Against the Grain is a series spotlighting people who are underrepresented in the woodworking, carpentry, and construction space. We’ll speak with people working on projects from whole-home renos to intricate wood sculptures to learn what inspires them, how they’ve carved their own space (pun intended), and what they’re working on next.
As far as career journeys go, Joanie Sprague’s transition from the catwalk to the workshop serves as the perfect example of how someone with the right mix of determination and hard work can defy both the odds and the stereotypes.
It’s wonderful to realize that I have value. I have skills that contribute to society, and my friends and family. I can do for myself, and pass these skills on to others as well.
Originally from Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, Sprague moved to California to pursue modeling and was even named runner-up on cycle 6 of America’s Next Top Model in 2006. After her run on ANTM, she pivoted to home improvement TV and appeared in a few series, which ultimately led her to where she is today: working as a carpenter, educator, and self-proclaimed handy ma’am in Orange County, California.
We recently connected with Sprague, who can currently be seen on the new discovery+ series Remix My Space with Marsai Martin (most well-known for her role on ABC’s Black-ish). Read on for Sprague’s thoughts on her career, her construction and carpentry experiences, and her favorite projects.
How did you first become interested in woodworking?
Joanie Sprague: I started working in construction about 12 years ago when I auditioned for Run My Renovation on the DIY Network. I never thought about working in television, but something clicked, and I stuck with it. After doing construction and handyman stuff for a long time, I built cabinets, built-ins, and more, and I realized I enjoyed the woodworking part of things a lot.
When did you realize this was more than just a hobby?
JS: When I started to realize I could make money doing this. If I could do what I enjoyed, and also make money doing it, it was a win-win and a true blessing.
After America’s Next Top Model, what compelled you to audition to be the co-host for DIY Network’s Run My Renovation?
JS: In college, I started doing personal organizing and I was already pretty handy [and a] go-getter with that sort of stuff. I met a guy who already had done some shows on DIY and he asked if he could make a video of me and send it to them. He liked the “handy model” schtick. So … he filmed it and sent it in and boom, they called me for an audition! And I got it!
What project are you proudest of at the moment?
JS: I’m sure proud of the current show being released on discovery+. It’s called Remix My Space with Marsai Martin. I am the carpenter on the design team. It’s Tiffany Thompson (interior designer), myself, and Marsai Martin, the host. It was a fun show to make because so many folks working on the show had never done home improvement or unscripted work before and everyone buckled down and made it happen. We worked together like the hardest working train on the tracks. It was uphill at times, but we kicked butt and made a great show.
What has been your biggest fail that became a valuable lesson?
JS: Unrelated to woodworking, but [on a career level] ... once I was modeling for [House of Deréon], owned by Beyoncé, and I went out the night before and got so drunk. I was an hour late for work the next morning and they fired me on the spot. Never disrespect your clients and their time. Be on time, be sober, be on top of your game. You never want to make a bad name for yourself.
Never disrespect your clients and their time.
What was the first thing you ever built?
JS: I think the first thing I built with assistance was a built-in bench seat on Run My Renovation. On RMR, I worked with some of the off-camera builders. They taught me pretty much everything! I am forever grateful for their knowledge. Unassisted, probably some sort of bench. I was probably in my mid-twenties. This was after Run My Renovation. I got the idea from a YouTube video.
If budget and time were no constraint, what would you love to build?
JS: I’d love to build an outdoor steam sauna out of cedar for my husband. He loves the sauna, and I wish we had a little personal one here at the house instead of having to go to the spa.
What’s one thing you wish people understood about woodworking?
JS: I wish people would try to understand how long things can take. If I have to make even a cutting board and do it nicely, by hand, it could take me hours and hours. Bookcases can take several days, especially with certain finishes. Also, sourcing your materials takes time as well. All of these things should be considered in the price, but many folks don’t see the value in that, which stinks.
What’s been the most rewarding part of learning to build?
JS: It’s wonderful to realize that I have value. I have skills that contribute to society, and my friends and family. I can do for myself, and pass these skills on to others as well.
Favorite wood? Walnut.
Favorite tool or piece of equipment? Miter saw.
Favorite piece? My buffet under my TV.
Biggest goal? To have my own show of some sort one day.
Favorite accessory? My pencil leash ... yes. A leash for my pencil.
Favorite step of the process? I love that first moment when things take shape. All the prep, ripping, precise cuts, sanding … everything has to happen, and then BOOM, things take shape and you see things coming into fruition.
Favorite assistant? My dog, Sissy. She might as well be an assistant; she’s pretty much attached to me.
Music on or off while working? ON!
Favorite band? Steely Dan or Jungle (very different I know!); I also love Ranchera music!
Favorite song? “The Caves of Altamira” by Steely Dan, “Heavy California"”by Jungle, or “Tú Solo Tú” by Linda Rondstadt.
Headphones or speaker? Iso Tunes headphones all the way.