We’re interviewing makers from across the country. Today we’re speaking with Jess Hirsch about Fireweed Community Woodshop in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
How did Fireweed Community Woodshop get started? Were there certain people that inspired its creation?
Fireweed Community Woodshop started as a DIY project in 2017 called Women’s Woodshop and after burnout running an LLC, a group of volunteers/students/instructors got together to keep the project alive and turn it into a non-profit in December of 2019, and then COVID hit….but the early creation was fueled by the desire to create empowering spaces for women and non-binary makers through the art of woodcraft. The biggest influence was teaching a young teen how to use power tools while I was building a sculpture at a shelter for domestic abuse survivors in 2015. Watching her happiness and self-esteem skyrocket when she was working with her hands was pivotal for me. Right then and there I decided woodworking education was the way to empower people!
What kind of woodworking do your members do the most? Is there a particular type of class that fills up fastest?
All of our classes fill up because people are hungry to work with their hands and find a community of people interested in making, but our most popular class is Power Tools 101. In the fall we had a waitlist of 40 people for each power tools class. We have increased that course to 4x a month to meet the demand.
What advice would you give to someone that wants to start woodworking or pursue it as a profession?
Talk to people you admire and ask how they structure their business. For me, teaching and admin balances my finances so that when I do product design I can focus on my own creations versus custom work for clients. Also I’d recommend trying out a few models before fully committing to one. I had a year of only custom orders and I was burnt out physically and depressed creatively.
What’s your best hands-on tip or woodworking technique?
This is a tough question because I carve spoons, make cabinets, turn bowls, do carpentry and all of them are different and all of them have different tips and tricks…
For spoons- burnish your work with an antler after you carve it
Cabinets- invest in quality hinges
Bowls- take the time in the roughing process to balance the form of the bowl
Carpentry- site protection should be prioritized as much as doing the work.
Is there anyone you’d like to shout-out or recommend we follow? Who inspires you? (Doesn’t have to be woodworking related, either.)
Page Olivia Dosty
Vivian Chui- furniture maker
Phoebe Kuo- furniture maker
A Pate CompanionWorks- furniture maker
Sophie Glenn- furniture maker
Wu Hanyen- furniture maker & turner
Janine Wang- turner
Daej Hamilton- furniture maker
D’ondra Howard- furniture maker
Amanda Russel- furniture maker
Ames Grigg- turner
Aspen Golann- furniture maker (chair makers toolbox founder)
Kat Wong – furniture maker
Eleanor Ingrid Rose- tool maker, furniture maker
Jennie Alexander- green woodworker (started the greenwood working movement in us)
Lynn Bui- furniture maker
Mattie Hinkley- furniture maker
Kelly Harris- furniture maker
Kelly Parker- furniture maker
Beth Ireland- turner
Beth Moen- bowl carver- sweden
Amy Umbel- podcaster, carver
Jane Mickelborough- Folding Spoon- France
Jojo Wood- spoon carver UK
Sophie Sellu (Grain and Knot)- spoon carver UK
Danielle Bird – bowl carver
Lisa Nguyen – furniture maker
ALL of our instructors at Fireweed:
Birch Bark Beth
Leah Van Tassel
This interview was lightly edited for clarity.
Here are some supplies and tools we find essential in our everyday work around the shop. We may receive a commission from sales referred by our links; however, we have carefully selected these products for their usefulness and quality.