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Women in Woodworking
Meet Ali Harrington

by Andrea Ramsay
Seattle, WA

Click on any picture to see a larger version.

This month I had the opportunity to get to know Ali Harrington and to hear her story. Ali is a woodworker dedicated to building custom, heirloom quality furniture. She finds joy in creating one of a kind pieces that meet her clients needs.

Ali comes from a mechanical background and has been fascinated with how things are put together from an early age. She has fond memories playing with Lincoln Logs and Legos as a child. As she grew older, she had the desire to pursue a deeper understanding of mechanics. After she moved to the Seattle area from the Midwest, she went to school to become an aircraft mechanic. She wished to be a pilot but thought it wise to be a mechanic to become fully knowledgeable about the aircraft she would be flying. So, she worked hard and received her airframe and powerplant mechanics license. For several years she worked on both large and small aircraft where she was often the only woman on an all male crew.

"In 2004, I met the love of my life and decide to move from city living to a small coastal town where my partner was living and thriving in her career." Ali moved and reinvented herself. With little need for aircraft mechanics in her new community, she acquired a job at the local hardware store. While working at the hardware store, having no knowledge about how to build things out of wood, she built herself a pair of adirondack chairs for her front porch. Having been an aircraft mechanic, she thought "how hard could it be to build a chair?" She borrowed the tools necessary from a friend, followed a plan and built the most sturdy, the most weatherproof and the most uncomfortable pair of chairs. "But, I built them myself" she said. Pride from making those chairs carried her for a while, and she built all sorts of items. "I continued building pieces for others part time out of my home woodshop, but I had the desire to create furniture that was more sophisticated and heirloom quality." It was at the hardware store that she met her soon to be woodworking mentor. "He was a well known craftsman of Stickley style furniture and a regular customer that ordered many items pertaining to building furniture." So one day, Ali asked him if he would consider teaching her and sharing his knowledge. He was very reluctant because at that point she had never held a chisel or used any hand tools for woodworking. She convinced him that she was very skilled in her trade as an aircraft mechanic, that she was a quick study and was willing to learn a new trade given the opportunity. Ultimately he took her under his wing.

For the next five years, Ali worked with her mentor learning the basics and moved on to crafting large pieces of furniture. He taught her how to hold a chisel, how to cut a straight line with a pull saw, and how to cut and finesse dovetails by hand. He was thorough in his teaching and taught her "..how to WORK wood." He was a brilliant craftsman and shared his knowledge generously with her. During the five years with him she built boxes, a chair, a rocking chair, a side table, a coffee table and finally a large book case. Ali found a design style that spoke to her, primarily Stickley, American Craftsman style, which was also her mentor's style of choice. Three years ago her mentor passed away and Ali's woodworking path moved on to the next chapter.

"It took a tiny bit to gather the confidence to work wood on my own without my mentor to discuss projects." She found her way and for the past three years she has been blessed with the opportunity to focus full-time on building custom furniture. She feels privileged to work in her own shop, by herself, creating beautiful and functional items that will last for generations for her customers.

I asked Ali her thoughts on being a woman in woodworking: "I have had plenty of experiences both positive and negative working in professions most commonly worked by men. One of the most wonderful things about working for myself is that I don't need to tolerate condescending, sexist or arrogant behavior from others on a daily basis. It was both men and woman who seemed to struggle with the idea that a woman might be knowledgeable and even more knowledgeable than a guy standing next to me." She says the struggle is real and it has been very important for her to have learned how to find the positive from all of her experiences and now to help others navigate through life similarly.

Ali is currently building a large, square coffee table for some clients who were customers and dear friends of her mentor. He made them many custom pieces throughout their home. Ali said that it is a great honor to build this table for them. They wanted an Ali Harrington piece to go along with the many pieces of furniture they have from her mentor. She is finishing up a few small pieces before packing up her shop. Ali is taking herself, her wife, their cute brown dog and their six chickens and are heading north up the Olympic Peninsula to Sequim, WA. She is excited for this new chapter to begin and to be moving to an area that has such a rich woodworking community.

For a newcomer to woodworking, Ali suggests "learn as much as you can from a seasoned craftsman, build things even when you don't have an audience, set aside your ego, stay humble and encourage others, always." One final piece of advice she has is to be kind to yourself.

Ali can be reached in the following ways:

Email Ali

Ali's Facebook Page

Ali's Instagram

Ali's favorite beginner projects are building a cutting board and a picture frame. She chose a cutting board "..because gluing pieces of wood together accurately translates later into building tabletops, seat tops, stool tops and more." She recommends a picture frame as there are many ways to join the pieces together to form a frame and those skills later translate into making boxes, drawers, table bodies, and bookcases.

Here is a straight forward walk through on building a cutting board from Start Woodworking: http://www.startwoodworking.com/plans/build­edge­grain­cutting­board

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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