Carpentry for Women Classes
Hammerstone School offers a variety of carpentry courses for women, ranging from basic skills-building workshops, to longer, more in-depth intensives.
We photographed the 2-day Basic Carpentry Skills course and did a Q&A with Maria Klemperer-Johnson, the owner and instructor at Hammerstone.
What are the classes?
I wanted to offer classes just for women that taught basic carpentry skills. I want women to feel comfortable using tools and knowing how to do basic carpentry tasks, like measuring and marking, cutting, fastening… the basic toolkit so you can be self-sufficient. But I really want women to start building stuff. How do you build a home? How do you build a stick frame building? How do you build a chicken coop? How do you build a shed? How do you fix trim in your house? How do you build a bookcase?
I decided to offer women-only classes because, in my experience, when you have coed classes in a field that has traditionally been men’s work, the men step up and the women step back. As women we feel like if we screw up it would be just one more example of the fact that women can’t do this work, so I want to provide a safe space where women can screw up and not worry about it and build the skills from the bottom up.
Who is it good for?
This is good for everybody! It’s good for the community. Most immediately it’s good for the women taking the classes. They’re going there to learn some real hands-on skills and they walk away with that.
Bigger than that, it’s good for women across the board to have this career opportunity opened up for them. To know that this is work that is available to them, to know that there are places they can get the skills to get this work.
Then, for society as a whole. I don’t think it’s healthy for any of us to have these jobs that are just men.
What kind of change is this trying to make?
I have a vision of being part of a bigger change nationally, but to break it down into something which I can actually personally impact in my lifetime… Within Ithaca, I would love to see the number of women in construction trade work becoming equitable with men, at least 30% in like, 20 years. We’re putting that goal on paper, right now!
What brought you here?
I become aware of these other carpentry for women classes a while ago. They’re few and far between and I wanted to offer something locally. First, I had to come to a certain point in my own skil skill-building career path where I felt like I personally knew enough to share knowledge with others, so that took some time.
It was really when I had a specific project come to me when I had the impetus to start the school… that was the tiny house we built in 2013. Liz approached me and said she wanted to build a tiny house but she had no skills. First of all, could she do it? Second, where should she go to learn? At that point, I asked if we could structure the first Hammerstone Carpentry for Women class around her tiny house project.
What impact does this have on our community?
I don’t know if it’s having this impact yet, but the impact I want it to have is for people to know that women can do this work. And not just that women can do it, but that women are actually doing this work.
How has the community supported you?
I felt so supported in so many ways. First of all, people sign up for my classes! I’ve gotten some really excellent feedback on the classes themselves… that’s meaningful to me. But also, I just haven’t run into a single person who hasn’t been excited by the idea.
What struggles have you encountered?
There are always the minor struggles of convincing people who don’t understand the need for women-only education. First of all, deciding whether I need to convince them. Usually I come to the conclusion that they don’t need to be convinced. If they don’t see it, I don’t need to change their mind. That’s just a minor thing that I encounter.
For me, the biggest struggles are the struggles of starting a small business. Going forward, I want to turn Hammerstone into an institution that’s not only doing good outreach work, but providing an example as an employer. I want to be an employer that makes a difference to employees. A fair employer providing meaningful work to a diverse array of people that’s actually providing opportunity. That’s really the next big step for me, and it’s a huge one.
What should we be celebrating?
I think we should all celebrate what a fantastic community we have already. There are so many people doing interesting work, you almost lose time to celebrate because you’d miss the next thing to go to, right?! I personally celebrate the really warm reception that I’ve gotten from my students, the fun that I have from teaching my classes, and the fact that I’ve found work that is meaningful and enjoyable… that’s a big cause for celebration.
How can we participate?
Come take a class! Get a gift certificate for someone you love: your wife, your daughter, your mother.
Get tools into the hands of your kids, and encourage them to learn, even if you don’t feel like you know what you’re doing, play with them, build skills alongside them.
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