Highland Woodworking Wood News Online, No. 147, November 2017Welcome to Highland Woodworking - Fine Tools & Education Learn more about Highland Woodworking View our current woodworking classes and seminars Woodworking articles and solutions Subscribe to Wood News
Women in Woodworking - Meet Erin Irber
By Andrea Ramsay
Seattle, WA

I first met Erin Irber in the summer woodworking program at the Krenov School of Fine Woodworking, formerly known as The College of Redwoods Fine Furniture Program. I enjoyed meeting Erin and hearing her story, and thought it would be a fun one to share in this column.

Erin's first foray into woodworking was many years ago in grade school. There was a woodshop teacher at her school who everyone loved and they all took his class. After she took the beginner's class she went on to take his advanced class where she won an award. She was a little embarrassed by the award, as she was the only girl. She finished that class with quite a bit of wood to bring home. This wood ended up in her Dad's "shop" and would ultimately inspire her dad to take up woodworking. He ended up building a full workshop, while Erin went on to do other non-woodworking things. In time, Erin moved back to the area where she grew up and had the opportunity to use her family shop. She inspired her Dad and he then re-inspired her.

I talked with Erin about what draws her into the shop and what keeps her engaged. She sees woodworking as a skill that is open to everyone, and sees herself as a regular person, not a fancy architect or artist. Along with the accessibility, she finds the woodworking processes to be very fulfilling. She loves the creative thinking, and is driven to continually solve problems all throughout the process. She mentally stays in the project by continually adapting to things being different than planned. She keeps coming back for that tangible, physical and emotionally gratifying experience. She told me she has cried over pieces. She cares a lot about her work.

Her first full project was a large, framed, pivoting floor mirror made of cherry. It was big, impressive, and challenging, but the joinery was simple to understand if not to make. Her recommendation for someone new to woodworking is to make something that you want, something you care about, something you will put time into and see through to the finish; she encourages you to get that gratification. By creating something you want and that you will use, you will get the "woodworking" bug. Use the tools that are available to you, find your path of least resistance, find your local resources and make something you care about, says Erin.
When the topic of women in woodworking came up she said she has observed that, while there are not a lot of us women in the field and sometimes we may feel very solo, she has found a very supportive environment from other women woodworkers. It's hard to know our numbers in the field, but it's always encouraging to see more and more women in woodworking.

When Erin and I first talked she was mulling over her interest in boat building and discussing her plan to build a kayak out of douglas fir and oak, working through the process of steam bending the ribs of the kayak.

Since interviewing her, she has gone back to The Krenov School and dedicated herself to their nine month, full-time intensive furniture program. She highly recommends the school and the challenge. The advantage and comradery of working side by side with 20 other, sometimes like-minded, woodworkers who are all sharing the same challenges is a privilege she embraces daily through the hard work, commitment and long hours. Her approach to woodworking has changed. She's noticed that there's less sanding and less noise than when she began. She hadn't done much hand tool work previously, but she's learned a lot and keeps pushing herself. She's changed her approach to joinery and has a better understanding of joinery choices. I expect she will continue to change as she learns and spends over forty hours a week in the shop just focusing on making. It's a lot of work and I'm excited for her, and a little jealous. It is wonderful to see all of the amazing pieces she crafts and I am going to continue to follow her story.

You can follow Erin on instagram @erinirb.

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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