By Margo Greenman
Tacoma resident Ali Malone says it was a combination of her self-sufficient nature and her creative side that led her to pursue a career in woodworking.
Well, that and her dream of building and owning her own farm, of course.
Today more and more women are rolling their sleeves up and getting their hands dirty in what were once male-dominated careers. From construction sites to science labs, women are leveling the playing field, and Ali Malone is one Tacoman who is breaking down barriers right here at home.
After moving to Tacoma from Vermont nearly seven years ago, Ali found herself working at the Tacoma Food Co-op. Passionate about sustainable, local farming, Ali says co-ops have always been her fallback, coming in second to trade professions.
Before moving to Tacoma, Ali worked installing insulation as an energy efficiency specialist. She did this after completing a construction skills for women course at Vermont Works for Women, an organization designed to “help women and girls recognize their potential and explore, pursue and excel in work that leads to economic independence.”
Unfortunately, installing insulation didn’t hold Ali’s interest, and she decided to put trade work on hold — but only temporarily.
A little over a year ago, while working at the co-op, Ali decided it was time to reignite her passion, and she enrolled herself in a five-day woodworking course for women at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking. Ali felt right at home with a hammer in her hand.
When Ali returned from the week-long class, she decided it was time for a change and contacted Madera Furniture Company owner, Carlos Taylor-Swanson. Ali was introduced to Madera after the local woodworking company built a checkstand for the co-op. Ali says it was a shot in the dark, but after emailing Carlos about potential internship opportunities, Carlos wrote her back saying he was just about to put an ad in the paper for a full-time apprentice. Ali’s timing couldn’t have been better.
Ali started with Madera last July, and she says the past year has been one rich in learning experiences. Under the guidance of Carlos and the other woodworking professionals at Madera, Ali has learned how to operate machinery like a tablesaw and has found a deep appreciation for finish work. One of the first projects Ali helped complete were some fixtures inside Heritage Distilling Company’s downtown Gig Harbor location.
“I realize that I like the more aesthetic aspects of woodworking,” Ali says. Appreciating the little details, Ali says she still has much to learn before she can tackle some of the projects that inspire her, but Carlos says her perseverance will take her far.
“We have had several interns and apprentice-level workers over the years, and, by far, Ali has found her place within our team the most successfully,” says Carlos. “Her humble nature and positive attitude make her a pleasure to work with, but it is her drive to learn as much about woodworking as possible and her perseverance that keep her going strong.”
With this kind of drive and determination, it’s no surprise that Ali signed herself up for a three-month woodworking program at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking that will teach her the skills she needs to take her woodworking to the next level. The program, which starts later this summer, teaches traditional woodworking fundamentals using hand-tools.
“Since [the program] is hand-tool-based, it’s going to be more intimate and involved,” explains Ali. At school, Ali will have to leave the power tools she’s grown accustom to behind, but she says, “Being forced to use a chisel to make a joint is going to make me that much stronger.”
Since Ali signed herself up for school, she has also started doing a variety of volunteer work in the community. She’s doing this partly to continue learning new skills and partly to encourage people to donate to her “Send Ali to Woodworking School” GoFundMe page. For every $10 donated to her fund, Ali is donating one hour of volunteer service to the community.
At Habitat for Humanity, Ali says she works specifically with the Women Build. She says the Women Build program isn’t designed to exclude men but rather provide women an opportunity to take in all aspects of the building process. “It’s satisfying to be on the other side where I’m teaching people,” Ali says of her volunteering role.
With the Tacoma Tool Library, Ali is a member of the steering committee, helping to create a space where other creative-minded people like her can borrow tools for a small, annual fee. The Tool Library, which is set to open later this summer, is designed to be a “community tool lending library in Tacoma that is accessible to residents, regardless of income.”
Through her experience working at Madera and the various volunteering roles she takes on, Ali has learned a lot in a very short amount of time. “She is clear about her dreams,” says Carlos, “and [she] has come up with some creative means to achieve them.”
With just a few months before Ali leaves Madera and relocates to Port Townsend for woodworking school, the nearly 30-year-old woodworker says she doesn’t know what the future holds for her, but she hopes it culminates with a cabin, some critters and a big workshop, all handbuilt by her.
Want to follow Ali’s woodworking journey? Track Ali on Twitter at @Woodworkinwoman.
All photos courtesy of Ali Malone.