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Mid-Michigan woodworker shares skills through classes with an inclusive focus

Megan Shannon stands in front of students in a large workspace. Each of them are behind a workbench using hand planes to smooth lengths of wood.
Sophia Saliby
Megan Shannon and her students practice using a hand place.

Megan Shannon starts most of her woodworking classes with the same lesson: how to use a hand plane to smooth and shape wood.

"You see almost the same kind of set of emotions go through each student, even though they are so different personality-wise, where they're using the hand plane, and they're like, 'This isn't working. This isn't working.' And then all of a sudden, the blade catches, and they get their first shaving off."

Through the sessions she offers at her woodshop, the Holt-based woodworker wants to provide an opportunity for marginalized groups to learn about a craft they might not have been able to before.

Shannon got started in woodworking more than a decade ago before making it her full-time career in 2020, mainly by doing commissions under her business called Tiny Bit of Wood.

"There's just something like really grounding about wood. It's pretty amazing that you can take something, like, so rough and then make it just the most smooth and beautiful thing on the planet," she said.

Megan Shannon, a white woman, stands behind a woodshop with a variety of hand tools and power tools for woodworking. She's holding a hand plane and demonstrating the direction of the blade.
Sophia Saliby
Megan Shannon demonstrates how to use a hand plane.

Shannon has a sawmill in her backyard where she can process her own wood. She then builds her pieces in a workshop next to her house. It’s also where she teaches her classes.

"I have six different student workstations, and then my workbench is right in front," she said. "I just moved that around, so that demonstration will be easier for people to see."

The classes, which she calls Tiny Bit of School, began with an idea for a community-run farm accessible to children with disabilities. She didn’t have the resources to launch that during the pandemic, so she started with what she had.

It seemed like the community around me could have really used something to do and a place to go to meet new people and find a new empowering skill.
Megan Shannon

"I knew I had a woodshop. I had the skills to do it. And it seemed like the community around me could have really used something to do and a place to go to meet new people and find a new empowering skill."

After a successful GoFundMe campaign last year, Shannon started teaching classes last November. She has instructed students on how to make things like birdhouses and decorative boxes.

One of her main goals is to provide an inclusive environment to learn in, especially for women and queer people who might not have had the opportunity to get involved with woodworking before.

"Men have been growing up generation, after generation, after generation with all of this type of knowledge just right at their fingertips. They're learning about it. They're hearing about it, whether or not they're interested in it," she explained.

Victoria Schmalz has taken several classes with Shannon. She says because she’s a woman people often assume she doesn’t know what she’s doing with tools.

"If I go to the hardware store with my husband, he has no clue what anything is. And people still look to him, you know, to ask, 'Oh, do you need help?' And he's like, 'I don't know, ask her.'"

Another student, Jenna Engle says her father is a professional carpenter, though he’s never had the time to teach her. She says it’s nice to be able to share the experience with him.

"I already know I'm gonna have a quiz when I see him. Like, he's gonna ask me the names of all the tools and stuff which I might not remember all of them," Engle said. "I'm super excited. He is too."

Kelsey Maccombs echoes a sentiment also brought up by Schmalz and Engle, that with Shannon as a teacher, they don’t feel like they’re going to be judged as they learn.

"There's not a shot in hell I would have attended a class led by a white man in a room full of white men and felt comfortable asking questions or felt like, you know, if I were screwing something up that I would feel, you know, comfortable saying anything," they said.

Just for her to have that mindset that like, you know, my mom made me a bed or made me this toy that I play with, that's really nice.
Victoria Schmalz

Schmalz adds she’s trying to set a good example for her daughter.

"She's three and she keeps asking me, 'Oh mama, did you make this?' Even for things that I didn't make and maybe couldn't make, but just for her to have that mindset that like, you know, 'My mom made me a bed or made me this toy that I play with.' That's really nice," Schmalz said.

Shannon says her favorite part of teaching is watching a real community grow from her classes.

"People make new friends and meet each other. Even watching students get the handle of something and then help other students that might not know, it's just wonderful."

Shannon says she already has big plans to expand what she can offer, like courses for kids and adding more teachers. That also includes making the classes more accessible with workstations that can accommodate wheelchairs and sessions for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Sophia Saliby is the local producer and host of All Things Considered, airing 4pm-7pm weekdays on 90.5 FM WKAR.
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