Star Tribune

Lifestyle

Honey, can you pass the circular saw?

Power tools are no longer a man's world. Women are spreading the gospel of do-it-yourself handiwork online and in the home.

Article by: LIBBY COPELAND , Slate

Updated: January 9, 2013 - 12:40 PM

Ana White, who runs a popular website devoted to woodworking for women, came out with her first book this fall, "The Handbuilt Home" -- the cover showcasing a huge hammer and a fair amount of pink.

Inside, close-up shots of well-crafted, brightly painted sideboards, console tables and play kitchens look like they were taken from a Pottery Barn catalog, only White includes instructions on how to build them yourself. There are photos of smiling young women who've used White's carpentry plans, alongside their testimonials ("This great console table, with the matching hutch, really is a simple project").

White isn't the first to target an increasingly visible demographic of women who want to build their own furniture. Putting aside the irritating assumption that grown women will only purchase power tools in a color associated with toddler girls, the trend speaks to an economic reality. Single women made up 19 percent of all first-time home buyers in 2012, compared with 11 percent of single men. If women are buying their own houses, they're also the ones fixing them up. Their growing willingness to repair a loose stair themselves or build a custom coffee table represents the latest in a long line of traditionally male areas colonized by women, including professional sports and lucrative fields like medicine, pharmacy and the law.

As for building her own furniture, White is savvy. Her website, www.ana-white.com, is an amalgam of the ideals of American womanhood, blending a pioneer woman's can-do spirit with the intimate tone of a mommy blogger.

White, once a self-described Alaska housewife, says she was afraid of power tools until a turning point in 2007. She and her husband were broke, sleeping on a mattress on the floor, and she realized that the only way they'd ever afford a well-made bed was if she made one herself.

"I'm not a trained carpenter; I'm just a mom," White, 32, said by phone from Delta Junction, Alaska. The place is so remote -- seven hours from a Target -- that she's had almost no choice but to embrace the do-it-yourself (DIY) ethos for almost everything, from the paper banner for her daughter's birthday party to a tiny picnic table for her American Girl doll.

"After I built my first piece of furniture, I realized it doesn't take an incredible amount of skill with the tools we have available today," she said. "It just takes a really good plan and someone telling you, 'Yes, you can do this.'"

Power-tool empowerment

White's message of power-tool empowerment is echoed by a number of other women's carpentry blogs, some of which have winking names like Pink Toes and Power Tools and Pretty Handy Girl. Home Depot's free Do-it-Herself workshops are couched in the language of Weight-Watcherian validation, inviting you to come build "an interior two-tiered wreath chandelier" while building confidence in a "female-friendly environment."

White's website, which mixes her own designs with a blog about her life and a "brag board" featuring work by readers, is geared toward carpenters of all levels. In her section called "tips for newbies," she posts large pictures of tools with explanations of exactly how to use them.

White's conversational tone is a far cry from many male-oriented woodworking sites, such as Popular Woodworking magazine, which tends to feature blog entries on wood-nerd topics like "All Oilstones Are Not Equal." White discourages her readers from buying more tools than they need, especially if they're just starting. Eventually, she writes, you will want "an expensive compound miter saw," but to start, go with something less pricey: "I think a jigsaw is less intimidating than the circular saw."

Genderless DIY

When you think about it, it makes sense that woodworking would be the next extension of the contemporary DIY movement, much of which has been quite visibly female, from Martha Stewart to Pinterest.

For a long time, DIY seemed to adhere to more narrow gender roles, with women sticking to small endeavors like making Christmas ornaments. Lately the DIY movement seems to be flattening gender roles. Men have gotten into artisanal mayonnaise-making and lampshade-crafting, according to the New York Times. Women, meanwhile, have wandered into the realm of sawdust motes. Once you buy a circular saw, you can no longer be considered merely "crafty."

Which is good, because why is using a power drill considered so much more complicated than, say, refinishing a table? A drill is, as White puts it, really just "a hand mixer with a different bit on the end."

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