Jo Saccomani spends her days teaching women and children how to build things: from a stool to a deck, a cubby to a tiny house. But she has a much larger building project in mind for them – a project that could actually do herself out of a job.
Jo also teaches women how to build confidence. And, in a perfect world, she wouldn’t have to teach women and children anything because female builders would be the norm.
“My aim is for women builders to be seen as a normal job,” Jo said.
“It shouldn’t have to be a lifestyle choice, we shouldn’t have to make a fuss about it. If women want to do it they should just do it.”
The brains behind Two Sheds Workshops, Jo and her team of female builders have been teaching the craft to women and children since 2014. She started off in a wooden Bega garage but has since expanded into Canberra where she hosts a wide range of workshops, from one-day carpentry classes to longer term projects where women can learn how to build structures.
Since she started the business more than eight years ago, Jo has shared her skills with close to 1000 youngsters and almost as many women, with about 1300 children’s workshops and more than 2000 hours of classes with women.
Jo’s philosophy developed at the youngest of ages. The house she was brought up in was built by her mother and father.
“The idea that girls couldn’t use tools just wasn’t a thing in our house,” she said.
“What I find most satisfying about teaching woodwork is when I’m in a Two Sheds women’s or kids’ class or workshop and stand back to see everyone engrossed in what they are making. How to use tools and the process of woodworking have become background to creating and the confidence to do so.”
Jo said some of the reasons given to women about why they could not secure building apprentices simply didn’t stand up.
“They usually say it’s because women are seen as a distraction on a building site or because there are no toilets for them,” she said. “That’s just not right.
“We need to teach these young minds that anything is possible.”
Jo believes one way to rectify the issue is for young people to be taught building by women.
“It’s a matter of teaching young minds,” she said.
“We’re not blaming men, it’s just about talking to women about believing it can be for them. There’s still entrenched thought that men are expected to ‘fix things’ around the house.”
“I’ve been a carpenter all my life, so it’s easy for me. I just tell people to keep going with it, it’s not hard. But it’s a matter of not just showing them a saw, for example, but showing them exactly what it does.
“It’s the small things that I found really helpful when I was learning. Like when you drill a hole, you do it on a mark so it is exactly where you want it.
“When you’re teaching, there are no silly questions. It’s a hands-on thing for me. No-one stands out the front and says, ‘do this or do that’. There may be 100 things to learn when you build something, but there are really thousands of things you need to learn – little things like how to hold your pencil, make sure it is sharp.
“I remember this one woman who came to our building class. She was retired and she had the smallest hands I’d ever seen, so tiny. She was an artist and she also loved to sew. When she started she was quite feeble, her hands were not at all strong. She had to stop a lot. I suggested that we use a clamp, and all of a sudden she got so much more confident, then she started working without a clamp. This woman ended up doing all the courses – and made a Queen Anne chair.
“To see her come through the course taught me a lot about women – that it is often more about mental than physical strength.
“What I want to teach women, above all, are self-confidence and self-esteem – and you can do that through building.”
Regular classes and workshops are held for women and children in Canberra and Bega. More information about Two Sheds Workshops is available on the website