Power (Drill) to the People!!!


Yesterday, when I was asking the following question of myself (and of you, gentle reader):

Where would my daughter go to learn this type of self-reliance if I wasn't around to teach her? To learn to confidently hold a hammer or a wrench and keep her living space safe, manageable and comfortable?

...I thought I was just doing some everyday muttering to myself like a crazy person philosophical musing. But then I really, really thought about it.

Where did I learn to do what I attempt each day--fixing appliances I own, and having the nerve to slice through the bathroom wall?


My earliest memory of the existence power tools is from watching others use them. My family moved to a rented farmhouse in rural Ohio when I was six years old and I developed a crush on the landlord's eldest son. I followed him everywhere like a faithful puppy and, bless his heart, he was a kind and patient teenager who didn't mind. I watched him repair and build and maintain all the buildings and the farm machinery and he answered all of my goofy questions. So, David, where ever you are now, thanks a ton.

I also watched my dad build things around the house after we moved to Pennsylvania. Then, shop class. I cannot say enough fantastic things about shop class in middle school. Our shop teacher was a grumpy old man who didn't buy into girly cries of "But I can't do that!" He treated all of us equally and gave us some pretty cool projects to complete.

All of these experiences made me confident about trying volunteer work. It has always been a pleasure to work for Habitat for Humanity, Rebuilding Together and Cabrini Alive, especially since they aren't bashful about needing help and putting a novice who is willing to carry a hammer next to someone more experienced.

And finally, the internet. I can't even begin to tell you how much I have learned from the internet.

Let's be honest, though. I don't wield a Sawzall with reckless abandon. Years after I first held one in my hands, I still get a twinge of nervousness when I pick one up. It is a powerful tool. This thing could cut your arm off. It is WISE to be careful around it. But someone, somewhere encouraged me to face my apprehension and give it a try. I survived and my arm is still attached. So, I keep trying it over and over.


But, what if my daughter didn't have the opportunity to watch someone using power tools while growing up? Or have a shop class teacher to goad her into trying something daring since those programs are becoming more and more scarce? Sure, the internet is here, but how about those up close, hands-on experiences that I benefited from?

I keep having this same silly daydream. So, bear with me here.

In this daydream, the City of Chicago lets me use some of their wood shops for a Saturday morning class. I get a sponsor--maybe a tool manufacturer or a local hardware store--to donate some supplies and some power tools. And I teach young girls and women a variety of classes to make them more comfortable with DIY, making sure that low income families. My goal? To help others with their DIY Confidence.

In Tool Basics, they would get the opportunity to use hand tools, power drills, chop saws, routers, reciprocating saws, et cetera. We'd talk about what each one is useful for and when you would choose to use one or the other. In Plumbing Basics, there would be a hands-on project for disassembling and assembling basic plumbing components, how to stop a leak, how to diagnose a problem, how to unclog a drain with a snake or auger, how to install a faucet. We'd have a hands-on class for restoring wood windows and another one for maintaining and repairing radiators. If I partnered with someone, maybe we would even have a class on how to do simple electrical repairs--replacing a light fixture, repairing a light switch, installing a ceiling fan. (I'd take that class myself!) And basic appliance repair...we'd take apart a dishwasher or a clothes dryer! With our bare hands! Whoo hoo!

Books and television shows are accessible, but they don't push you to overcome any nervousness you might have about DIY, they're not hands-on, and they don't allow you the opportunity to ask questions. I know Home Depot has these "how to" clinics, but they seem geared towards getting you to install new things (that you buy at Home Depot--surprise!) Home Depot doesn't even sell the PARTS I need to fix my radiator, they aren't going to teach me how to repair it.

Maybe these workshops exist and I'm just looking in the wrong places.

But I keep thinking about how COOL it would be if every woman I knew felt confident about stepping into a hardware store. That the different sizes and types of nails, screws, nuts and bolts weren't overwhelming to her. That she was excited to buy her own power drill and she felt comfortable picking up that drill and using it because she has done it before, successfully.

Yes, that would be very cool. And while we are at it, world peace, please. Amen.

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This is a great idea- I know a lot of women who would be interested in learning how to DIY but aren't sure where to start...
I received my training from theater courses in college where the stage professor made us pull our weight in constructing the sets. And now I'm teaching my sister (and my husband!) the tool skills I learned. Maybe you could partner with a nearby theater or college scene shop to offer classes?

I, too, learned my woodworking skills in the theatre and am passing them along to my daughters and any girls that come into the set shop.

I think it all boils down to confidence. We should instill in our children the confidence to learn new things. We can build that confidence by showing them how to learn. Since starting my remodel I have learned how to do things by reading books, scouring the internet, and even by hiring someone who agreed to let me help. I want to teach my girls that just because you don't know how to do a task doesn't mean you need to hire it out. Don't be afraid to learn as you go. Believe in yourself and take the time to learn for yourself; you will be rewarded over and over again.

I learned how to do things from the internet, books and my dad. (btw, I too am a girl despite my name) But like you said, the most valuable lesson my dad taught me was that I COULD fix things. I just grew up in a culture where we fixed something or did something ourselves and rarely hired someone to do the job. When people ask me how I know how to install a toilet or lay tile or replace a faucet I tell them, usually, that I taught myself. I know my limitations and there are some things I can't do (like rip a sheet of 1/2 inch plywood using the table saw. That stuff is heavy.) but most things I figure I can, I just have to learn how.
I've been especially empowered by blogs such as HiP, fixer upper, House Made and the Stucco House. I'm just getting started on my house and bought my first plumbing book - I'm ready to tackle the whole house replacement project (a little at a time)

I love this post! I learned a lot of things when I bought my own house, which inspired me to take a Green Building Construction Class, where I was the only woman and had to prove myself under constant scrutiny, if not blatant harassment. I learned welding in art classes many years ago and decided to major in metal sculpture, where there was a few women, but not community. I haven't fixed anything in years since I moved to Chicago, but I still get nervous when I think about tackling a big project and dusting off my power tools. I would absolutely take a class like that, if not to learn more specifics, but to freshen up on safety techniques and meet other like minded women, who'd rather build a piece of furniture than hit the malls all day.

I would totally be down with partnering on that! I've been saying these exact statements for several years (especially after watching my friends shell out several thousands to have repair men come in and do simple stuff). And, having installed many light fixtures, a bathroom ventilation fan, an untold number of electrical outlets and run I don't know how many yards of wire, I can probably answer most any common electrical problem.

I learned by watching too. My father was always fixing SOMETHING in their 1855 Victorian. Then, my father in law taught me a LOT more about electricity. I've received tools as birthday and Christmas presents for years.

I've noticed that the DIY shows are mostly geared toward decorating. This is fine, but they never cover the fun parts of decorating, like getting good miter joints for crown moulding! Aside from "Ask This Old House" I haven't seen a really good show on repairing things around the home.


I searched for just such classes when my daughter and I bought our old house. Couldn't find them. Home Depot Do-it-Herself classes are terrible -- no hands on, just geared toward selling products. I have learned some as we've gone along, but would still LOVE to have the benefit of such classes. There are so many things I would try if I just had a little guidance. So, even though I'm in Milwaukee and you are in Chicago, I would so love to come and learn from you. I really think this idea could work.

Maybe Rockler would sponsor the classes. Their CEO, Ann Rockler Jackson, is clearly a believer in women knowing how to use power tools.

Great idea, I would sign up in an instant if I lived nearby. Yestermorrow School (http://www.yestermorrow.org/) in Vermont offers classes like this which I would LOVE to take, but the cost of the course, plus airfare, plus lodging/food is way more than I can handle right now. If anyone knows of something similar near-ish to Ohio, I'd love to hear about it.

The Community Land Trust of Schenectady has such programs for our members. They're great programs and most are led by the director who is a woman -- and a really experienced rennovator. It's not gender-specific, but the classes do get a mix of men and women and the program is aimed at those with lower incomes, though any member can attend.

http://www.cltofschdy.org/en/index.htm (navigate to services, home repair workshops). I don't _think_ we invented it, so I'm sure other such organizations do things like this.

i was amazed when my husband had no idea what a router was the other day. i credit my dad first for doing all sorts of things with me such as fishing, camping, building a deck, and bondo-ing his old van, and after that it was the middle school shop teachers as well for building a base of not being cowed by power tools!

along these lines i saw a blurb in my latest Better Homes & Gardens magazine about a woman who made ALL her kitchen cabinents and it made me drool... according to the 50 word description it sounded like she just took a general woodworking class but had a supportive teacher... another case for fighting to keep local woodworking classes/shops alive in addition to women-friendly tool classes.

Sign me up. Seriously. What a fantastic idea.

Like Schenectady, there's a place in Boston that does hands-on workshops:
I haven't been, but a friend of mine has, and says the workshops are great. I'm dying to go one of these days. Maybe when I finish night school.

While my father taught me some, and I made a fine pig-shaped cutting board in junior high, my husband has been giving me the most hands-on training.

Hear hear! I would LOVE something like that! I can read and watch a million things, but still it's a bit intimidating once you actually have to TRY it.

If there was a class like this in Utah, I'd sign up in a second. You should do it! (Because you're not busy enough already...)

Interesting thoughts here. I appreciate you taking the time to share them with us all. It's people like you that make my day :)

I agree with your thoughts here and I really love your blog! I've bookmarked it so that I can come back & read more in the future.


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