Interview with 4 Woodworking Women

Men dominated the woodworking industry for a long time. In the past few decades, more and more women are deciding to take this road—some as a hobby, while others are becoming professional woodworkers. One of the reasons lies in the increasing popularity of DIY and maker culture. More and more people are rediscovering the joy of making things from scratch, and wood is a great material that can be used for a number of things.

Just like many other industries, the woodworking industry today is using modern technologies that help make the work easier and accessible to more people.

We spoke to several women in the woodworking industry who shared their experiences, why they started doing this, the challenges they are facing, and much more. Let’s meet them.

 

Patt Gregory - Woodwork For Women

Patt Gregory

Patt Gregory is the founder of Woodwork for Women (1995) and the author of a book of the same name—her personal passion and work that reflect her years of learning about woodwork. She imparts all the knowledge she attained from being a female joinery student through her woodwork classes right from her own home studio. All these endeavors lead to her ultimate goal: to create a non-competitive and a fun learning environment for current and future women woodworkers.

Q: Did you always know that woodworking was what you wanted to do? What made you start?

I was brought up on a dairy farm in West Gippsland, Victoria with two older brothers. They looked to me like they had all the fun. They had rifles and daisy air guns, knives and sling shots and went rabbiting at night on a ute overflowing with excited lads and a big spotlight. I wore pretty dresses and kept quiet. At 18, I wore overalls and helped my boyfriends pull engines and gearboxes out of cars and fix them. It didn't cross my mind that I could have got an apprenticeship as a Mechanic. So of course woodworking wouldn't be even on the radar.

I had been looking for work that was a bit more exciting than the Secretarial work I had done for years. So when I saw an ad to train as a Private Detective in Bristol, UK while I was living there, I jumped at it. It didn't live up to my expectations at all but while I was into it a year or more, I noticed a little one line ad in the Bristol Evening Post that said 'woodwork for women' evening classes and something resonated within me.

It was held in one of the women's little cottages, upstairs in the lounge room that had carpet on the floor and a TV in the corner. I loved that the setting was so different from my preconceived ideas of what a woodworking environment would look like. And to this day, I practice that incongruity by having things like a chandelier in my workshop to show that woodwork can be feminine and sexy! During the woodwork evening course, I sort of had an aha moment where I felt a huge desire to become a Carpenter/Joiner.

Later, I trained alongside 26 lads on an intensive government initiative and gained the knowledge equivalent to a 4-year apprenticeship. I built a staircase, a cabinet, a dovetailed toolbox, a full sized 6 glass paneled door and a wall with an opening where I hung the door, made a window, did roofing, stud partition and so much more. I loved every bit of it, but I struggled. I didn't get it like the boys seemed to.

I needed more information, but didn't know the right questions to ask. Nevertheless, I never missed a day. I got on really well with the lads, and we always had a laugh. They were all younger than me and were a bit impressed that a girl would want work with her hands. I made good friends. My boss taught me like everyone else—with the sink or swim method. I mostly sank. Or thought I did. My work was actually quite acceptable, but I received no feedback. Nor did anyone else.

Q: How long have you been working as a woodworker?

My first job a a building site was alarming because my boss as it turned out, had very poor safety practises and made many building shortcuts - the opposite of how I had been taught. I was a curiosity on the site, and not really taken seriously. I quit.

I applied for a job teaching woodwork to young lads just out of school on a govt funded youth scheme, and was secretly enjoying the fact that my name Pat Gregory could easily pass for a male name. It did. And sure enough I got an interview. And I got the job.

I became a woodwork teacher in 1985 and taught until 1987 and then became a parent. I created a shop business (selling upmarket recycled kids stuff) that I could take my baby to until she was old enough to go to school. I then created my current business Woodwork for Women in 1995 and have been teaching from my home/studio workshop for the past 24 years.

Q: Are you perceived differently from your male colleagues because you’re a woman?

In the recent years, I have had a lot more to do with tradeswomen, most who get on really well with men on site. There is always the exception in any field, and the stories are not pretty. Of the women who come to learn at my workshop, most for the very first time of admit that they prefer a woman teacher as they fear that men will think they are not capable and start telling them what to do or criticize and take over.

Q: Why do you think there aren’t more women in woodworking?

If more women taught women, I believe there would be many more in the trade. Now there are women's sheds and brigades of women teaching girls in schools and other communities about woodwork and the ball is slowly rolling that way.

Q: What’s the most interesting reaction you got from someone for being a female woodworker?

I get reactions all the time, because Im petite, feminine, in a 65 year old body which doesn't fit with most people's perception of a woodworker carpenter/joiner! It's mostly facial expressions rather than what people say. They say, "Really?" and proceed to ask me what I do exactly.

This question was asked online by a male recently:

Why "Woodwork for Women"?

I can only speak for myself. When I was learning woodwork in my training as a Carpenter/Joiner I found that I needed all the tiny bits of information filled in, but there was a lot of assumed knowledge, and that I found, made me feel incompetent and not very smart. Like how to hold a Tenon saw correctly, with the right body stance.

Some just fall into a natural position which helps a good result of a straight cut. Not me, I'm afraid! It wasn't natural and I struggled. So, I broke down the components into little bits and found it made a huge difference.

This is now how I teach both women and men who come to my classes. (There are heaps of men who haven't got this natural ability also and they welcome the information I give.)

And I call it "Woodwork for Women", even though I also teach men and have done so for over twenty years, because it encourages women to have a go. They know they won't be expected to know stuff like how to hold a drill or drive a screw, and that I start at the very beginning.

But it's not dumbed down. Not at all. That would be demeaning. No, it's about the empowerment of having the knowledge. The relevant knowledge. My self published book, "Woodwork for Women, Cutting a New Path for Beginners", is all about that. Chunking down the information so it flows naturally for the complete beginner. Thank you for your question. I'm really glad you asked as I know it's in the back of some people's minds.

Q: What do you wish you had known before you became a woodworker? Do you have advice for women considering this profession?

I wish I'd known that its perfectly fine to ask questions and to insist on more information to aid learning without the fear of disdain or impatience. I wish that it had been acceptable that trade apprenticeships were available to girls, too.

My advice would be to learn and pursue this wonderful craft as there are a huge array of avenues including cabinet making, furniture making, carving, wood turning and lathe work, carpentry and building and teaching.

Its very rewarding but being in business can be hard work with small returns financially. For me the joy of watching a student go from no skills, no confidence to huge confidence and ready to start making in just three days, is the biggest reward for me.

 

Jennifer Gripe - 7 Mile Designs

Jennifer is part time woodworker and the owner of 7 Mile Designs. It's a DIY project, home improvement, woodcrafting business and a blog. She does it all from her garage in North Central Oklahoma.

Q: Did you always know that woodworking was what you wanted to do? What made you start?

Woodworking was never on my radar. Of course, neither was my chosen profession, but I wouldn't have either any other way. How I got into woodworking is a bit of a long answer so brace yourself.

Growing up, my dad could do any project any of us dreamed up for him like it was no big deal. As I got older and bought a home of my own, I had an ever increasing laundry list of home improvements and projects I wanted. Most of the time, I could sweet talk my dad or con a friend into doing the project for me. It finally got to a point that I was tired of having to rely on someone else and their timeline to get stuff done. I also wanted to have the knowledge to do it myself in the future. I knew I could do it, or at least attempt it, if I had a way to learn.

I had always been handy and crafty, but my skills were limited to pretty much a drill and some scissors. My first project on my own was tiling my kitchen back splash. I know, I know, what does tiling have to do with woodworking? I'm getting there. I read blogs, watched videos, and got a little in person guidance from a friend and got it done. And done really well, even for a first time tile job. This was the first instance I had ever used a saw. It gave me more confidence than I realized.

A short time later, I began seeing gorgeous reclaimed dining tables but they were priced way too high for my budget. I also didn't really need a new dining table but once an idea enters my mind, it doesn't go away. I found some of the same reclaimed lumber for sale and decided, "I can tile a wall, therefore I can make a table!" I found some plans online from Shanty 2 Chic and used them to create my table base. Then I used the gorgeous reclaimed wood to make a top. While working on this table, I found a new love and the beginnings of 7MD were born.

Q: How long have you been working as a woodworker?

I have been woodworking for almost two years. While I have so to much learn and many skills to improve, I've come a long way in a short time. I'm heavily active in the online woodworking community (kickstarted by joining Instagram) and have learned more from my newfound friends than I ever would have on my own.

While I can't take woodworking full time until I'm eligible for retirement (benefits y'all), my hope is to continue to grow my skills and business as a side gig so that it's all ready for me to hit the ground running once I do retire.

Q: Are you perceived differently from your male colleagues because you’re a woman?

While there are some out there with their comments and assumptions, I really don't feel like I'm treated that differently. My career is in a male dominated profession. Many of the women woodworkers I know are in the same situation. My thoughts and experiences have always been if you want to be treated the same, act the same. That's not to say you must conform to a man's ideal, rather just be you.

Don't treat women in a traditionally male profession as an oddity. Simply treat it as what it is—normal. It drives me up the wall to distinguish gender in relation to a profession. For a majority of the time, it makes no difference if a person is a man or woman doing a specific job. There is no need to go out and proclaim you are a woman doing a man's job.

Simply proclaim you are doing a job and doing it well. People will treat you accordingly. Sure, I've gotten the offhanded comments like, "What Pinterest project are you working on today?" or "You girls do a pretty good job, but get more attention because you're girls." I've also received a handful of inappropriately sexual messages from guys simply because of my appearance but I just deem it not worth my time and ignore it or send back a snarky comment. My favorite comments (favorite = most annoying) are when I'm out shopping with my boyfriend.

It's clearly obvious I'm the one picking out the tools and lumber, I'm usually the one carrying the items or pushing the cart, and I'm the one paying for them but they still ask what honey do I have on his list or say it'd sure be nice if they could get their wife to pay for their goodies. Feel free to correct these people. I do. As I learned in my first job as a grocery store clerk, don't comment about what people buy.

Q: Why do you think there aren’t more women in woodworking?

If you actually get out and look, you'll find a ton of women in woodworking. I could go on and on about the women whose work I follow and greatly admire. They just don't always toot their own horn, so to speak. They're plugging away on their own projects and builds and letting the work speak for itself.

I think that part of the reason women aren't more prevalent in the business may be because of intimidation. They may not believe they can actually do it. Tools are also a big intimidators. Not only in their operation, but when selecting which tools you need and the cost associated with them.

In all reality, you just need to start small. I borrowed many of the tools I started with and still use some of the borrowed tools. The very first power tool I bought on my own was a $30 Black and Decker jigsaw. I can't even tell you now what project it was for, but I remember buying it. For a beginner woodworker, I'd recommend a circular saw, a sander, a drill, and a speed square. You can accomplish so much with so little.

Q: What’s the most interesting reaction you got from someone for being a female woodworker?

Most of the time when someone finds out that I dabble in woodworking, I get an, "Oh, that's cool" or something similar. People are receptive to the notion. Sometimes it's seen a bit as a novelty and people are excited to point it out when introducing me to others. Now, I'm sure people have their own ideas of what "woodworking" means but nothing good comes from assuming.

I simply show them pictures of my work and let those pictures tell the story. Like I said before, I've gotten some offhanded comments but I really don't have what I'd consider an interesting reaction story. In the words of my dear friend Lo, it's not like they say "Prove it! Woodworking challenge, right here, right now!"

Q: What do you wish you had known before you became a woodworker? Do you have advice for women considering this profession?

What do I wish I had known before becoming a woodworker? How to do things right the first time! Ha! No, the learning experience, while aggravating, is part of the process.

I wish I had known that everything I own was going to be covered in sawdust and my garage was going to be taken over by tools, lumber, and other supplies. I don't regret taking this path. (Although looming deadlines and no free time sometimes make me question that.)

My biggest advice for other women considering this is to just do it. Start with smaller projects to get your feet wet or I suppose you could do like I did and start big right out of the gate. Get involved in the woodworking community somehow. The easiest way is to sign up for an Instagram account and start searching the woodworking related hashtags. You'll find support, knowledge, and genuine friendships. Don't compare yourself to someone else. Just do you and progress at your own pace.

If you don't understand something, don't be afraid to ask. There was a time none of us knew what these terms meant and techniques were. And finally, remember that most people only share their successes. They don't share the struggles and mistakes but I assure you, they are there.

 

Danielle Thomas

danielle thomas

Danielle is a wife and mother of 2 boys who always keep her on her toes (as she describes it). Besides having a love for woodworking, she is also a health coach, which has helped her being home full-time to be with her kids and work on her woodworking business.

Q: Did you always know that woodworking was what you wanted to do? What made you start?

No, I never truly knew what I wanted to do until I came across a Pinterest board of woodworking with pallets. I took one look at the picture, loved the final piece, and said to myself how I could definitely make that!

Now at that time, I had never picked up a saw or any other piece of woodworking equipment before. I told my husband and my Dad that I wanted to try and build reclaimed furniture, and that Christmas I got all the power tools I needed to start my new adventure.

I remember going out in my garage, in winter, and building my first coffee table. I had no plans, just an image in my mind, and it turned out great! That was about 8 years ago, and to this day, it remains a passion of mine.

Q: How long have you been working as a woodworker?

Eight years now. Everything I've learned over the years has been trial and error. I have taught myself so much and continue to learn as the years go on.

Q: Are you perceived differently from your male colleagues because you’re a woman?

Yes, but not in a negative way. Many men are actually very impressed with what I do, because I don't just do woodworking, I do everything that a "Mr. Fix It" would do. For instance, I just fixed our Central Air system, by diagnosing the problem and replacing the capacitor.

Finding my passion for woodworking has opened up a passion for fixing, updating, and repurposing. Every man I come in contact with is very impressed with the fact that a woman can do what I do. I don't take that as an insult because I believe that any woman can do these things, it's just a matter of trying.

Q: Why do you think there aren’t more women in woodworking?

I feel like woodworking is intimidating for many women because of the tools involved, which is understandable. I mean, I've watched my older brother be intimidated by my table saw, a piece of equipment that I use regularly. It's a matter of getting the nerve to try and becoming comfortable with the tools.

Q: What’s the most interesting reaction you got from someone for being a female woodworker?

It's basically all the same, really. Many people are just impressed, which is understandable because woodworking has never been looked at as being a woman's trade. I'm here to say that a woman can do anything that a man can do and I'm actually the proof.

Q: What do you wish you had known before you became a woodworker? Do you have advice for women considering this profession?

I wish I would have found it sooner actually, but I believe everything comes into your life when God intends for it.

My advice for other women would be to just try it! Don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Ask for help in operating the tools or heck, watch some YouTube videos! You never know what you are capable of until you actually try and you may find that you absolutely love it and are extremely good at it!

 

Peggy Farrington - PF Woodturning

Peggy Farrington

Peggy Farrington is a full-time professional public health worker with a knack for woodworking. She began exploring the woodworking world in an attempt to do a new creative hobby, which she ended up loving. While she has been a woodworker for just under half a year, her passion for it pushes her to continue learning about the craft.

Q: Did you always know that woodworking was what you wanted to do? What made you start?

No. I have a day job in healthcare management. What made me start was the need to have a creative outlet, to do something with my hands, to create. I started because I needed to balance work and life stress.

Q: How long have you been working as a woodworker?

Five months.

Q: Are you perceived differently from your male colleagues because you’re a woman?

I don't know for sure, but I assume so. When I go into hardware stores, sometimes I get asked if "my husband" needs one of these as well as what I'm buying. People assume I buying something for a male partner.

Q: Why do you think there aren’t more women in woodworking?

I think just because of stereotypical attitudes that most people have, even without realizing it.

Q: What’s the most interesting reaction you got from someone for being a female woodworker?

Being in a hardware store and asking the clerk for help in locating a specific item—which I had written down on a piece of paper. He took the piece of paper, read it, and said, "are you sure your husband wanted this one?"

Q: What do you wish you had known before you became a woodworker? Do you have advice for women considering this profession?

I wish I had been exposed to more woodworking as a child or younger person. Advice for women entering this profession—well I don't really feel qualified to give advice, since I am so new to this. But if I had to give any advice it would be to not let stereotypes stop you from doing something you enjoy.

Woodworking is indeed an industry for everyone—it is a craft for women as much it is for men. Patt Gregory, Jennifer Gripe, Danielle Thomas, and Peggy Farrington are just some of the few that broke the stereotypes and have proven that women can flourish in this field, too. Their decision to pursue a rare path for women to take serves as a trailblazer for other women to follow, especially with the development and advancement of the woodworking and DIY culture. Hopefully, we’ll see more women taking on woodworking and other industries (like Stopcocks in plumbing), as a hobby or a full-time career, as these women encourage a better woodworking environment where women can confidently thrive in.

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