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.
About The Pneumatic Addict Elisha Albretsen
Based just outside of Phoenix, Elisha Albretsen never expected to get into woodworking. But as she has learned more than a few times, sometimes, life has other plans. We connected with the blogger known as The Pneumatic Addict to discuss how the combination of a strict budget and surprise identical twin boys turned her toward a career as a digital DIYer.
Meet the Expert
Elisha Albretsen comes from a serious DIY family, and she's the founder of The Pneumatic Addict, where she shares her DIY home improvement projects, tutorials, and plans. As a former hairstylist, Elisha is used to being creative with her hands.
Handy From a Young Age
“I grew up in a family that was really handy," said Elisha. "Both my parents are just very practical people with lots of skills. [If] the dishwasher broke, Dad checked out a book from the library, and we had to fix it. Mom would sew curtains for all the houses we lived in. We grew up... just being DIYers, more or less.”
But while she was no stranger to being crafty, it was Elisha’s husband who already had a foundation of woodworking knowledge. “My husband comes from a family of contractors; his dad was a house framer. He had been framing houses since he was 14—so he's a really handy guy, too.”
Newlyweds on a Budget
The pair married in 2007 and, as Elisha said, “the economy was not so great for contractors.” Elisha worked as a hairstylist, and the two struggled to find their footing. Then, Elisha learned she was unexpectedly pregnant—with twins!
“That totally blew me away.”
By the end of 2009, Elisha was on bedrest. Her husband still struggled to find contractor work, and the couple turned to their savings for as long as they could manage. “Once the savings were gone, I had these two really high-demand newborns that prevented me from being able to go to work full time, like I thought it was going to be able to do. And my husband was just trying to take whatever job he could.”
Elisha's First Toolset
Shortly after getting married, the newlyweds bought a washer and dryer off Craigslist. The seller offered to throw in an “old school Ryobi combo kit for ten bucks.” Along with a drill and tiny circular saws, Elisha began to build up a small tool stash, perfect for DIY projects around the house. “Everything else, I borrowed from my father-in-law.”
With two newborns and a savings account at zero, Elisha began cutting hair in her kitchen for friends and family while asking herself, “What else can I do?"
"My father-in-law sometimes would give me his leftover scraps from construction projects, and our neighbors would put stuff out on the curb. So I would go and grab this old broken furniture. I started building things and making them over."
When friends and family began asking if Elisha would sell them her work, she realized she might have stumbled into something. She turned to Craigslist and local craft shows to sell her work.
The Birth of Her Next Baby: The Pneumatic Addict
Unfortunately, Elisha soon realized that it wasn’t the most ideal way to make a living. “I'll be honest, I'm just… I'm a terrible entrepreneur,” she said with a laugh. “But I made enough money that I was able to invest a little bit of it and start a website.”
In 2010, the Pneumatic Addict was born—and it was through the comment section of her newly minted blog that people began asking for tutorials. “It just kind of grew on from there.”
As Elisha's project portfolio expanded, so did her tool collection. “The first [tool] that I have any sort of connection to was my pneumatic brad nailer. And that's actually where I get the name of my company. I got it on sale at Harbor Freight for like $16, so it was within my budget at the time.”
Perks of a Pneumatic Life
These days, most of Elisha’s tools are battery-operated, and new viewers are quick to point out that they've never seen her use a pneumatic tool, a power tool that is powered by compressed air.
While she's moved on in some ways, Elisha still hangs onto her original collection. “The thing that I like in particular about pneumatic tools is they're actually very affordable. Your big expense is your air compressor, but once you have [that]… you can get a really good quality pneumatic sander for forty or fifty bucks. Even now, even with cordless tools coming down [in price], they're still nowhere near that price point.”
Along with being more affordable, Elisha explained that pneumatic tools have other advantages, too. “They're usually smaller and lighter weight. I will occasionally use my old pneumatic nail guns or my pin nailer… because they're small enough, I can squeeze them into a tight space.”
“[They're also] so lightweight. I can hold it and move it all day long without my arm getting tired or without having to switch batteries.”
Branching Out on Social
With her blog taking off, Elisha learned other ways she could grow her online business. After resisting social media for as long as she could, she joined Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube. “I posted my first video six years ago [in 2015], just because I was going to conferences, and they said, ‘You have to have a YouTube channel.’”
She was surprised to realize that there was a definite learning curve, and her first video didn't quite go to plan. “I posted the most embarrassing, terrible video. I filmed the entire thing in one take in my garage, just talking to a camcorder... and [then] I realized that I had cut my head off."
She decided to go for it and post the video anyway, and today, it still racks up views (as seen here). Elisha still knew there was room for growth. “[After] learning how to edit a little bit, I started to enjoy it. And I really do see it as kind of a creative outlet. It's an art form in itself, being able to edit.”
From This Old House to Her Dream Home
For Elisha, watching DIY and homebuilding projects on a screen has always been a part of her life—from way before her YouTube days. “I was kind of a weird kid. I grew up watching This Old House and Bob Vila and Norm Abram." Elisha laughed as she gushed about her love for the duo she calls "kind of dry and stuffy," because, even today, they're staying true to who they are. "They're not trying to be cool or hip. They're just trying to give you good information, show you how to do stuff the right way.”
But This Old House is more than just a quirky guilty pleasure. It also inspired a long-time dream for Elisha that recently became a reality. “Since I was eight [or] nine years old, I had a major goal and dream of building my own house one day. I had no idea how, I just wanted to. So we bought land a couple of years ago and finally, we were in a position where we could build.”
Now, a few months after moving, Elisha feels like they’re settling in. “It's stressful and it's hard. [But] it was very, very satisfying.”
11 Months of Work Pays Off
Alongside her husband (who’s now a structural engineer), the couple began building in February 2020. By March, he was on remote work, working from home, which made things easier.
“We were able to order our materials right on time. My father-in-law is still a contractor, and he told us that his contact at the lumberyard gave him a heads up that the following week they were going to be raising the price by 50%. So if we wanted to lock in a price, we needed to place our order by the end of the week.”
On Christmas Eve, 11 months after they broke ground, Elisha and her family moved into their new home. And from there, it’s been a DIYer dream.
Finally: (Half of) Her Own Workshop!
While fulfilling a lifelong dream was a great motivator, “the main impetus of building a custom house was actually to be able to have a workshop,” said Elisha. In their suburb, it's not the easiest process to add a workshop to an existing home. "Our only option to be able to build a big shop was to buy land.”
These days, she also shares the workshop with her husband, who’s into amateur racing and rebuilding cars. “That's actually kind of a sore subject in our house—fighting over shelf space,” Elisha laughed. “He has the bigger half.”
From DIY Dreams to a DIY Nightmare
But even with a new space made for woodworking and building, Elisha has still faced her share of fails on the job. While decorating their new bedroom, she decided to finally tackle a project she’s long had on her dream list.
“I've been trying to think of what to do for the accent wall in our bedroom, and I love cork. I was looking around and I found this really inexpensive cork underlayment at Home Depot, and I thought that might be cool.”
With a clear vision in mind, Elisha considered how to implement her plan. “I was really concerned about the drywall. I wanted to make sure that if I changed my mind… [I wouldn’t have to] rip out chunks of drywall. So I was looking around, [wondering] what would be something that would be removable? And I saw some recommendations for poster tape.” While the recommendation wasn’t specifically for hanging cork, Elisha still felt confident it would work. “So I went out and bought all this poster tape and all the cork I needed, which was a little bit more expensive than I was expecting.”
Now working on a deadline thanks to an upcoming sponsorship, Elisha and her husband had to get to work...fast. “We stayed up to one o'clock in the morning, hanging the cork on the wall, and it looked great. My husband said it looked like a recording studio, but I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing. It looked cool!”
Unfortunately, twenty minutes after climbing into bed, disaster struck. “We started hearing panels fall off the wall… all night long, every 20 minutes or so we would wake up hearing something crashing down to the ground.”
Now, Elisha can laugh. There’s not much to be saved from the project, though whatever she can salvage, she will. The real lesson for her is that sometimes, you can’t compromise. “You can't make it removable and have a well-secured cork wall at the same time. You’ve got to decide which one's more important to you.”
'I Definitely Feel Othered in My Industry'
As Elisha looks back on her journey into woodworking, she feels grateful for the support she’s received—both within the industry and from her family. But being a woman in woodworking has been an interesting experience, with a mixed bag of support from the online world. “I definitely feel othered in my industry,” said Elisha. “I get the most disgusting comments, especially from men. I get a lot of discouraging ‘bro stuff,’ but the majority of the time, it's positive. People really like seeing a woman try something new."
But, as Elisha explained, this is part of a larger issue, too. “I'm still ‘other.’ I don't want to be ‘cool for a female carpenter.’ I just want to be a carpenter. I don't necessarily want that designator on me.”
As a feminist, Elisha feels strongly that representation matters. “I love being out there so women and girls can see me,” she explained. But she also feels passionate that that side of woodworking shouldn’t be a requirement for getting into the industry. “If women [don't want] to make a statement with their career or their hobby, you can do that too. You can just do it without having to be a social justice warrior. Just do what you like.”
Words of Wisdom for Newbies on a Budget
When it comes to starting, Elisha agrees it’s important to just dive in and get started. But she also feels there’s an aspect to this industry that isn’t addressed enough.
“It does take some money to get started," said Elisha. "You have to invest in your tools and your materials. I would never, ever discourage somebody from getting into it because they feel like they don't have the ability to invest a lot of money into their hobby or in their business. There are always other ways to do it. But don't compare yourself to somebody who has the ability to purchase a fully outfitted shop, or who can buy the highest quality materials.”
“Recognize that there are privileges that some people come into this industry with.”