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Where are all the Girls in the Shop? - Meet Katie Jackson

by Andrea Ramsay
Seattle, WA

Click on any picture to see a larger version.

Editor's Note: We are happy to announce that Andrea Ramsay who was featured in this column in the August 2015 issue of Wood News Online has taken over interviewing and compiling this column from her friend, Anne Briggs Bohnett. We are excited to welcome Andrea to Wood News Online and we know she'll do a great job highlighting the amazing women in the world of woodworking!

Photo by Patrick Tassos

When Anne Briggs Bohnett asked me to take over this column I said yes immediately. I knew I would get to meet, either virtually or in person, inspiring and amazing people. This month I had the opportunity to get to know Katie Jackson and hear her story. Katie is an inspiration, a do­er, active in building community, mentoring and teaching others. She is currently finishing a book, Hand­Built Outdoor Furniture: 20 Projects Anyone Can Build, to be released in April.

Katie was introduced to woodworking as a kid, building projects, such as a wooden go­kart, with her engineer Dad. Her Dad introduced her to 1994 AutoCAD and had her digitally model her projects. She's still working on her computer­aided drawing skills but prefers her planning process to take place on post­it notes. She studied visual arts and education at Bennington College. During those summers, she worked for two years in the drama department of a girls' camp, and became passionate about building sets. When the camp director asked her to head the woodworking department, she wasn't entirely confident that she could take the safety of children in a wood shop into her hands, so the camp director sent her to a course at a foundation called Girls At Work. The course trained camp counselors to teach woodworking to "at­risk" girls; it was about woodworking safety and technique, but its greater purpose was empowering girls with skills and confidence. That concept really resonated with her, and she loved teaching woodworking so much that she continued teaching for four years and went on to study cabinetmaking at New England School of Architectural Woodworking.

Trapezoid! Bench detail of the cracks and nail holes in the reclaimed wood.
Photo by Katie Jackson

After working in a few different wood shops, she moved out to the Bay Area and started building custom furniture with a partner, Lilah Crews­Pless. "There was such a wealth of salvaged materials to be had that we built our pieces almost entirely out of reclaimed wood: my favorites were giant old factory beams that we turned into tables and benches. We planed or sanded down the outside surfaces just enough to reveal the beautiful wood within, but left the nail holes and cracks to tell the wood's story." All of the furniture was flat­pack as well, not because of any grand design scheme, but simply because her car wouldn't have been able to haul around anything larger. The two worked out of a wonderful makerspace called TechShop, both in San Francisco and in Menlo Park (the latter has since moved its location to Redwood City). Lilah decided to pursue other paths, and so "Lilah Crews­Pless and Katie Jackson Woodworks" became "Katie Jackson Woodworks." While Katie was attempting to determine the future of Katie Jackson Woodworks, an editor from Timber Press asked her to author a project­based book on building outdoor furniture. She moved cross-country to Connecticut and became involved with NESIT Hackerspace. This is where she built and photographed the twenty projects for her book.

I asked Katie her thoughts on women in woodworking: "I consider myself fortunate to have been educated in environments where one's work is judged based on skill, talent and ability rather than on some arbitrary factor such as gender. Starting out in woodworking, I don't even remember considering the fact that being a female woodworker was unusual. I certainly didn't intend to be some kind of champion of women in woodworking, but as I started working in shops where being a woman was unusual, I realized that, for better or for worse, my gender was a factor in how I was perceived as person and as a craftsperson, and I now try to support other women and girls who are interested in woodworking as much as I can. I am happy to say that over my years of being a woodworker, I have noticed the numbers and reputation of women in woodworking skyrocketing. There is still a ways to go until as many little girls get tool sets as little boys do, but we are already well on that path." Her experience of running the woodshop at a girls' camp cemented her love of teaching and mentoring. "My woodworkers were between 9 and 13 years old, and I got to work with them for the whole summer, which meant I was able to watch them grow, over each summer and over the years, from being timid about even holding a drill/driver to being insatiable for more and more time in the wood shop and creating beautiful projects. Kids without fear are capable of amazing things, regardless of the expectations that may have been previously set for their gender."

A workshop with the Newark, New Jersey Boys' and Girls' Club.
Photo by Andrew Peterson

Katie has this advice for those new to woodworking and really for us all: "Ask for help! I was timid about asking for help as a teenager and I lost what could have been years of project­making. I've found, however, that most people who love building are tickled pink to be asked for advice about the thing they love to do...tool libraries, craft schools, makerspaces and hackerspaces, and woodworking clubs are wonderful resources for a woodworker of any level of experience. It's so important to support these institutions, so craft making continues through the generations."

Katie is now member of a shared workshop space called NESIT Hackerspace. This year they bought an Epilog laser cutter. She's learning about the intersection of woodworking and new technology. "Fortunately for me, most of the people at NESIT know a lot more than me about new technology (the IT in NESIT stands for information and technology) and are willing to help me figure out vector graphics editing and computer aided design."

"Conversely, many of the people at the Hackerspace haven't learned much about woodworking. I'm the 'Woodshop Czarina', and we've raised money over the last year to purchase a SawStop Table Saw, so I've been teaching a series of table saw classes. Being part of a workshop with members of such a diverse range of knowledge means we all get to learn from one another."

Katie in the woodshop.
Photo by Patrick Tassos

When I asked Katie what she enjoys most about woodworking, her answer is one we can all relate to: "Between having a hundred things to do at once and being surrounded by glowing screens demanding my attention wherever I go, it's a struggle to concentrate fully on any single task. Working in the shop, though, is like a meditation. One hundred percent of my attention is focused, and my brain is so happy to get the chance to function that way."

Look for Katie's book, Hand­Built Outdoor Furniture: 20 Projects Anyone Can Build, coming out in April with Timber Press. She plans to be teaching classes in conjunction with the book's release.

Katie can be found here: KatieJacksonWoodworks.com and here Facebook.com/KatieJacksonWoodworks.

Katie's Favorite Beginner Project

"For beginners, I love teaching them how to make the Shaker Pegboard Shelf project. It's a two­part project made out of 1" pine: the Shaker Pegboard part was the first project we made in our class for woodworking teachers at Girls At Work, and adding the shelf and brackets can be optional (or even built separately without the pegboard). This project introduces some basic power tools in an appropriate order: first, a palm sander for the pegboard, which is loud (and therefore scary) without having too much of a risk for injury." Katie explains that after a student gets comfortable with the sander, they then learn measuring tricks, such as easily finding the center of a board. The next step is the drill press and then to mallet the pegs in place. Quickly you will have a finished project, and with that instant gratification comes confidence. If you choose, you can go on to build the brackets, cut the shelf piece to length on a miter saw, and attach it all together, learning how to counter­bore holes for screws and filling the holes with flush cut plugs. This project is a favorite choice of Katie's students even in upper level classes, and it is now the first project in her book.

A variety of pegboards can be made from the Shaker pegboard shelf plans.
Photo by Ellen Blackmar



Andrea Ramsay is a dedicated student of hand tool woodworking since attending Port Townsend School of Woodworking and completing their three month intensive program. She left the technology world in 2014 and is happy every day that she traded in her laptop for a chisel. She does commissioned work out of her shop in Seattle's Equinox Studios.

Andrea can be reached directly via email at andrearamsay@gmail.com and you can check out her website at www.andrearamsay.com and follow her on Instagram at @andrearrr.



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