10 Reasons Women Should Hang Out in Luthiery Woodshops

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NOTE: The opinions expressed herein are not necessarily those of the California Bluegrass Association, anyone who plays Bluegrass, anybody has ever listened to Bluegrass or who has ever even seen grass (Blue or otherwise), or even of the author on a good day. With that in mind, please read this Welcome Column in the spirit in which it was written i.e. firmly tongue-in-cheek.

Last time I mentioned that I was spending all of the month of August learning how to make guitars, which I did end up doing fairly successfully. I surprised myself and genuinely managed to make a whole guitar from scratch, in a month, by hand! Obviously I learned a lot about guitars, guitar building, and sanding. (Oh don’t get me started on hand sanding. I think I’m probably scarred for life. And I definitely won’t be watching any John Wayne movies for a while because  I’m fairly sure I’ll be having PTSD flashbacks for a long time to come when faced with anything with the word “…grit” in the name.)

On top of the learning experience it was actually a lot of fun too. The teachers at Lagan Luthiery were lovely, helpful, good at their job and it was especially clear that I definitely wasn’t the first no-hoper, no-expereience, never-held-a-chisel-in-their-hand before student to go through the workshop, so they were {mostly}ready for me. Strangely though, it was rare for the workshop to have female students, only a handful in the last 20 years.

Which got me to thinking about why that might be? Well the only explanation I could come up with is that women have just not realized all of the amazing benefits to spending time in a woodshop, so in order to give a bit of a helping hand to diversity I thought I would give you the following list…

10 Reasons Women Should Hang Out in Luthiery Woodshops

1)    The fun. Let’s face it, men have been running off to the woodshop for eons and, bless their little hearts, they wouldn’t be doing that if it wasn’t a huge amount of fun. We women {martyrs each and every one of us}will often do things that need doing even though they’re not fun, but men? Not so much. After all, when was the last time you saw a man volunteer to clean the toilet? Yeah, not happening, because it isn’t fun. So if they WANT to spend time in a woodshop then it must actually be fun. And if they want to spend THAT MUCH time in a woodshop then it must be THAT MUCH fun. It was. It is. I promise.

2)    The men. So let’s just recap the fact that men are spending all of their spare time in the woodshop. Yes ladies, if you want to find yourself a good man…..look no further than the nearest pneumatic spindle sander. Time was we could go to the local gym to look for a nice single guy, but then the fitness craze hit and the secret weapon of being a woman in the gym was no longer a novelty which rather ruined it. Plus, who wants to deliberately put themselves in front of a floor to ceiling mirror beside some yoga babe looking impossibly hot and not-even-a-bit-sweaty in color co-ordinated designer lycra? Not me that’s for sure, and luckily now I know I don’t have to. Follow me gals and head for the local woodshop and check out the talent, you’ll be glad you did. After all, the worst that can happen is you’ll find someone who wants to build you a nice new mandolin {or a set of kitchen cupboards, whatever floats your boat} and the best that can happen could be “very best” indeed.

3)    The dress code. Umm, there isn’t one! Unlike most of the places we go to {see the note about lycra and the gym above}, woodshops are a wear-whatever kind of locale. Loose and durable are far more important considerations than a designer label, or a figure hugging style, or even being able to tell what color the garment you are actually wearing used to be.
At the start of the month I laughed when one of the other {male} students earnestly told me that when I found myself no longer counting how many days in a row I thought it was ok to wear the same pair of jeans into the shop before washing them that then, and only then, would I have truly arrived at a state of Woodshop Zen. Turns out he was literally correct. {I’d tell you what the answer is but I don’t want to ruin your own personal journey towards Enlightenment.}
In any case, it doesn’t matter what you wear because 10 minutes after arriving at the woodshop what you are mostly wearing is a coating of fine sawdust with some shimmering flecks of who-knows-what. “Man Glitter” to those in the know.
I admit it doesn’t necessarily sound attractive, and the vacation snapshots bear me out on that, but it IS very relaxaing, and quite liberating not to have to worry about appearances.

4)    The power tools. Yes, we mostly did do things by hand, but there were a few tasks that did need power tools to get them done in a reasonable amount of time. {I’m still puzzled about why sanding didn’t count as one of those tasks but every time I try to ask someone I…just start… crying for some …sob….reason, so…..sob…I…whatever, who knoooooooows.}
Of course most of us “modern” women have finally learned how to use a cordless drill {sadly those pastel watercolors of ridiculously cute kittens playing with a ball of yarn just will not hang themselves in the den} but if you’ve never used a bandsaw to power through a giant hunk of mahogany then I’m here to tell you you haven’t lived yet.
I’m not sure if it’s the deeply sexy growl of the saw, the sight of the unwanted wood dropping away like an unfaithful ex-boyfriend or just the realization that with a truly powerful bandsaw you can probably cut the body into small enough pieces that no-one will ever know where…sorry, where was I? Oh yeah, drill presses and routers are kinda fun too. {Note for anyone out there talking luthiery with an Australian: Be very careful how you pronounce the word “router”. My eyes got very big when they first told me there was a special machine that did that out in the back room.}

5)    The adoration. Even if you’re not in the market for a significant other, or even an upgrade to your current S.O. , it is kind of nice to have a roomful of people being impressed by your very awesomeness. The cool thing about being a woman in a woodshop is that all that’s required to demonstrate your total awesomeness is that you turned up. Yep, it really is that simple. I spent a month being barely competent{sometimes not even} and getting daily praise heaped upon me for my efforts. I don’t know any other time in my life when I have felt so good about myself with so little effort. {Or even justification really but that’s another story.}

6)    The cake. I’m not sure if it’s purely an Irish phenomenon or if it happens in other places, but I’ll be desperately dissappointed if it turns out not to be a global rule that 11 a.m. is cake and biscuit time. Looking forward to a nice cup of tea and a free-for-all gorging on cake and biscuits was all that got me through some of the darkest sanding times. I’m sure it would be ok to choose coffee instead of tea for the North Americans, but the nice thing is you don’t have to worry about choosing between cake or biscuits no matter what your nationality is. In the woodshop you can, and are actually expected to, have both. Lots and lots of yummy yummy both.
Luckily someone pointed out to me that any sweet or sugary items consumed in a woodshop are designated as calorie-free regardless of the actual ingredients.
In Woodshop, Nobody Can Hear You Grow 🙂

7)    The workout. Just in case one or two calories manage to slip through into the Eleven a.m. Cake Bonanza, the woodshop is kind enough to supply you with an in-built workout.
Walking back and forth from one work station to another carrying bits of heavy timber is Step One. Step Two involves walking forth and back carrying light bits of incorrectly shaped timber while doing skyjumps desperately looking for a high and preferably dark shelf somewhere to hide the woefully shaped wood. Step Three involves arm wrestling fellow students for the only plane appropriate to reshape your new bits of heavy timber and Step Four, obviously, involves attempting to carry 19 kg of solid brass plane + some heavy bits of wood out to a back room where nobody will be able to see you if you mess up again. For variety we do some extra arms at Step Five which involves lots of sanding but we won’t even…sob, sob…talk about that, and then to round off the workout Step Six involves polishing and buffing the end product. Polishing and buffing are remarkably similar to sanding but everyone assured me they were different activities as they handed over the handkerchiefs and helped me dry my eyes.

The woodshop workout certainly hurts in lots of places. Some of those places you probably didn’t know you even have, and a few you probably don’t actually want to have, but anything that hurts that much must be good. Of course if the workout fails and fitness does not magically ensue, the solution is just to keep wearing shapeless, colorless, sawdust covered clothing, eat some cake to keep your spirits up and remind yourself that nobody in the woodshop cared what you looked like in the first place and they STILL think you are awesome.

8)    The smell. Sawing, sanding {!}, cutting, shaping, bending and just spending time shooting the breeze with wood releases all sorts of glorious odors. Nothing, and I mean nothing, beats walking into a room where a rosewood back was just run through the drum sander; the smell is heavenly. They say it smells of roses but to me it smells like the far preferrable aroma of cooking bacon.

Perhaps it’s some sort of Taoist Riddle: What is the smell of rosewood sanding?
Whatever you most desire in life grasshopper.

So yeah, bacon.

I also have no doubt that if we could somehow combine the smells of freshly cut cedar and spruce tops into a bottle, then a few well placed spritzes would make some serious inroads into world peace.

9)    The swearing. After all it is a  #//&@)_(**  woodshop full of  ?<+)_^%$ men so swearing is kind of  $!)(()$^^**)^  expected. And very enjoyable it is too 🙂

10)    The guitars. OK, at this point I realize the only people still reading are probably just a nice elderly lady somewhere in New England who mistakenly thinks there’s a free knitting pattern at the end of the column and some guy waiting for a delayed bus out of Tulsa, but whoever you are I’m glad you stuck with it. And you’ll be glad too if I can just convince you to check out your nearest woodshop and make a guitar.

If you are at all interested in playing music then you’ll know you need instruments to do so.

If you play guitar then clearly you’ll need a guitar. And mandoleers need mandolins, fiddlists need fiddles, bassers need basss’s’s {what the heck IS the plural of bass?}, debris need dobros, banjolistas need banjos etc. [Editor’s note: Does anybody truly “need” a banjo??]

So while building a guitar didn’t get me a new fiddle, it did get me a step in the right direction. And more importantly, it DID get me a new guitar. How cool is that? We can take bits of wood, glue, some steam and a heck of a lot of sandpaper {I’m ok, really!} and turn that into a real live honest-to-God musical instrument. As far as I’m concerned it just doesn’t get any better than that.

So ladies, and you there in Tulsa, even if points 1-9 didn’t convince you to hang out in a woodshop I really think point 10 is a winner. Think about the magic and mystery of making your own guitar, find a woodshop and then for goodness sake……
Just. Make. One!  Or two.  Three would be ok.  Might be nice to make four or five different kinds……I’d be really good by the time I’d made half a dozen guitars…….we’re going to need a bigger woodstore……

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