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The Uncommoners: Exploring the Other Side of Ordinary

Posted by leighann | October 29th, 2013 | Filed under Design, Partnerships, Who We Are

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We all know them, those friends who work behind-the-scenes, who fly under the radar while doing extraordinary things. They build stuff. They make things. They grow goods. And they do it quietly without the need for accolades or recognition. They’re our friends and neighbors. They’re the humble warriors who live their passion everyday and create positive change. They’re people like Katy Anderson. Known by some as the Lady Carpenter, Katy—as her moniker suggests—is a skilled craftswoman in a man’s world. She’s also the first portrait in The Uncommoners, our new Off-The-Grid series dedicated to exploring the other side of ordinary.

OTG: Let’s talk about woodworking school.
Katy: I went to the School of Fine Woodworking in Fort Bragg. It’s on the foggy coast of northern California. It feels like an island because you have to go down these winding roads just to get there. For two years, all I had to do was make things and think about making things.

What led you to woodworking school in the first place?
For years, I have been a finished carpenter by trade. But under the guidance of Mark Newman, an excellent woodworker, I went from installing baseboard to building staircases. Then I went out on my own and continued to soak up knowledge, but I still wanted to learn more. My plan was to go to woodworking school for one year, but went for two. I mean, how often do you get to spend six months working on one piece? Finished carpentry is still my bread and butter, but now I have this ability to do more creative things.

Like what?
Furniture. I made a live edge bed for a friend. I’ve made tables. And I’ve been making these vardos.

What’s a vardo?
It’s in the Tiny House world. Right now I’m making one for Dee. You remember Dee Williams? Basically, it’s layered wood using bent lamination and a jig. I cut all these boards .25 inch. If you want a tighter curve, you would cut thinner boards. Then you stack it up like cake, glue each layer, clamp it and it creates this beautiful, solid piece of wood.

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Katy gives us a tour of the vardo.

You don’t see these in mass production.
No, luckily, there’s a movement away from mass production. I mean, look at Portland? It’s just teeming with craft because people want things that are handmade, that have personality. With mass production, you can’t appreciate something you can walk up to and feel, like the softness of the curves, the subtleness of the legs.

I’m curious. What’s it like to be a woman in a male-dominated trade?
It’s less so in Portland. But in Hawaii, I was literally the only woman. They called me the Lady Carpenter. But I’ve never been given a hard time. Usually it’s some guy saying “oh, so you’re a carpenter? Well, I built this and I built that….” But I grew up with brothers, so I’m used to being around large groups of men. For a lot of women, that’s hard. That’s why I see a great opportunity to teach. In fact, the School of Fine Woodworking just hired a head woman teacher for the first time.

That’s refreshing. So what are you working on now?
I’m building my own house. It’s a longtime dream of mine. I’m going to finish the entire house myself— the cabinets, window treatments, built-ins—and hopefully move in within the next three months. It will be my finest work.

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All in a day’s work.

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