The sharp hum of a router fills the air as Jessica Arends pushes the tool over a piece of wood balanced between two carpentry horses. Wood shavings fall to the ground in clouds, marking her progress. Two other women mirror the motion beside her, cutting the edges of wood with staggered rhythm.
Arends built a picnic table as a student in the Hammerstone School’s Build a Picnic Table class, which ran from Feb. 22–24. The class of three students spent three full days learning tool techniques and completing the table in a step-by-step process.
The school, founded by Maria Klemperer-Johnson in 2013, teaches carpentry classes exclusively to women. The workspace is nestled in rural Trumansburg, NY, on Klemperer-Johnson’s property.
Klemperer-Johnson, a carpenter with 14 years of experience, wants to increase the number of female carpenters on job sites. Currently, 1.7 percent of carpenters are female in the United States, according to the Department of Labor.
“I really wanted to give women a leg up to have basic experience so they can be comfortable and confident, and in a position where they could go and get a job,” Klemperer-Johnson said.
Klemperer-Johnson owns the school and a contracting business, Hammerstone Builders, which she operates with an all-female build crew.
The Hammerstone team includes Klemperer-Johnson, carpentry employees working as teaching assistants, and occasionally, co-teachers from outside the school. The crew taught 150 students in 2015, up from 80 in the previous year.
Arends, who learned about Hammerstone from a flyer in Binghamton, began carpentry for the mental impact of physical work.
“I always enjoyed doing little projects growing up,” she said. “It was when I was in graduate school and I kind of overdosed on various cerebral activities, in very abstract thinking, that I really wanted to balance that out by getting more into my hands and doing more hobbies.”
Arends has also completed Hammerstone’s Basic Carpentry Skills 101 course, offered monthly. She said the classes made her appreciate an all-female workspace.
“The fact that it’s an all female class didn’t really register with me when I signed up,” she said. “Then when I got here, I realized how important it was for my own confidence not to feel like some guy is going to be telling me what to do and constantly helping me with something.”
Christina King, another student in the class, said Hammerstone classes have boosted her confidence doing household carpentry.
“Even just the little projects that I take on at home tend to take a while, because I work here and there, but then I hit a block,” she said. “I came back from the basic skills class really excited to not be intimidated by cutting a sheet of plywood.”
The majority of Hammerstone’s students are hobbyist builders, looking to improve their skills for prospective projects, Klemperer-Johnson said.
“Even though it doesn’t help our mission by actively getting more women working in the trade, it does help that mission because it just means that more women are out there doing this work,” she said. “Their kids see them or their neighbors’ kids see them, and it just changes our perception of whether this is men’s work or not, or whether it is women’s work.”
Klemperer-Johnson is planning to expand the school in order to reach a larger demographic, including national and international students through online classes, Klemperer-Johnson said. She also wants to grow her staff by finding more female carpenters to teach classes.
Klemperer-Johnson said she hopes to instill her passion for carpentry in future students as the school grows.
“I feel so lucky that at least once a month I get to work with these people who are so eager to learn what I have to offer,” she said. “Everybody is just so thrilled. Even with stuff that, to me is pretty mundane and straightforward, it’s life changing.”