Women learn how to build their own homes in Midcoast workshops

Posted March 07, 2012, at 4:48 p.m.
Last modified March 08, 2012, at 9:19 a.m.
Blueberry Beeton of the Shelter Institute in Woolwich demonstrates the proper technique for cutting a mortise joint in a piece of pine timber on Wednesday, March 7, 2012. Beeton recently launched the more than 30-year-old institution's first-ever series of building and construction workshops geared entirely for women.
Blueberry Beeton of the Shelter Institute in Woolwich demonstrates the proper technique for cutting a mortise joint in a piece of pine timber on Wednesday, March 7, 2012. Beeton recently launched the more than 30-year-old institution's first-ever series of building and construction workshops geared entirely for women. Buy Photo
A typical mortise joint like this one would take a skilled craftsman at least an hour to complete using only hand tools. Mortise and tenon joints are a key skill learned by students at the Shelter Institute of Woolwich's timber framing classes.
A typical mortise joint like this one would take a skilled craftsman at least an hour to complete using only hand tools. Mortise and tenon joints are a key skill learned by students at the Shelter Institute of Woolwich's timber framing classes. Buy Photo

WOOLWICH, Maine — Blueberry Beeton’s late mother, Patsy Hennin, was fond of saying, “I may not be able to bash that beam into place, but I’m going to get it in there somehow.”

Hennin, who founded the Shelter Institute in 1974 with her husband, Pat, instilled in her daughter the belief that a woman can do just about anything a man can do — even on a construction site working with timbers weighing several hundred pounds. Still, Beeton knows there are others who don’t share that belief, including a lot of women.

“The idea that women could be involved in building their own homes was always a given for me,” said Beeton, who is a vice president and instructor at the Shelter Institute. “Construction is a really hard field for women, but at times I’ve forgotten that. I’ve been in the field my whole life and sometimes I forget that there is sexism.”

To help women either break into the construction field, start building their own home or simply be more informed when dealing with hired contractors, Beeton has launched a series of workshops designed especially for women. Though numerous women have completed the 37-year-old Shelter Institute’s classes over the years and gone on to do everything from hobby woodworking to building their own homes, this marks the first time the organization has offered classes where men are not invited.

“The idea isn’t that you have to do every little thing by yourself,” said Beeton. “Understanding how something works enables you to either do it or speak articulately with someone you’ve hired.”

The Tools for Women workshop series focuses more on the run-up to a construction project than the actual project. According to Beeton, any contractor will tell you that the first key to success is having the right tools and knowing how to maintain them for best performance. The series started last month with a course on Basic Tool Selection and continues March 17 with Sharpening for Women. Beeton said making the right decision about which tool to buy is almost as important as knowing how to sharpen or repair it in the future.

On April 28, Beeton will teach Hands-On Sawhorse Building Workshop for Women, which will give participants the opportunity to learn the basics of wood construction while producing one of the handiest tools found on a job site. The series continues on May 19 with Power Tool Selection for Women — the biggest, most expensive model isn’t always the best, Beeton said — and concludes with a weeklong course in October called Purely Post and Beam for Women. Participants of the course will use nothing but hand tools to complete a 24-square-foot timber frame with notched braces, dovetailed tenons and wedged mortise and tenon joints.

The Shelter Institute, which is located on Route 1 in Woolwich, offers a range of construction classes based on the premise that anyone with a few skills can build their own energy-efficient home. The institute, which employs up to 20 people depending on the season and economy, also designs, builds and sells timber-frame buildings, runs a real estate business and operates a retail operation that sells a wide range of hand tools, construction materials and reference literature.

For more information or to register for a Tools for Women workshop — most of which range in cost from $50 to $100 — visit the organization’s website at www.shelterinstitute.com or call 442-7938.

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