Girls Who Build is a series of profiles of women who build...like girls. Yes, that's right. Girls are powerful and so are these women, especially when it comes to creating beautiful and useful pieces from wood, metal, and more. These girls are kicking butt in an historically male-dominated industry, and we cannot get enough! Here we find out how they got started and how you can, too.
About Jen Woodhouse
What: Self-taught carpenter, woodworker, and DIY guru
Where: Blog, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, currently based in Central Kentucky
Why: “If you can follow a recipe, you can build a table.”
How: “Once you get started, you’ll realize it’s not as hard as you expected. Then, before you know it, you have a coffee table that you built!”
When it comes to mainstays of the virtual woodworking world, self-taught carpenter Jen Woodhouse is one of the greats. Regularly cited as a source of inspiration for the women featured in our Girls Who Build series, we were thrilled to catch Jen for a Zoom interview, talking all things woodworking, home improvement, and DIY.
After being stationed in Central Kentucky for the past 18 months for her husband’s military job, Jen is currently feeling very much at home. Growing up with a dad in the Air Force, she’s no stranger to moving often, but this is the first home they’ve bought—and, as she talked about her day-to-day life, she leaned out of the frame to show off the wooden floors they recently laid.
The Search for a Shoe Storage Solution Started the Journey
But even though this is their first time as homeowners, it was the desire to improve her living space that first introduced Jen to woodworking. Back in 2010, while living in Fort Lee, Va., she and her husband were newlyweds on a budget. Jen longed to make their tiny apartment feel like home, and in an effort to reorganize their entryway, she started to search for a shoe storage solution. Her search returned no viable options to buy, but she eventually found plans to make one.
“I’d never built anything. I didn’t even have tools, so my husband was like, ‘you want to do what?’”
Even though she didn’t grow up in a family of builders, Jen knew she could do it. “My dad is the type of person who would hire someone to change a ceiling light,” she said with a laugh. But she's always found fulfillment in making things and was regularly looking for a creative outlet.
So, armed with the plans she found online, Jen and her husband went to Home Depot, where she picked out all the lumber. Then, she made the rookie mistake of asking them to cut each piece for her. She learned on the spot that they normally only do this to fit the material into your car, but she laid out the plans and asked for specific cuts. Back home, with only a power drill and a sander, she assembled the pieces according to the plan. Shocked to have a completed shoe caddy, she turned to her husband once again.
“I was like, ‘Let’s go to Home Depot and get some tools!’ And it just grew from there.”
From Sharing Experiences to Sharing Expertise
After their daughter Evie was born, her husband knew exactly how to celebrate. For her first Mother’s Day, he gifted Jen with a compound miter saw, “and I’ve been building ever since!”
It wasn’t long before her work as a builder merged with her life as a content creator. She originally posted DIY content, like refinishing furniture that she found, including sanding or staining, or wrapping a headboard in fabric. But once she was confident enough, she started to share the things she built by hand.
“I started out documenting my projects. [It] was less about teaching other people and more about what I did and what mistakes I made. But then it grew from sharing my experience to sharing my expertise.”
Her Beginner Tutorials Follow Recipe-Like Simplicity
Today, Jen is on a constant mission to make building more accessible. She writes all of her own furniture plans, and she keeps that newlywed shoe caddy in mind every step of the way. “Taking the intimidation out of it was my goal.”
That's why Jen’s plans read like recipes—she lists what you need, where to buy your ingredients (i.e. materials), and which tools you should use. “If you can follow a recipe, you can build a table,” Jen assured us.
“The plans that I write and the tutorials that I create are geared toward beginners, so you only need three tools—a saw, a drill, and [either] a sander or a pocket hole jig. Nothing fancy, just three really basic tools and you can get started building your furniture with very limited resources.”
Diving Into Home Improvements
Now, Jen looks back and understands that her passion for building was also rooted in necessity. “Because we’re a military family, we’re moving around every two years. So it’s always a different thing—a different house to fill, a different need.”
But now that they've settled in a bit more than in the past, she’s been looking at new sources of inspiration, shifting her focus more and more to home improvement projects. She rattled off her current projects, which included renovating a bathroom, tiling for the first time, knocking down walls, and figuring out how to lay flooring.
And amidst the home improvement projects, Jen is also happy to play to her audience more, creating plans for the projects she knows her readers want to see. “Kids projects are always really popular, like playhouses, as well as my kids’ beds,” she said. “But so are dining tables and coffee tables, because they’re very beginner-friendly.”
Lifting the Community That Inspires Her
While her initial audience was comprised of people seeking out tutorials, it’s now become more about building a community. Over the past 10 years as a blogger, Jen is proud to have connected with so many other makers and online creators that share her space.
“People are doing really inspirational things and there so many new ideas being shared. It’s been really fun to see this community grow and be a part of pioneering the whole movement.”
Even Now, Trial and Error Is Important
But while Jen might be a leader in the virtual building community, she’s not infallible in the workshop. In fact, she sees the value of trial and error.
“One of my favorite parts of this whole building and making process is the problem solving,” she said. “As I think about the project or come up with the concept, then design it, then draw up the plan, then execute the plan... I see ‘oh well that didn’t work, let me try this way instead.' That whole problem-solving aspect is one of my favorite things. Some of my plans go through 30 revisions. I always say, ‘I make all the mistakes for you!’”
Jen's Advice for Aspiring DIYers
When it comes to getting started, Jen assured us that the best approach is to just dive in. “Just start. To me, that’s the most intimidating part, just starting. But once you get started you realize that productivity and action are what creates motivation.”
And as for how to get started: “I am a graduate of YouTube University and Google University!” Jen said proudly. With a full appreciation of the importance of research, Jen regularly turns to the internet for answers. Plus, there are people within her virtual world who inspire her with their innovation and how they grow the community, too.
“Our community is pretty tight and always uplifting,” she said, smiling. “Now I want to continue to grow; not just in my skills, but also in online content creation. This landscape is always changing. My hope is to continue growing and learning while inspiring and empowering others.”