The Hippo


Jun 26, 2019








Girls at Work campers create their initials from wood in a recent workshop. Kelly Sennott photo.

Learn woodworking

Homestead Woodworking School
Where: 52 Bald Hill Road, Newmarket
What: Founded by Alan Mitchell, who directs the program, it offers classes for novice, intermediate and advanced woodworkers. Instructors are professionals with different areas of specialization, many from the Guild of NH Woodworkers or the New Hampshire Furniture Masters. Lessons occur in a large, restored timber-framed barn. Bring lumber to class or purchase some on-site, plus consumables (sandpaper, glue, screws). They begin in September and occur mostly in six-week sessions, ranging from making boxes to larger pieces.
Contact: 659-2345,,
The Wood Shop in Alton
Where: 31 Chamberlain Road, Alton
What: Steve Saulten built the woodshed 15 years ago with the purpose of creating enough space for small groups of woodworkers to share tips, tools and encouragement. Classes include Woodshop for Beginners, Woodshop for Women and Advanced Woodshop.
Contact: 289-2109,,
Epic Woodworking
Where: 336 Baptist Road, Canterbury
What: Classes are taught by Tom McLaughlin both in person and online. Most are project-based, focused on building things like Shaker end tables, swings, rocking chairs, etc., but some focus on basics of joinery and finishing pieces.
Guild of NH Woodworkers
Where: Statewide
What: An organization focused on promoting woodworking, mostly through education via lectures, symposia and demonstrations, which are held all over the state, from makerspaces to member shops. Within this umbrella organization are also a variety of specific groups (beginners and intermediates, boat builders, period furniture, woodturning, instrument-making and carving, etc.). 
Girls at Work
Where: 4 Elm St., Manchester
What: The nonprofit aims to empower girls and help them overcome adversity and build confidence by teaching them woodworking. It travels to locations and offers workshops in the Manchester shop, plus birthday parties and corporate builds for businesses. The girls’ workshops are offered to girls from Title I Manchester schools and funded through sponsorships and its partnership with 21st Century. 
Contact:, 345-0392,
Manchester Makerspace
Where: 36 Old Granite St., Manchester
What: The nonprofit is a shared workspace with resources, training and mentorship for a variety of maker interests, from art and furniture-making to robotics and automotive. A one-month subscription costs $65 and includes 24/7 access.
Port City Makerspace
Where: 68 Morning St., Portsmouth
What: Membership costs $50 a month during open hours or $80 for 24/7 access to the space and tools for woodworking, machining, metalworking, embroidery, electronics, blacksmithing and automotives, etc. You can also buy day, weekend or buddy passes or take part in beginner workshops, which occur each month and are open to both members and nonmembers. 
MakeIt Labs
Where: 25 Crown St., Nashua
What: The 12,000-square-foot facility is divided into an electronics and computer lab, wood shop, machine shop, welding/fabrication shop, automotive garage bay, rapid prototyping areas, classrooms, meeting spaces, etc. Membership options range from $50 to $110 a month depending on whether you want 24/7 access or storage space.
Contact:, 978-226-3266

Return to Shop Class
Power up your basic woodworking skills

By Kelly Sennott

 Nobody takes up woodworking to save money. You’ll likely find a better deal on a jewelry box at a yard sale or on Craigslist after factoring in the cost of materials, tools, equipment and time it would take to make one yourself.

Ultimately, it’s pride in workmanship that gets people hooked on woodworking.
“When you use wood that used to be a tree and make a fine desk or a very unique jewelry box … there’s a sense of accomplishment,” said Steve Saulten, who runs The Wood Shop in Alton. 
New Hampshire’s a great place to learn, no matter your reason, age or gender. Some of the state’s woodworking organizations shared their insight on why woodworking is such a powerful skill and how you can get started.
Start young
The Girls at Work headquarters was coated in sawdust, and the air vibrated with the sound of palm sanders, but campers hardly noticed. Their attention on this Wednesday morning was on the task at hand: making a slab of wood really, really smooth.
All around, the Manchester nonprofit’s walls encouraged them with positive messages written by visitors. “You are powerful.” “Believe in yourself.” “Don’t let your dreams be dreams.” “Just do it.” 
Most girls were giddy at the prospect of handling tools grown-ups usually forbid them from touching, which was evident in their focus and, every once in a while, their dancing. 
“There’s something so powerful when kids realize they can do something that most people don’t allow them to do,” said Elaine Hamel, who founded Girls at Work in 2000. “We don’t even let them use the word ‘can’t’ in the shop.”
Girls at Work origins trace back to 26 years ago, when Hamel became something like a surrogate parent to her 9-year-old neighbor, whose parents were suffering from drug addiction. Hamel was financially unstable at the time but wanted to send her to a summer camp in the White Mountains.
“I asked the camp director if she needed anything built. And she said, come and teach the girls how to build,” Hamel said. 
So she did. The girls took to the craft fast. Their preference was to build before breakfast and continue through meals. Demand for the woodworking workshops grew, and Hamel began receiving requests from other camps. 
“But there were always more girls than I could reach,” Hamel said. “The camp directors started telling me we needed to be in the schools with a program that would be consistent because the one-shot deal wasn’t enough. So we designed an after-school program that consisted of eight weeks.”
In 1999, Hamel built a large barn next to her house in New Boston, an activity that drew neighborhood kids wanting to help out, including the very girls who helped her conceptualize the program she wanted to start: Girls at Work. It would comprise workshops that teach woodworking and help at-risk girls gain confidence and become empowered.
“Many girls still believe they’re not builders. The truck commercials are still men. The tool commercials are still men. The kitchen and laundry commercials are all women,” Hamel said. “Girls aren’t going to take a woodworking class full of boys. But girls have incredible potential. And they’re incredibly good builders. [It shoots] their self-confidence off the charts.”
Hamel created Girls at Work in 2000. It started as a part-time business that traveled from place to place. In 2012, she took to it full-time, and in 2015, she moved the company to Manchester. This winter, Mel Gosselin came in as CEO, allowing Hamel to focus on her passion, which is designing and leading programming.
With the help of its partnership with the Manchester school district’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers, the girls are bused to and from their schools (all Title I, which means 40 percent of the students live in poverty) for free. Some of their past projects include building sheds, picnic tables, benches, chairs, bookcases, tables, bird houses, bat houses, window boxes, storage bins and lockers. Most events happen in the Queen City, but the nonprofit also sets workshops up on site at other locations and hosts weekend women’s classes, birthday parties for girls and corporate team builds for men and women. 
Mike DiMaggio, president of the Guild of NH Woodworkers, said it works with many New Hampshire schools, assisting students and teachers with the goal of furthering woodworking in the state. 
“There are children who need some kind of skill to have a productive kind of life and a good-quality job,” DiMaggio said. “You can go into various areas of carpentry or fine furniture making with any kind of architectural training, but many schools don’t have the funding to have those kinds of programs.”
For the grown-ups
You don’t have to know anything about woodworking to take a beginner workshop.
Saulten said he starts his off with the bare basics, covering the kinds of tools you might use, both manual and electrical, and how to operate machinery like bandsaws, sanders, table saws and planers, plus how to finish a piece with paint or stain.
His beginner classes are evenly distributed between men and women, which he partially credits to a women-only beginner workshop he began offering a couple years ago. Women seem to be more at ease, he said, when they’re not afraid of being judged for not knowing certain basics.
“Men tend to have a macho attitude — ‘I’m a guy, so I already know how to do that stuff.’ Which of course they don’t, or they wouldn’t be taking the basic class,” Saulten said. 
Some opt to continue their work in Alton, paying per hour they work, either because they don’t have the space at home or because they still want help. 
“In addition to my shop, they get me. I can help them over the rough spot. I don’t build it for them, but I’m there watching and showing them and teaching them a better way,” Saulten said.
Other places to check out for beginner woodworking classes include the Homestead Woodworking School in Newmarket, run by Alan Mitchell and instructed by professional craftsmen and woodworking professionals, and Epic Woodworking in Canterbury, run by Tom McLaughlin. You can also take beginner classes at a local makerspace or through the Guild of NH Woodworkers, said DiMaggio.
The Guild of NH Woodworkers, made up of men and women interested in woodworking, is divvied up into a variety of specialized groups — beginners and intermediates, boat builders, period furniture, woodturning, instrument-making and carving. Membership costs $40 a year and includes free access to all workshops and classes, held all around the state, plus a copy of its woodworking journal edited by Jim Seroskie. DiMaggio said about 70 percent of members do the craft recreationally, 30 percent professionally. It also raises money through fundraising events; at the League of NH Craftsmen’s Fair Aug. 5 through Aug. 13, for instance, the Guild will have a tent of donated items up for auction.
Places to play
One of the biggest obstacles for beginner woodworkers is figuring out where to create. That’s where New Hampshire’s makerspaces come in.
Makerspaces are kind of like gyms, except instead of fitness equipment, they provide access to workshop spaces and materials, helping members create everything from robots to furniture. Nearby hotspots include the Manchester Makerspace, MakeIt Labs in Nashua, Port City Makerspace in Portsmouth and the MAXT Makerspace in Peterborough. Inside any of them are curious people ranging from beginner to expert in a variety of fields.
Nihco Gallo of the Port City Makerspace said that, by far, its woodshop is the most-used of its different trade shops (which include woodworking, machining, metalworking, embroidery, electronics, blacksmithing and automotives). Weekends are busy, but even on weekdays, you’re likely to find some of its 100 or so members working on something or just hanging out.
During a recent visit, one guy was building a ladder, and another working on his car. A few were managing their own businesses, which they run out of the makerspace, including Chris Straub, who’s been a member for three years and creates wooden pint glasses and rollers. For him, the value is access to machinery — table saws, lathes, bandsaws, planers, jointers, sanding centers and a CNC machine — and other people to bounce ideas off. Lots of people without woodworking backgrounds are intimidated by it, but they shouldn’t be.
“Yeah, you have to know the tools and be safe with the tools, and you’ll learn a million little things along the way, but it’s a lot less complicated than people think it is,” Straub said. 
The Port City Makerspace is about five years old and hosts beginner woodworking workshops once a month open to members and nonmembers.
“I had a range of people [take the workshops], from those who’d never held a power drill before to people … who used to do fine woodworking but it was years ago and they needed a refresher course for all the tools,” Gallo said. “One of the benefits [of joining the makespace] is you get to absorb knowledge and experiences by osmosis. If you don’t know how to do something, there’s probably somebody that’s also wasting time in the common room who’s done it.”
Makerspaces are growing rapidly in New Hampshire. The Manchester Makerspace is only a year old and has become a hub for the Granite State Woodturners, who meet there regularly and recently held a beginner workshop (and as a result, its woodshop is dominated by lathes). Visitors are greeted by a chainsaw carving out front, and inside are tools and space for most all hobbies. 
“New Hampshire’s a great state [for woodworking] because there’s wood everywhere,” said David Belser, the Manchester Makespace wood shop officer. “With woodturning, all you need is a hunk of wood mounted securely on a lathe. … There’s no material costs whatsoever, other than your time of collecting.”
Daniel Perrinez, current president of this makerspace, said members are working hard to open it up to new people and organizations. For example, it recently held a laser cutting workshop with Girls Inc.
“We’re making a lot of relationships with local charter schools and homeschool families. Some members created pieces for the bike art project in Concord,” Perrinez said.
There’s a reason why they call it a power tool. And it’s not just about woodworking; for Girls at Work, it’s also about confidence-building and empowerment.
Hamel told her campers this during a workshop last week, outside after lunch, near the Girls at Work vegetable garden that contained trellises and picnic tables the girls built themselves. Their next step was to try another challenging thing. 
For example, climb a mountain. Hamel said the organization has worked with Kimball Union Academy campers. Part of their week, they build, and another part, they climb — either a short hike, a 2,000- or a 4,000-footer. 
“If they go camping after they’ve been here, they’re feeling like giants, pumped up with ridiculous amounts of self esteem. Every one of them wants to do a 4,000-footer. How awesome is that?” she said. “The confidence. It’s a game-changer. They leave here [and] sometimes you’ll hear them say, ‘What else can I do?’ … Teachers are telling us it’s spilling into the classroom. They’re building picnic tables that we’re leaving at schools, and now the girls are asking us to take pictures of them building so they can hang them up near the table.”
At this point, Hamel has seen thousands of girls through the program, but it hasn’t changed the ferocity of her passion. She could talk for hours telling Girls at Work stories, and shared another about a camper who couldn’t tie her hair back.
“Nine years old, and nobody’s taken the time to show her how to tie her hair up. So I had a volunteer that day take her out and teach her how to tie her hair up,” she said. “Fast forward, the last day here, she shows up here, gets right up in my face and says, ‘Miss Elaine! I learned how to tie my hair up!’”
That day, while the girls were finishing the desks they made, Hamel caught sight of this girl decorating hers.
“She’s drawn a heart on her desk, which she was coloring in. Across the top of the heart she wrote, ‘I am strong,’” Hamel said. “These girls. I mean, there are so many times I just have to walk away because I get so choked up.”
Girls at Work has created a myriad of loyal fans, like Victoria Brier of Manchester, whose daughter, 10-year-old Violet Brier, was immediately “smitten” with the program when she created her first projects with the nonprofit a couple years ago through Hallsville School. 
“She’s an adventurous, strong-willed girl. It was exciting for me to see the school offering something a little more in-depth than some other after-school programs,” Victoria Brier said. “She’s just always been one who can and will do whatever she wants, in a way. She didn’t really need that push. But it certainly never hurts anybody to do something new. … Now we’ve got Girls at Work projects all over the house.”
Jennifer Sanctuary, treasurer on the board, said she’s seen the same kind of confidence boost among women participating in weekend workshops. 
“That’s had almost as much impact on the women as it has had on the children. The women in there are very apprehensive at first, and so for them to see this awesome table or bookshelf at the end of the day is really amazing,” Sanctuary said. 
Reaching out
Gosselin said Girls at Work has grown tremendously this past year, a trajectory she and the rest of the staff and board members would like to see continue. 
“We’re growing rapidly. I think what we’re really looking for is people to invest in the girls and help us continue. Our long-term goal is to get our bus on the road and create a mobile workshop so we can bring it all around the state, because it’s not just a Manchester issue,” Gosselin said.
The same is true for the Guild and local makerspaces, particularly the newest. Manchester’s got the room and most of the tools you might want, but it also wants to accrue more members to teach or take woodworking classes. They know it’s the generosity of locals that feeds woodworking culture.
“I lived in New York my whole life. And New York is a great place, and there are a lot of opportunities there, but I’ve never met the quality of people, who are so kind and giving with their time and resources, as I have with the people of New Hampshire,” DiMaggio said. 

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