobby: the one he nurtured in high school, by excelling in wood shop class and attending vocational-technical school for carpentry, and almost pursued as a career before his mother convinced him to go to college, where he found his way into financial planning.

He has a passion for woodworking that he keeps mostly to himself and shares in the form of gifts for family, friends and clients.

The house he lives in now, a stately home in the newest section of Cedar Run, is the first that has allowed him to dedicate the space he needs to a proper workshop – and to put his creativity and skills to their best use. Take, for example, the little playhouse sided with real cedar shingles, that he built into the “dead space” beneath the stairs of the finished basement. It was an idea he saw on Pinterest and thought “I can do that.” Inside is a little play kitchen where his youngest child, Briella, serves up the day’s specials.

Upstairs in the living area, Manochio’s handiwork is in the built-in shelving; on the to-do list is an art table for his son Luca. Another vision he has is a Skee-Ball table for the basement.

Often his motivation is practicality. “I can build it for cheaper than buying it,” he said. Bat boxes, for example, are something he intends to build in time for summer to control the mosquitoes. Whenever possible he uses scrap lumber, plywood even, and easy-to-get materials to make projects more cost-effective.

What all of his projects tend to have in common is utility, even if the intended use is for entertainment purposes. His workshop is furnished with Manochio’s own cabinetry and work surfaces. His need for order and well organized systems comes from the math-minded, logical left side of his brain, while some of his purely recreational pieces – the giant Connect Four game, lawn dice, a jumbo Jenga set and a colorful marble run for his neighbor with autism – belie a touch of whimsy from the right. He thinks in three dimensions.

His handcrafted exotic wood bowls are perhaps the perfect marriage of the two, exquisite in both function and form. One is 95 pieces of wood glued together, different shades of brown from the woods he gets from a specialty lumber dealer out near Trenton. Some pieces, such as the miniature “coinhole” boards (think Cornhole but smaller) that are always a hit at parties, get a laugh.

“Everybody loves games,” he said.

While he enjoys the building process, he said, “the end result is the best part.” The hobby, while expensive, he admitted (“Every time you do something new you’re like ‘Oh, I need this or that’”), provides an important counterbalance to his full-time work, keeps his brain stimulated and his hands busy, while keeping him home with his wife and young kids, as opposed to other leisure activities such as golf that might take him away from his family.

He also loves to share his knowledge with his nephews and kids in the neighborhood, showing them how to operate the lathe, perhaps inspiring them to explore woodworking themselves.

Speaking of inspiration, the annual Touch a Truck event that Manochio started and still organizes though the chamber is scheduled for April 28. The popular annual event brings families swarming to Manahawkin Lake Park to get a hands-on look at the various vehicles used in different lines of work, from police cruisers and firetrucks to dump trucks, construction equipment and more.

— Victoria Ford

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