This month I got to know Marilyn Guthrie a little better. I've been a fan of Marilyn for awhile, she has a great blog,
, with loads of helpful information that I highly recommend checking out. Marilyn shares what she knows and what she learns with such generosity you know that is just who she is. We met at Pratt Fine Arts Center in Seattle and she brought a walnut log, a froe, axe and carving tools for us to work together carving a green spoon. Marilyn again sharing her learning, her tools and a nice walnut log.
Marilyn became interested in woodworking, like many people, after she found herself with a garage full of tools from remodeling her 1906 home. She had previously attempted a bookcase project unsuccessfully, not finding the help she needed and abandoning the project. When the house remodel was finished in 2009 she found Marc Spagnuolo, aka The Wood Whisperer, and using his project videos made her first big project, a chest of drawers. She's been hooked ever since. When she reflects back she says "My only regret is that I didn't get exposed to woodworking sooner. I grew up in Texas and, in Jr. High and High School, girls weren't allowed to take shop, only sewing and homemaking."
Marilyn says her favorite part of woodworking is using handtools and she points out that there are so many great sources of hand tool knowledge such as Chris Schwarz and
. It's a great time to be a hand tool woodworker with so many avenues for inspiration and knowledge along with a great resurgence of smaller hand tool manufacturers. She says if you live in a larger city you can buy most of your wood pre-dimensioned, "since dimensioning/milling wood is kind of a chore." She does recommend a somewhat hybrid approach, "If you're going to make furniture, owning a thickness planer and a bandsaw (the wood working sewing machine) will make things easier and expand your horizons." She has really enjoyed learning to make things in this way, primarily by hand. "If you don't want to have machines, there are plenty of other woodworking rabbit holes to pursue." For example last May, Marilyn took a class with Peter Galbert at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking here in Washington State. She made a Windsor chair learning to use a draw knife, scorp and travisher, making the large majority of the chair by hand and loving it. A lathe was used to make the legs, but a lathe is not required as you could shape them by hand or have a turner make the legs and stretchers for you. "If you think about it, before power tools, hand work is how everything was made" she reminds us. For Marilyn as a hobbyist wood worker, she feels hand tools are the way to go, "You need less space and I think it's a lot more approachable with some good support." You can find good quality online and
in most areas of the country.
Reminding her about her junior high experience and not being allowed to take woodworking or shop because those classes were only for boys at the time, I asked what it's like for her to be a women in the woodworking field today. "It's been really fun being a woman who is a woodworker. All of the guys I've met seem to enjoy knowing female woodworkers. There are a lot more women woodworkers out there than you might think. I've met many of them through Instagram. It's been a blast getting to know them. I'm awed by things that my female woodworker friends are doing."
Marilyn's advice to those new to woodworking is to pick a project that you really want to make and then buy the best tools you can afford to make it. She says if you can't afford the tools then look to local community colleges, art centers or maker spaces such as Pratt Fine Arts in Seattle. These shared spaces often have some of the larger, more expensive tools you may need. Additionally, these spaces can also be a great place to meet other woodworkers and begin to build a community. Marilyn suggests an end grain cutting board as a starter project, it can be accomplished with minimal time investment and expose you to several key learnings preparing you to move on to that larger project without getting discouraged. She recommends following the
Wood Whisperer's how-to video
and then you can't go wrong. If you want some good online hand tool education Marilyn says to also check out "Shannon Roger's
Hand Tool School
" which has a bunch of beginner projects that will also help you set up shop."
Find out more about Marilyn by
visiting her website
or by emailing her at
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
and you can check out her website at
and follow her on Instagram at