Written by Kathleen O’Brien, MUD Tool Librarian and Workshop Coordinator
One of the hardest things I’ve come to learn is that if you want to be good at something, you first have to be a beginner. There are endless questions I’ll ask, followed by confusion, frustration and need for clarification. I want to learn and learn it correctly but starting at ground level can be daunting. Finding a safe space to gain this knowledge is paramount if I’m going to stick with something new.
The world of carpentry is no different! It can be intimidating and overwhelming. From chop saws to table saws, routers to angle grinders, brad nailers to staple guns. What do all these tools do? What is the best tool for the job? And how can I use them safely and with confidence? MUD’s Women-Led Carpentry Workshop answers all these questions and gives participants hands-on practice in an approachable and fun environment. I feel so lucky to have led this workshop and saw some incredible transformations in participants’ confidence and skill levels by the end of the weekend.
On a Saturday morning in mid-May, 15 men and women, me, and a few volunteers met to partake in this beginners workshop. We had laid out over 40 tools, categorized by their uses, that we would be introducing to these eager participants. As they filed in I saw their eyes hesitantly scan the large table saws, the giant teeth of the chop saws, the number of intricate parts to the kreg jig, and more. I could see the apprehension in their expressions as they took in this daunting scene. The room was quiet, and it was time to begin. “Hi everyone! I’m Kathleen, let’s learn together.”
Our first day of the workshop consisted of learning how to operate each power tool correctly and safely. We covered a number of tools and when to use which one. For example you wouldn’t want to use a chop saw for plywood, but you’ll get much more accurate cuts on a chop saw then you will with a jigsaw! Once a demonstration and verbal instructions were given for each tool, each participant then got to give it a try! Nerves were high as saw blades started spinning and saw dust started flying! We had two “give it a try” stations set up so everyone could be supervised as they used a new tool for the first time. Quickly the nerves turned into “Hey that wasn’t that scary!” or “Oh that makes sense, I thought it would be more difficult to use.” In this welcoming environment, apprehensions became confidence and beginners became DIYers. We completed instructions and practice for 10 of the major power tools that day. Me and the volunteers also tweaked the day to cover the tools that the group wanted to learn. We wanted to cover what the participants WANTED to learn and not what WE thought they should learn.
By our second day, it was time to build! Everyone brought in plans and materials for a project they wanted to create. With the knowledge they’d gained the day before, participants got right into it. The transformation in their skills and confidence was palpable! Boards were measured and cut, plans were tweaked and sketched, and within a few hours you could see their projects coming to life. We had doubled our volunteer crew on this second day to make sure everyone could ask questions and get assistance when they needed it. Energy was high and creativity was flowing. By the end of the day a participant was smiling as she sat on a sturdy park bench she had built. Another person was loading up parts to an intricate trellis that she would finish assembling in her garden. Someone who had never used a saw in their life was taking home a raised garden bed to grow their own vegetables! The satisfaction of building something on your own can’t be compared.
It’s no surprise to hear that this is my favorite MUD workshop of the year. So often we sell ourselves short and in the fear of the unknown, we never conquer those unknowns. Power tools are daunting, they are dangerous, loud, and can be complicated. But if there’s anything this workshop has taught me is that we are so much more capable than we give ourselves credit for. That’s why this workshop is so crucial to our Missoula community. It allows us to pool our knowledge and share it in an approachable, patient and kind atmosphere. It can be hard to admit that we don’t know something, but in an environment like our Women-Led Carpentry Workshop, that difficulty becomes empowerment in just a couple days. You, yes you, are capable of building your own furniture, of filling your home with unique pieces, and of completing projects you thought only a master carpenter could do. Come find out just how easy it can be! Our next Women-Led Workshop is coming up at the end of the month, October 22nd and 23rd. Sign up soon because there’s only a few spots left! But don’t worry, we’ll have another one next May. Let’s build together!