Women Only reduce power tool use anxiety levels

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Sep 13, 2018
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Over the years I have taught people how to use a variety of power tools. I like teaching women and I recognize that quite a few have little to no experience with those potentially dangerous and quite often very noisy tools. First of all anxiety about using new  tools has several components. One part is fear of getting hurt and another part is messing up the job. Both keeping safe and getting the pieces made just right require calm thinking and also total focus. It is OK to feel anxious, it is normal and it protects you from doing stupid stuff. But of course if you want to do a build you have to work around it, with it and through it to reduce it enough so that you are not blocked by it. Hearing protection is one way of reducing that anxiety because....guess what....that loud noise that many tools make such as power saws be it a circular saw, table saw, chop saw, router, sometimes even sanders can really increase the level of anxiety and also completely ruin your ability to stay focused on the task. So using good hearing protection is not just about saving your ears from damage it is also about keeping your sanity intact  and your mind completely focused on the task at hand with no distractions. It is hard to think in a room full of loud noises such as screaming kids or hoards of people or a TV or radio blasting. The loud noise of the power tools does the same exact thing to your brain, it creates a powerful distraction and distractions are irritating and can lead to anxiety, even to some anger and of course mistakes. The anger will be directed at yourself, at the tools you are using, at the project you are doing and also have you questioning why the heck you are even trying to do a build or live a nomadic life.

So you can see by taking all those emotions into account why good hearing protection is not just about protecting your ears it is also about making the job a whole lot easier to get done and done well, in a peaceful and calm atmosphere.

I do not recommend listening to music as that too can be a distraction when you are a beginner or need to really focus on something critical and a bit tricky to do. Later on after you are very comfortable and you have developed good muscle memory for proper control of tools then you can add some background music in. But not at first, at first you need every bit of focus you have to keep yourself safe and get things done right. You need to focus on using the tool correctly and focus on the feel of what makes a good rate of speed for cutting, drilling, sanding etc.

Focus also on the sounds the tools makes when the task is being done just right. You will hear it loudly enough when wearing hearing protection while using power tools. Just like when you are driving and your vehicle starts making a sound that is not normal you will also realize after a while that if something is off with your tool such as it is working too hard or bogging down so that you need to adjust your pressure or speed or maybe the cutting edge is dull and needs replacing.   Sound is a clue to things not being just right but of course you have to use the tool for a while to figure out what is normal in terms of the sound(s) a tool makes.

Note on hearing protection while using power nail guns. It is critical that you protect your hearing when using them. While the noise is not constant and those sharp pops that don't sound all that loud, they can really do some significant damage to your hearing.

Your everyday ear buds you use for listening to music are not suitable as they don't block the harmful noise levels from power tools. But later on after you get good and when you have some some task such as facing hours of time of sanding and do want to listen to music there are some hearing protection, audio input, ear muffs and ear buds that are rated for the noise of power tool use. Every year brings out new products and versions of hearing protection. I favor the ones that block the harmful noise but allow you to hear the voices of people who are working on projects alongside of you. I have not tried them yet but there is an affordable pair of ear buds by Ryobi called "Ryobi Phone Works, that connect to an i-phones and some Android phones and allows various types of sounds to be blocked by specifying them in the software on the phone. the harmful sound is not being suppressed with the soft plugs alone but also with noise cancelling technology and they can be set to let you hear conversations while you are working. Those Phone Works ear buds are now on my Amazon wish list.They are only $9.95, a real bargain price for a little technological miracle that fits into my pocket and weighs very little. Of course as I don't own them yet so I can't give a real review as to how effective they are or how comfortable. I do have Ryobi noise cancelling ear muffs and they are very good quality. But these new Ryobi ear buds just jumped up to the top of my useful small tool list to travel with. My brother wants to give me a belated Christmas gift certificate to Amazon. Seems like a great investment to spend the money on as I do work with tools a lot.
maki2 said:
...good muscle memory for proper control of tools....
It's all about the design and the muscles, so you can accurately build to that great design. For drilling in screws you will need grip strength and endurance. Feel free to get some scrap wood to practice on.  -crofter
How about eye protection and masks? I do metalsmithing and use expensive ear plugs, good goggles and heavy duty masks to protect my lungs. I don’t listen to music or podcasts unless I’m doing something really mindless. I need to focus.
I’m not handy with tools but I’m certainly respectful. Great post. Thank you. I wish you taught classes. I’d sign up.
crofter said:
It's all about the design and the muscles, so you can accurately build to that great design. For drilling in screws you will need grip strength and endurance. Feel free to get some scrap wood to practice on.  -crofter
Crofter....you are thinking like a man with big muscles who powers through everything. I teach women to pre-drill the screw holes for accuracy and to reduce the need for gripping the tools so hard that it aggravates the muscles and does things such as stress the joints and also create issues such as carpral tunnel syndrome or creating wear and tear arthritis or making existing arthritis flair up.
@crofter....I am very well qualified for teaching women how to put in fasteners. Been doing it professionally since the 1970s.  The photo is of me at work in 1980. When I was working as a development prover mechanic at Boeing. I worked on lots of Boeing planes over the years doing fabrication and installation. I was a lead there the last 5 years and had to teach the new hires how to work smarter and with a high degree of precision of accuracy. Plus having remodeled 5 homes of my own to resell for profit. Always bought fixers. And I have done van interiors, small aircraft interiors and a couple of RV renovations as well as building sheds and custom work for various estate properties in the Pacific NW. Plus as a woodworker I have shown my work in top galleries and craft shows in the Pacific NW. A lot of women are good with tools, more so every year now that the schools are teaching the STEAM programs where there is no more discrimination between boys and girls learning things such as welding, robotics, 3D printing, engineering, etc.


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Maki, this thread is very old but HOW does a woman learn this stuff?

Im reading all this stuff about building out vans and it is so over my head.
Maki and I both worked in trades where we got a lot of practice building things. But before I had my trade, I also built things around my place, tied knots and stuff for fishing, planted trees and other things, and took a class on building log cabins with hand tools.  You could start with building a box out of some scrap boards. Most dwellers use a jigsaw and a drill. Have you ever used either?

crofter said:
Most dwellers use a jigsaw and a drill. Have you ever used either?

Crofter, drill yes. Jigsaw i dont even know what one looks like and definitely never used one.

I know this can be done without these skills but i would just LIKE to have the option, ya know?

I was looking at videos of some build kits and the comments were all "ANYBODY could build that for $500." Well, not just anybody, dude!

Most books I've looked at start off assuming you already have basic tool and technique knowledge. I need something like a "building stuff for dummies" book. Will check amazon.
Gaining skills does not happen nstantly. But you need to remember you are building up thse new skills based on a platforn of skills you have already acquired. You are not starting from ground zero. You already have a whole skill set built up for hand to eye coordination , for fine movement control. For grasping and holding objects. You have also learned how to take measurements, do basic math, do rudimentary drawings, and you know how to read instructions. Plus you hsve been using all kinds of tools since you were a baby and learned to hold your own cup and drink from it. Knives, forks and spoons are tool that require good coordination to use. So does driving a vehicle. Maybe you have evien used a sewing machine. I am pretty sure you have used screwdrivers, hammers, pliers and scissors too. The first step is remind you are not totally unprepared to do a build, that all you have to do is get familiar eith a few more tools you have not yet had a chance to pick up and try out.

Cutting with a jigsaw. Lets start with what you know that is related to that. That is drawing a line by guiding it aggaist a ruler. If you want to cut a long straight line toy need to guide the jigsaw against a long staight edge as you cut and then you eill get a perfect long straight cut. If you want to make a perfect staight cut or 45 degree across a short board you can guide the cut using a small triangular shaped tool called a framing square. Framing squares are sold in a hardware and lumber yards. Acquire one, they are not expensive but they are vey usefull. As to using a jigsaw you need to pick out the right blade for the job. My preference is the Bosch companies brand of blades for wood cutting. The fine tooth ones for wood mske very smoth cuts. The coarser toothed ones are good for cutting thicker wood such as 2 x 4 lumber or thick plywood. Sa good blade is wkorth paying a little extra for. 

Tthe next thing is to find wood scraps to practice on. Do not try lo begin leaning to control a new tool by cutting into materials you need for your build when you are first learning to use a new tool. Be good to yourself and practice on scraps. Consruction sites are a great place to find scraps both big and small. Always ask permission and watch out for your safey as they sometimes are flinging stuff onto scrap piles without looking to see if anyone is next to it. Holg the saw firmly against the wood with downeards pressure. A tentative grip is a beginnets mistake from fear. That will crEate too much vibration in the tool and that means a ragged cut. When following a tight curve you nEed either a narrow blade or you have to make a series of cuts to first remove excess material. That is a good thing to see done on a vieo as it takes video
S or drawings to understand what I just said about a series of cuts. But you will have done much the same thing when trying to cut a small circle with a pair of scissors. As I said you have already acquired knowledge in the past but might not realize it can be applied when using new tools.

It would be much eassier to acquire skills one on one with a mentor. Brcause a mentor can do things like correct your grip on a tool and the eay you stand and move ehen using it. But I did not have one when I got started and there was no youtube. Eventually their were some shows on TV that taught building and woodworking skills. I was glued to the TV for everyone of those episodes. You are fortunate it is now vadtly eadier to acquire new skills with all those youtube and website videos that are available. There were no films to watch, not even VCRs in 1970 when i began learnig to use woodeorking tools.
And for the love of God tie back (tight) your hair and remove all jewelry. Wear proper safety gear. It’s worth investing in the better quality.
I was a teacher under 30 years and I put my hands on other people’s hands to guide them. I totally lost my fear of the torch when my teacher took us alone into the fire room and guided our hands one by one. Everyone learns differently and that’s why I can’t learn from books: I need to see, hear, feel what I’m doing and be corrected.
Things have changed in the workplaces and at schools. Touching people is  generally avoided. Of course this year it would not be wise for me to do  in person mentoring because of the need for social distancing.  But there are other ways to help and one of them is to direct you to some decent youtube videos. So you dont know what a jigsaw is or how to do a basic straight cut with it. Just watch this video produced by the Rockler company. Rockler is a nationwide chain of stores that specializes in woodworking tools. They do hold classes and do demonstrations in the stores, but perhsps not this year.  straight cut with jigsaw
That link did not take, i wil try it again. From the Rocler tool stores youtube channel. How to do a guided straight cut with a jigsaw.
Cool video. I would like to see one on the finer points of getting a good cut on light plywood, and also people will want to know how to cut a hole.
OK that is a good start for a list me to find some more video tutorials to post. youtube has some that are really bad but there are also some easy to understand gems that don't make the info overwhelming for newbies. For people who have limited bandwidth and patience the short ones that cover a little at one time are going to be the best ones to link to for this thread. Fortunately we don't need a huge tool list for doing a basic build.

I will think on what tips I want to offer for light plwood as in the right blade, which side to cut from, supporting the wood, etc. but in the meantime go back to that video and note how close he is making that cut as it relates to the distance from the edge of the workbench he is using. when you watch videos pay attention to everything, not just the power tool but the whole setup, things that are not being talked about. There is a lot to learn from closer observation of the videos.
I agree things have changed but my particular class I took just two years ago. He teaches special ed so I feel comfortable hands on. As a career teacher myself I had to motor kids through stuff. He got me over a life long fear of fire/welding torches in two classes.Something that had been blocking my metalsmithing progress. So I have to hope there are exceptions.
I’ve had some luck with YouTube tutorials if the person knows how to teach-go very slowly, repeat, show the right angles, show incorrect work and why it’s incorrect. I will always prefer in person but I’m surprised that I have been able to use YouTube pretty well.
The question was asked about cutting thin plywood. If you are sawing it you want a blade with fine teeth, meaning a lot more teth per inch tha would be used to cut a 2x4. The thinner the piece of wood (or metal), the smaller the size of the teeth you need to get a smooth cut which means because tney are small there are more of them in a one inch length.TToo few teeth per inch and you will tear the thin wood to shreds instead of slicing it nice and smooth.

There is one really great jigsaw blade made for thin plywood made by the Bosch company. It gets top reviews in all kinds of wood working magazines. https://www.boschtools.com/us/en/boschtools-ocs/t-shank-jig-saw-blades-for-wood-t308b-35384-p/

If need be you can even cut thin 1/8 plywood by repeatedly scoring through it with a sharp utility knife. I have certainly done that more than a few times when I did not want to set up my power tools. But of course if I have a lot of cuts to make or a rally long cut power tools are easier and faster.

Another question was about cutting an opening in a piece of wood. It can be done with a jigsaw. You first drill a hole and then put the jigsaw blade into the hole setting the saw down flat on its base before you switch on the power. Guide it carefully along the cut lines you have marked out on the wood when cutting a rectangular opening I usually take the time to drill a hole in each corner to make it easier to turn the saw to face the next direction jt needs to go. There are other tools that work to make openings such as a router or scroll saw or even a tablesaw or circular saw.but qiute often I just get out a jigsaw for that task.  As many women do not own a workshop full of tools for doing a build I would suggest that a jigsaw will give you the most value for dollars spent if you have to cut curves as well as make holes in the middle of thin plywood paneling.  I am not traveling with a lot of power tools for finishing my build while on the road but I made sure to bring my jigsaw. It would be nice if it was cordless but it is not. So I either go to an RV park to work or use my generator.
Another thing about cutting thin plywood. You need to have a table or some other surface to provide a firm base adjacent to yoju cut line. Otherwise the thin material will vibrate like crazy and the quality of you cuts will be quite poor as well as making the task hazardous in terms of safety. Keeping good control of tools and materials is critical for success. If you sre getting a lot of vibrstion when cutting with a jigsaw you need to stop work and rethink. If you have a decent saw, a sharp fine toothed Bosch Blade and a good surface to work on plus you are keeping good control of the saw with your hands there wont be a lot of vibration.  The tools talk to you, they have a sound and a feel they generate that you will learn when things are going just right.
Here is a great install video on the maxxfan. I have noticed that people have anxiety about cutting a hole in the roof that could leak. She gives an excellent demo on using butyl tape sealant and dicor roof sealant from a tube using standard caulking gun.  -crofter

Link to install video
Here is a link to a subfloor installation demo. I did not go to all this trouble for my van floor, but you could. 

The adhesive she is using to attach the subfloor is Liquid Nails subfloor adhesive with no screws through the metal. Then she screws the plywood floor into the wood ribs; this method gives her a good structure for mounting things securely onto the floor structure.

Also notice the plywood layout in 3 pieces, with 2 seams.-c
Here is a link to installation video on installing vinyl flooring and how to build a bed supported on the walls. 

What I did different:
I used multi coats of polyurethane to seal my plywood van floor. It turned out a tan color and shows wood grain. 2 years later after some rough duty, my floor is ready to be recoated with more polyurethane. 

My bed is supported from the floor by the garage structure, so no stress on the van walls. The matress rests on a sheet of plywood.
Here is a link to install video on panelling the walls. Insulation is already in the walls, she has used thinsulate. Cheaper option for insulation many dwellers have used is polyiso or other foamboard types. Also, in my van I used some upholstery finishes glued on with hot glue in the oddly shaped places, not wood.