By Eric Detweiler, Communications Specialist
Jenn Kuhn’s own introduction to the skills she teaches in the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum’s Women’s Woodworking Workshops came in her first days at boat-building school. Talk about a crash course.
Kuhn, now the Shipyard Education Programs Manager, first offered the class at CBMM in 2012 while an apprentice in the Shipyard, and over the past decade-plus, it’s provided her an enjoyable avenue for sharing her knowledge with dozens of women interested in learning more about the techniques and tools vital to her career.
“The goal in offering a course like this is to make everything a little bit more inclusive and accessible,” Kuhn said. “As a woman in the trades, it would’ve been awesome when I was going through high school if I could have taken shop class. It wasn’t even a consideration. This course is about offering the opportunity to learn.”
Kuhn will be teaching the introductory Women’s Woodworking Workshop again on March 11-12 in the Shipyard, guiding participants through the basics of buying lumber, making a cut list, and using a variety of power and hand tools to construct a wooden mallet. The course has reached capacity, but interested participants can sign up for the waitlist at bit.ly/WomensWoodworkingWaitlist.
On July 21-24, CBMM is hosting a four-day intermediate course in which participants will expand on the woodworking and joinery skills they’ve learned from the intro class to build a stool. The cost is $295, with a 20% discount for CBMM members, and all tools and materials are included. Registration is now available at bit.ly/JulyWomensWoodworking.
Kuhn models the Women’s Woodworking programming off a course she previously taught at the Center for Wooden Boats in Seattle, and it’s been a consistent hit on the Eastern Shore offering participants the chance to immerse themselves in the sights and sounds of the Shipyard for a few days and come away with a completed project.
Ultimately, Kuhn’s goal with these courses is to provide a comfortable, welcoming, and safe environment for women to learn and work together, regardless of background or even future plans to use a table saw or the other power tools on the project list.
“As they say, knowledge is power,” Kuhn said. “Whether or not anybody ever goes on to do anything else with woodworking, it’s great to have that knowledge and understand how these skills can help you.”
Indeed, Brenda Fike arrived at the introductory course in 2021 with no experience since middle-school woodshop but eager to learn more.
Over two days, the Easton resident found Kuhn’s presentation informative and the atmosphere fun, with the project offering just the right level of challenge.
Fike’s mallet, with a head made of carefully-selected osage orange, hangs in her home workshop as a proud reminder of her work that weekend.
“I thought everything about it was great,” Fike said. “I knew nothing going in, and Jenn made it an experience that was totally educational, interesting, and fun for me.”
Jan Kirsh echoed that sentiment. The local sculptor and landscape designer was looking for a woodworking refresher while putting together a museum show, and she enjoyed a memorable weekend at CBMM in Kuhn’s course, working alongside a group of women who have stayed in touch and become friends. (The mallet that she made remains useful in her art studio, too.)
“Jenn is a great instructor,” Kirsh said. “Her high level of ability rubs off on her students. She has a real comfort in the shop that gives you a sense of how qualified she is, and she transfers that sense of confidence while you’re working with a piece of powerful woodworking equipment on your own.”
The mission of the Women’s Woodworking Workshops is personal for Kuhn, who still uses the first mallet that she ever made as one of her first projects at boat-building school in her day-to-day work. She makes sure to regularly include the courses on CBMM’s Apprentice for a Day programming schedule and also teaches them occasionally at the Finger Lakes Boating Museum in Upstate New York.
Now a seasoned boatbuilder, Kuhn always appreciates the chance to invite other women to the Shipyard and share her woodworking expertise.
“My hope is to help our participants feel more comfortable and less intimidated coming into an area where we weren’t always included,” Kuhn said. “Historically, most of the shop folks were men. Now that’s totally changing. We’re eons from that, which is awesome, but I know there are still a lot of women out there who wish that they would’ve had something like this growing up.”