Growing up, I learned to cook and sew and do the laundry. Sawing boards and operating a power drill weren’t in my skill set.
It would be easy to chalk that up to sexism, but I think it also had a lot to do with missed opportunity. My dad was brilliant, but he wasn’t especially handy. I can still picture him sprawled under the kitchen sink, struggling to bite back the curse words as he wrestled with a garbage disposal. And while my mom had no trouble whipping up a new outfit or a holiday dinner for 20, I can’t recall ever seeing her pick up a hammer.
Most of the skills I’ve needed as a homeowner, I learned as an adult. Sometimes I learned by reading. Often I learned by making mistakes. Luckily those goofs never cost me any body parts.
Too bad I didn’t have Leah Bolden and Karen DeVenaro to guide me.
Bolden and DeVenaro are the brains behind See Jane Drill (www.SeeJaneDrill.com), a website dedicated to teaching home-improvement and car-maintenance skills to women. You need to change your oil? Replace a light switch? Lay a tile floor? Bolden and DeVenaro are there to coach you through it via videos and written material.
Online tutorials are hardly a new idea, but this site is different. It’s geared specifically toward women, who often grow up without the basic skills and knowledge our brothers are taught. We may have come a long way, baby, but our path to equality hasn’t always gone through the workshop and the garage.
Unlike most tutorials, the videos on See Jane Drill start with the assumption that the viewer knows little or nothing about the task at hand or the tools and materials involved. Yet there’s nothing condescending about the approach. The viewer isn’t treated as dumb, just unschooled.
And always, there’s an underlying message: “You can do this.”
Bolden is the public face of See Jane Drill, the teacher on the videos patiently explaining the parts of a circular saw or the finer points of caulking a bathtub.
“She’s kind of the handywoman next door,” said DeVenaro, who does the writing for the site and is more of a behind-the-scenes presence.
Both come from backgrounds in the skilled trades. DeVenaro manages the apprenticeship program for an electric utility in Seattle. Bolden was the first girl in her junior high to take shop class and worked for years as a plasterer for the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority in Cleveland. She now lives in the Seattle area and devotes all her time to the website.
The two met in an interview skills class and decided to pool their interests, DeVenaro said. “She loves to teach, and I love to write. That’s kind of how this came about.”
Neither had a background in videography or website building, but in true do-it-yourself fashion, DeVenaro taught herself the skills she needed.
Their goal is to help women feel empowered and to show them how easy projects around the house can be, she said. Cost information is included, so users can see how much they can save by doing things themselves.
They want the viewers of their videos to come away thinking, “If Leah can do that, I can do that,” DeVenaro said.
Currently the site has more than 40 videos, along with a small selection of articles, a tool library that explains the uses of various implements, and how-to guides that are available for purchase. Eventually the two might launch their own tool line, DeVenaro said.
In the meantime, they intend to keep adding resources to See Jane Drill. DeVenaro said she and Bolden hope word of the site will spread and users will suggest other topics they’d like to see covered.
And it’s OK if some of those users are men.
After all, they weren’t born handy, either.
Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also become a fan on Facebook at http://tinyurl.com/mbbreck, follow her on Twitter @MBBreckenridge and read her blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.