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Mama Needs A Project’s Emilee Anderson Inspires Woodworking Women

Blogger Emilee Anderson shares how she discovered woodworking and became a mentor for other women with an interest in wood-based DIY projects. Emilee is our latest interviewee as we celebrate wooden DIY projects and search for some of America’s best work. You can enter your favorite project into the Rayonier DIY Contest from now to Nov. 1, 2021. Visit rayonier.com/diy-contest.

Emilee Anderson may have never even picked up a drill until she was in her 20s, but today she’s a force to be reckoned with in the DIY woodworking world.

She is a military wife, mother of two and the founder of mamaneedsaproject.com—a popular blog and tutorial site for women interested in DIY woodworking. Through her relatable articles and humorous social media posts, Emliee has created a safe space for new and aspiring woodworkers to gather, learn and get inspired to break out the power tools.

We caught up with Emilee to learn more about how she got started woodworking, DIYing, blogging and creating a community of fearless female craftswomen. In the video below, she demonstrates how to build one of her outdoor projects:

How Life On An Isolated Base Led Emilee to her Passion 

There are now studies confirming what most parents have known for centuries: boredom inspires creativity and innovation.

This was certainly true for Emilee and her husband:

“When we got married we were stationed in California at a very destitute location in the middle of the desert. We didn’t have a lot to do and we couldn’t afford very much furniture for our house. Thankfully, we found out the base had a wood hobby shop with all the tools you could need and people to teach you. Plus, it was only around $4 a day to use it.”

A curious yet slightly intimidated Emliee convinced her husband to go with her and check it out. 

“So we went and it was really amazing. I was the only woman there and that was kind of intimidating but the staff never made me feel out of place. I asked a lot of questions, and I didn’t even know how to use a drill! But they were so patient and it was not the kind of opportunity every woman has. What started as something to spend more time together as a couple turned into my passion and my hobby.”

Emilee sits on a table she made
Emilee shows off a handmade table.

Her Hobby Soon Turned Into An Online Business

Once Emilee mastered the basics in the desert hobby shop, the couple was relocated and started a family. Emilee planned to continue working her day job, but the stress of parenting, working and her husband’s deployment schedule necessitated a change.

“I left my job when my son was 18 months old to become a stay at home mom. It was really wonderful…but I needed something that was all mine and didn’t involve me doing things for everyone else. So I started the Mama Needs A Project blog.”

Starting a good blog isn’t without its challenges for the tech novice, but just like with woodworking, Emilee didn’t let her inexperience stop her.

“I didn’t have any experience building a website or marketing or anything like that, so there was definitely a big learning curve. I am still not a tech wizard but thankfully everything is Googleable and now I have it under control.”

As The Blog Evolved, It Became More Focused On DIY And Simplifying Woodworking For Women

“I found I really enjoyed writing about DIY building, but then I started learning how to make woodworking plans and share them with other people. Having people building my plans has become the best and most fulfilling thing about the website!”

Since starting Mama Needs A Project, Emilee noticed a trend:

“I’ve had so many women reach out to me and I’ve helped a lot of them build their first projects. But I’ve had so many more women reach out and say, ‘I really want to do this but it’s overwhelming, I’m scared, etc.’

“So, I feel like my mission has turned into simplifying DIY and encouraging more women to get started building. I truly did not learn how to turn on a drill until I was well into my 20s and I think depending on where you’re getting your information it can get really complex. But really all you need is just a saw to cut the wood, a drill to join the wood and—if you want it to look pretty—you probably need a sander.”

Emilee added that she started with all second-hand tools, and encourages newbies to start there and upgrade as their interest/skills evolve. She’s also big on helping women learn how to create functional and efficient workshops in small or temporary spaces.

“We’ve moved around quite a bit so we’ve had to pay attention to making things mobile, functional and safe while taking up the least amount of space.”

Emilee demonstrates how scrap wood can transform into home decor in a matter of minutes.

Emilee’s Favorite Wood, Worst Project Ever And Where She Goes For Inspiration

Emilee’s go-to wood for the majority of her projects is pine or white wood found at your typical big box store. 

“I feel like it’s really good for learning since it’s more accessible and less expensive. But I feel like maybe I might branch into some hardwoods some day.”

Part of the reason her blog has been successful is because she shares her project successes and all her mistakes. Here’s what she had to say about her worst woodworking blooper ever.

“The project that still haunts me is our dining room table. It was my first really big project and I built it in the garage and stained it and put on several layers of topcoat. Then, I moved it into the house and the house lighting made me realize it was a deep orange and it looked horrible! It didn’t match our floors or anything and I just hated it. So I tried to live with it for a few days, and then moved it back into the garage and just had to sand for hours and hours and re-stain it.

“So I learned to always look at a stain sample on the exact lumber you’ll use in the lighting you’ll display the project, because each piece of lumber can vary in how it takes stain.”

When asked where she went for inspiration as a newbie, Emliee’s go-tos were fellow female woodworkers Ana White at ana-white.com and sisters Whitney Gainer and Ashley Turner at Shanty-2-Chic.

Emilee showcases her modern wood planter.

Tips For Moms On Carving Out Time In The Shop

The belief that stay-at-home-moms have tons of free time to pursue hobbies is a complete myth…especially when you have small children at home. Emilee, who is now a mother of 2, has found a way around this:

“My son is 4 and he’s been helping me in the garage since he was 3. These days we work when my infant is napping. From the very beginning we focused a lot on safety. So he has his own ear and eye protection, and we taught him to stay away from all the saws and things like that. 

“Our setup has also made it easier in that I’m able to roll my tools, benches, etc. into the driveway. So, I’ll set up something for him to do like sidewalk chalk or build towers with the scrap wood. He’ll come over and he’ll help. He’s good with the drill and can even bring me drill bits. It’s fun to have him out there, and a lot of projects I’ve done are for him. He feels very proud.”

She stressed that every child is different in terms of their ability to listen, follow directions and stay out of trouble. Do what feels safe for you based on your child, setup and level of patience/confidence.

Emilee stands in a workshop with tool benches, tools and a saw
Emilee helps take the intimidation factor out of woodworking for beginners, letting them know it’s ok to make mistakes and learn from them.

Emilee’s Best Advice On How To Get Started DIY Building

“I would say to start small and just pick one project you want to do. Then, if you don’t have the tools yet, buy the tools for that specific project.”

Once again, Emliee emphasized the importance of making and embracing mistakes: 

“Regardless of how much you prepare, you’re going to make mistakes. Even though that can be really frustrating, I think it’s one of the most rewarding parts of the hobby. Just knowing when you look at a finished piece that you also see all the things you had to learn and mistakes you had to fix makes it so meaningful.

“I used to get really hung up on the mistakes, but now I just call it character and that makes it even better.”

Emilee is inviting  beginners and other woodworkers to check out a free upcoming online Summit: Empowered Makers Online Festival Sept. 27-30, described as the most supportive and fun DIY party on the internet. Get a free ticket here:  https://www.empoweredmakers.com 

“This is a totally free, woman-led DIY party designed to help you start taking some massive DIY action. It lasts 4 days and you’ll hear presentations from 12 incredible women DIYers on topics ranging from building your own furniture to planning a whole home renovation. We even have a presentation all about finding the time to DIY (even if you have a bunch of kiddos and a crazy schedule).”

To learn more about Mama Needs Project, download plans and more, visit mamaneedsaproject.com.

And you can read more of our DIY stories featuring talented woodworkers here.

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