Keira James’ introduction to woodworking shows that it’s never too late to follow your dream. James took two woodworking classes in high school that served as her original foray into the world of woodworking. James took the class twice “….because I failed the first time (I didn’t finish my coffee table.)” While James didn’t take to the craft initially “It’s not something I’m naturally gifted at,” she explains, the passion to make items of quality stayed with her. “I actually put it on my bucket list. The interest has always been there even though I’m not sure where it originally came from.”
Despite some nasty chisel cuts and frustrations with plane blades in high school, it wasn’t until James turned 25 that she realized it was time to follow her dreams. “I was 25 and realized I wasn’t passionate about anything I was doing in life.” After trying a few hobbies James moved to the UK for two years but the desire to make fine furniture never left her. “With all of these positive changes I kept going back to wanting to make furniture and often would spend hours researching different courses and options to learn the skills.”
After some soul searching and discussions with family, James put her traveling plans on the back burner to save money to take a course. Even with the support of her family James said she was still nervous about making the leap, “I had quite a bit of anxiety leading up to the course which is really unlike me. I was scared I had made a terrible mistake. What if I didn’t like it? What if it is a big waste of money? What if I’m not good enough? What if I’ve wasted all of this time living a quiet life and saving hard and it’s all for nothing?”
Most of those questions were answered once James started her course and the anxiety dissipated. Still, she put immense pressure on herself at first. “Another guy started on the same days as me and he was much faster, I was always playing catch up, spending extra time at the workshop so I wouldn’t fall behind. I was sore all of the time, my hands, wrists, arms and shoulders. I even dreamt I had broken my hands.”
Despite the pain and stress James pressed on, “Eventually my body got stronger, the extra time I spent started to pay off. I realized I had nothing to prove to anyone and stopped putting so much pressure on myself.” Now James spends six days a week in the shop out of love for what she does, not out of fear or frustration.
James doesn’t think her experiences as a female have differed much from her male counterparts, even though she was the first female and the first foreigner at her school. As far as her gender influencing her work, while James mentioned that in a recent critique one of her cabinets were described as more “feminine” than the other’s projects, “I’ve never really considered work in terms of feminine or masculine.”
James enjoys each new piece more than her last. Her most recent project is a desk that gave her the opportunity not only to design and build her own piece from start to finish, but it has also shown her a new niche to enjoy of hand shaping wood. “It is one of my favorite things to do….I spent about a week on the legs and I loved every minute of it.” The desk also features an impressive 76 dovetails.
James just finished her course at Waters & Acland in Staveley, England, and will be enjoying a few months of work and some fun in the UK before she heads home to Australia. She already has a few requests for pieces so she doesn’t think it will be long before she sets up shop once she returns. James is also qualified as a Speech Pathologist and works in rehabilitation of stroke victims while they are in the hospital.
For women in woodworking, James shared that she would like to see “…a community of female woodworkers to share our successes and teach each other, and to raise our profile. It would be nice if there were young girls who were thinking about woodworking as a career to look to the internet and find a group of talented female makers to show that even if it is male dominated that females can be excellent makers as well.”
While James does not have a website yet, you can follow her journey from recent graduate to professional woodworker on her Instagram account, @meraki_furniture.