what it's like being a woman woodworker - the victories and struggles

When I started Nadine Stay I had no clue how to sand wood correctly or how to seal furniture properly, let alone how to use power tools! It was all foreign to me. My first ever project was restoring a 6ft solid oak dining table with two pedestal legs. (Small first project right!?)

Chris taught me how to use a power sander and showed me what the wood should look like when the finish has been sanded off. He then showed me how to stain the table top evenly and what products to use to seal my beautifully stained wood. Want to see a picture of this table?

what it's like being a woman woodworker - the victories and struggles

This beast of a table was my first attempt at sanding, staining, applying poly, white wash painting, and sealing the base. I loved restoring furniture so I dove in and learned as much as I possibly could about products and materials.

After a year of business, I was in my shop looking at some wood boxes that Chris made. They were leftovers from a different project we were working on but I didn't want to waste the wood so I designed a piece of furniture out of those two boxes. I convinced Chris to build my design and it turned out to be BEAUTIFUL! 

I decided to design two other pieces of furniture and some artwork to add to my collection and all of a sudden we found ourselves building rather than refurbishing. At the beginning Chris did most of the building but the demand was growing and he just didn't have enough time to build the amount that we needed. 

So it was time that I put on my big girl pants and learn how to use these dreaded power tools. I started with a chop saw. Turns out that's pretty simple as long as you're being safe about it. Then I learned how to use a nail gun. (By far my favorite tool in case you're wondering) Then the router, circular saw, jointer, and a handful more.

what it's like being a woman woodworker - the victories and struggles

Of course I wasn't good with these tools at first, but I used them again and again and again until my work really started to look professional. I found myself going into Home Depot looking for tools and supplies and feeling super proud of myself that I was a woman going into a hardware store knowing what I was looking for. 

Then all of a sudden I started to notice something. When pulling wood or sourcing materials I needed for my next project, I would have workers ask me if I needed help. Literally every worker that passed me would offer to help me. Normally this is a kind gesture but it got old fast. Some people would ask me multiple times..."You sure you're still ok??" I realized people just assumed I was clueless and lost in a hardware store trying to find the man I came in with. No!

This was just the beginning of a stereotype that women aren't woodworkers. Soon I started to see this stereotype outside of the hardware stores. People would see my furniture and artwork, look at Chris and compliment him on a job well done. He would then have to correct them and tell them that I actually made a good portion of the work as well. 

what it's like being a woman woodworker - the victories and struggles

After a year of building, sanding, staining and doing the finish work, I realized I'm not ok with this stereotype that men do the building and women just design. Women can do that nitty gritty work too! I'm super proud of the fact that I picked up a router and learned how to use it well. I'm proud that when I walk into a hardware store I know what I'm doing. And I'm super proud of all the other women who are doing the same thing! It's fun to create things and it's even more fun when you can build it with your own hands. 

So what's it like being a woman woodworker? A learning curve for sure. You have to trust that you can handle the tools and be in control of the situation. If you don't trust yourself, you really shouldn't be handling anything with a blade. It's definitely empowering. I love that if I need to cut a board, I don't need to wait for Chris to come home and cut it for me. I can do the job myself.

It's also kind of fun to prove people wrong and see the surprised faces people make when they learn a women built it. But that's just an added perk! ;)

So ya, being a woman woodworker can be difficult at times but it's something to be proud of and I hope other women will feel empowered to do the same!



Until next time,