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Women in Wodoworking
By Anne Briggs Bohnett


Building my first tree fort

Since the first time my Grandfather handed me a tool as a toddler in his woodworking shop, I've been obsessed with making things. I spent my entire childhood in the quest for the coolest tree fort, the fastest go-kart, the best cane pole to fish the stream behind our house. Though I spent most of my time working alone, looking back I now see that everything I was ever truly passionate about had more to do with the people and potential for relationships than the actual finished project itself. Tree forts meant club meetups and sleepovers, Go-karts meant races with friends, the more fish I caught, the more people I could invite to eat.

Having fairly superficially pursued countless hobbies my whole life, three years ago I decided it was time to finally get serious and focus on just one thing. I don't know why I, a young woman who loves to be with people, who cares far more about building relationships than building furniture (or anything else for that matter), chose a hobby and eventually a career path that has, at least for the last 40 years, largely been dominated by older men who love to work alone, but here I am.

Handtool Woodwork has captured my heart

I didn't know any local woodworkers, and as I jumped into the rabbit hole that is handtool woodwork, my growing passion for the craft began to make me feel increasingly isolated from the community around me. As I worked alone in my garage, I had no one with whom to share my triumphs and failures, and most importantly, I didn't have anyone to call when I got stuck. I love reading, so in my initial excitement, I voraciously consumed 300 some woodworking related books and blogs that first year, but unfortunately while the subject matter interested me, I really didn't learn much. I don't possess the ability to learn techniques by reading and following set plans is nearly impossible for me, so when I got stuck, I was really stuck, and ready to give up woodwork altogether.

Fortunately for me, right around that time, I discovered the growing community of woodworkers freely sharing photos of their work, tips, and tricks through the social media website, Instagram. Suddenly, I had the ability to snap a picture of my problem joint or ornery tool with my camera phone and have instant access to the help, advice and encouragement of other knowledgeable woodworkers from around the world. I had previously tried to join several other online woodworking communities but was quickly disenchanted by what I perceived to be a lack of desire to freely share and build relationships in favor of a far more competitive atmosphere. Another really awesome surprise that Instagram afforded me was that there are, in fact, other women woodworkers out there, and what's more, women HANDTOOL woodworkers. If there weren't 1000 other things I owe to Instagram, my friendship with local handtool woodworker, Marilyn Guthrie (check out her blog www.sheworkswood.com), is absolutely priceless.

Posing with my first shop dog and my
first finished commissioned piece

Marilyn and I started getting together regularly to talk woodwork and collaborate on projects soon after meeting on Instagram. She is farther along in her woodworking journey than I, so she has been an excellent resource for particularly tough questions. She has been kind and generous with her time and tools. Instagram has afforded us both the opportunity to expand our "real life" woodworking community. She had also formerly struggled with the loneliness associated not only with being a handtool woodworker in a sea of tablesaws and routers, but also being the only woman she knew of in the industry.

Marilyn Guthrie is awesome

With Kim Mcintyre and Marilyn Guthrie
at the Seattle Lie-Nielsen show

My conversations with Marilyn and other women woodworkers have carried so many shockingly similar strains that an idea for a regular written column began to ruminate in my mind. When Highland Woodworking approached me to write for them, we all decided their newsletter would be the perfect venue for the idea, so please follow along, encourage all your friends (male or female) to pick up a few quality hand tools and do the same. Each month I hope to interview a new woman in woodwork and include a short tutorial on an easy beginner project for those interested in delving into the awesomely rewarding world of handtool woodwork.

To prepare for some forthcoming tutorials, I've got a bit of homework for you- assemble a toolkit. Borrow from your friends. Start saving some money to invest in quality tools. I'm all about being thrifty and having the minimum toolkit to do the maximum amount of work, and since I'm always asked by beginners looking to take the handtool plunge, here's what I consider to be the minimum toolkit for handtool woodwork:

Though there are many more tools that can later be added to your toolkit, I think you will find that you will be able to get a really good start with these tools. You can use them and then add to your toolkit as you grow in skill and can know better where your needs lie.

Next month in "Women in Woodworking" I sit down with Andrea Ramsay, a woodworker who just completed the three month handtool intensive at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking. We'll have a few laughs and tackle the first beginner project every woodworker should tackle - a shop made straightedge.

Anne Briggs Bohnett is a 26 year old woodworker out of Seattle, Washington. She and her husband Adam own and operate a small farm aimed at teaching youngsters about animal husbandry, traditional woodwork, and it's also where their food comes from! Anne has been seriously pursuing woodwork with a focus on handtool use for three years and is passionate about the preservation of traditional methods and skills and building community.

Anne can be reached directly via email at briggs.anne@gmail.com and you can check out her website at www.anneofalltrades.com.

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