By Sara Tommerup
In April we ran a course at Coed Talylan in South West Wales, just for women. The course was a carpentry course and introduced women with little to no prior skills to build with timber. Although this may not sound so extraordinary, it is an achievement because of the surprisingly low number of women in the carpentry trade. Apparently only 2 percent of manual workers in construction are women. But that does not mean that women are not suited for that kind of work but rather relates to culturally inhibiting factors.
For example, girls often haven’t had any encouragement to engage with construction through e.g. their dads or in school, while boys perhaps more easily have been in contact with it. Learning carpentry in a male dominated environment is not always appealing or easy either, putting off many. I experience that women in the carpentry and joinery trade often turn to it later as adults, not as teenagers when most young men start apprenticeships. I believe this is because young women have been culturally coerced into training which is more classical female, such as academia, arts and teaching. This was true for me, who has a diploma in pattern cutting from when I was 19! As adults, women are however free to make their own decisions and this is when some women find that carpentry is for them. However, when we are adults we have a lot more responsibility and it can be hard to access training that fit in and around family and work. For example I see that women often earn less, have less time for themselves as they may have children which mean they cannot take time out to attend college and apprentice, afford time off or invest in long and expensive training.
I also experience that men think that women cannot do the job. But such an attitude is intimidating and is not going to make anyone perform well at work or college. So therefore, men must understand that the myth that women might be inadequate in the trade can be a self fulfilling prophecy. A woman who has learnt to do the work because she was trained (that means that a carpenter allowed her to learn properly) will act and work with confidence skill and initiative like any other builder. On top of that you have all the merits of female work ethics!
As a woman and natural builder, the difficulty in accessing carpentry skills is something I have experienced myself. Male dominated and physically discriminating work environments are clear obstacles. The physical requirements can also be off-putting. But general carpentry is different. It is by far the least straining construction niche, compared to general building work, plastering etc. and in this way is very suitable for women.
Regardless – whether the reason that there are so few women in carpentry is due to nature or nurture, or both – I know from experience that women do want to learn this trade, and there is a demand for more accessible carpentry courses with a safe learning environment where all questions are good questions and where there is no competition, no sexism, no swearing, no bantering and bullying. I am really excited to see that many women are picking up on the one we are offering here.
In the upsurge of natural building, almost 50% are women. Natural building has a beautiful aesthetic and a clear conscientious direction that appeal to women, and the natural building movement is creating a new culture which, although of course deeply rooted in old building traditions, is free of male chauvinism and macho behaviour. It is a clean slate, where women and men can work side by side. However, standard carpentry is still a part of basic construction be it natural building or conventional, and I experience that there is very few learning options for this out there in the natural building community and therefore that this skill is lacking among natural builders. This course is therefore also tailored to aspiring or existing natural builders who may be working with such as earth and straw but still need some grounding in basic site carpentry.
In the Carpentry For Women Course, the timber we work with is green and naturally durable wood straight from the saw mill. Wood is a beautiful material, and there is no need to use over processed and treated timber for construction and I know that the women who join he course will appreciate that.
As a participant on the course, you learn all the basics of site carpentry. It is mainly a practical course where we will build a real structure and while doing so you will learn its different components and how to construct them. The course is a great spring board to gain confidence to continue learning the trade or just as a DIY skill. If you are not used to working practically, with power tools and managing projects, these are great transferable skills too that come along with working in construction. The course has proven very popular with the next two courses already fully booked which clearly demonstrates the demand, and we will therefore keep this course as a permanent feature on our course repertoire. We are also open to run courses elsewhere, so do get in touch if you are thinking about building a structure that may be suitable.
Sara is a natural builder and has trained with many different builders and with the City & Guilds. She is a mother of two.
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Also, TAKE A LOOK AT THIS course: Working with Clay, also taught by Sara. Immerse yourself in this wonderful material as we go on a journey exploring this material’s full breadth for both construction, arts and crafts.