Holt carpenter hosts woodworking classes for women and LGBTQ people

·4 min read
Megan Shannon explains the parts of a shoulder plane to a group of students who have signed up for classes on basic wood working skills Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021.
Megan Shannon explains the parts of a shoulder plane to a group of students who have signed up for classes on basic wood working skills Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021.

Megan Shannon knows how hard it is to get into carpentry as a woman. Back in 2012, she started her company, Tiny Bit of Wood, but had zero mentors who looked like her. She was always the only woman in the room. She didn't want that for other aspiring craftspeople.

"I had very few people who do woodworking, and none (were not) white men," she said. "Building a shop is so expensive. It took me 8 years."

Shannon recalled starting out in the field after her mother was having issues with her sewing table. The table's height was giving her mom back problems, so Shannon built a new one that was the right height.

Multiple sizes and types of tools are mounted on the walls ot the Tiny Bit of Wood School Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021. The school opened in November of this year.
Multiple sizes and types of tools are mounted on the walls ot the Tiny Bit of Wood School Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021. The school opened in November of this year.

As time passed, Shannon picked up more carpentry skills, crafting furniture, boxes, frames and miniature models of the state of Michigan.

"If I need something, I make it for the most part," she said.

Now, Shannon is opening her workshop to other prospective students from all walks of life for two-hour woodworking classes. She'll give lessons on making frames or holiday ornaments solely with hand tools. Classes range from $30 for ornaments to $55 for frames and an introductory course on hand tools "for LGBTQ+, women, non-binary, marginalized identities and survivors," according to the description.

When someone can't afford a class, Shannon uses donations from other students to pay for sessions or completely waives fees.

Megan Shannon, center, answers questions from woodworking students Angelo Pecora, left, and Erika Poli during a frame making class at Tiny Bit of Wood School in Holt Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021.
Megan Shannon, center, answers questions from woodworking students Angelo Pecora, left, and Erika Poli during a frame making class at Tiny Bit of Wood School in Holt Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021.

Shannon enlisted the help of Maddy Corbin, a web designer and social media consultant, to spruce up her social channels and revamp her website. They also devised a safety policy for Shannon's classes under which the shop's address is not shared until a student's payment is processed.

Corbin, who is nonbinary, said the intent of the rebrand was to welcome people from all walks of life into Shannon's shop.

"I just have the life experience to kind of phrase things in a more inclusive way," Corbin said. "I'm in that generation where you learn these things as you're going through life."

Abby Harper, a friend of Shannon's, decided to try her classes. She ran into hiccups at a recent Sunday class after mistakenly measuring a side of her frame that didn't line up well with others.

Abby Harper uses a miter box to cut the angles for a picture frame she and others are making at during a class at the Tiny Bit of School in Holt Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021.
Abby Harper uses a miter box to cut the angles for a picture frame she and others are making at during a class at the Tiny Bit of School in Holt Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021.

Shannon came to her rescue and helped her reassess the tool she was using — the sort of teaching Harper said helps her learn.

"It's a friendly space for folks who are brand-new, and I think as a woman, sometimes it's hard to find spaces that feel comfortable and respectful to learn from," Harper said.

Erika Poli of Haslett researched woodworking classes online but couldn't find anything nearby. She eventually found Shannon's classes through a Facebook group, Not Your Mothers Networking Group.

She bought a class after reading about Shannon's goal to create an affirming learning environment. Shannon's shop felt like a less intimidating place to learn how to use hand tools. During her first class, everyone except one attendee had no prior experience.

Caitlin Keene looks over a piece of wood she used a wood plane on in preparation for making a picture frame during a woodworking class at the Tiny Bit of School, Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021. The school opened earlier in the month in Holt.
Caitlin Keene looks over a piece of wood she used a wood plane on in preparation for making a picture frame during a woodworking class at the Tiny Bit of School, Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021. The school opened earlier in the month in Holt.

"My COVID purchases have been prints or pieces of art, and I bought a ton of frames at the dollar store that were not great," Poli said. "I need to put (the artworks) in something, so it's empowering to say, like, 'I did that.""

Caitlin Keene of Haslett made a table over the summer after taking a class with a different instructor, and said there's a sense of satisfaction in seeing an item she made around the house. But she didn't continue that class because it got too intensive and dealt with a number of power tools.

Shannon's classes, which focus only on hand tools, helped Keene continue with hand saws, carvers and planes.

Keene's father, Angelo Pecora, of Williamston, attended the class having made rocking chairs, cradles, trunks and boxes decades ago. But he didn't know how to make smaller items like frames.

Angelo Pecora practices using a plane on a scrap piece of wood before making a picture frame at the Tiny Bit of Wood School in Holt Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021.
Angelo Pecora practices using a plane on a scrap piece of wood before making a picture frame at the Tiny Bit of Wood School in Holt Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021.

"I'm just kind of getting acclimated into it," Pecora said. "I couldn't make a picture frame. I could make a rocking chair, but I couldn't make a frame."

He found Shannon's classes easy thanks to her calm demeanor.

"She can see the questions in my eyes before I ask them," he said.

This hickory box, pictured Nov. 21, 2021, is in Megan Shannon's auction Tiny Bit of Good, supporting Small Talk Children's Advocacy Center
This hickory box, pictured Nov. 21, 2021, is in Megan Shannon's auction Tiny Bit of Good, supporting Small Talk Children's Advocacy Center

Next up, Shannon is mounting a fundraiser — "a Tiny Bit of Good" — to support the Small Talk Children's Advocacy Center, a nonprofit supporting childhood abuse survivors. She'll provide a handmade hickory box to be auctioned. All proceeds will go to Small Talk, which has weathered funding issues due to the pandemic.

"It's a small nonprofit that works with children, and they do one-site interviews with a therapist and police officer," she said. "It's all legal, and it lowers trauma by having the child recount their abuse (only) once."

She hopes to continue expanding both the business and its advocacy.

"I’m really hoping that this grows big enough for me to open a brick-and-mortar to sell stuff and hold more classes."

Contact reporter Krystal Nurse at (517) 267-1344 or knurse@lsj.com. Follow her on Twitter @KrystalRNurse.

This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: Holt carpenter hosts woodworking classes for women and LGBTQ people

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