Lindley Brainard: WWC Alum and Instructor

For years, Lindley Brainard had dreamed of becoming a furniture maker, but struggled to find a way into the field. One day in 2010 she realized that she had flagged five different emails from Yestermorrow, advertising its first-ever Woodworking Certificate 12-week intensive course, to be read later.

She was working as a scientific researcher at the time, but knew she wanted to be working with her hands instead of sitting behind a computer all day. Taking her email sorting as a sign, she enrolled in the WWC just a month before it began. “I took three months off with the intention of going back to my job, and never went back,” she recalls. “Eight years later I’m still doing woodworking full time. To me it says Yestermorrow was the right place to get me on my feet and get me going.”

Today, she is an independent woodworker and leads the educational programs at ShackletonThomas, a maker of fine handcrafted furniture in Bridgewater, Vermont. She guides customers through the entire process of crafting a piece of furniture, from selecting and milling the wood to selecting and applying finishes. Lindley also teaches several courses at Yestermorrow, where she is not only an alum, but also a former design/build intern. “I give Yestermorrow a huge amount of credit in my ability to be where I am today,” she says. The WWC has evolved and changed since that first year, she notes. But the core elements remain the same: giving students the fundamental skills they need to become professional woodworkers, while providing them with space and support to explore their own creative interests.

“I could really drive what I was interested in. If you brought the instructors something and said 'I want to learn this technique', they went out of their way to make it happen. I try to do that now when I instruct a Yestermorrow class. I left with 100 different potential projects in my brain and needed time to build them. The course got me energized, engaged and excited to explore woodworking in a way I hadn’t expected I would be able to.”

Lindley has learned the hard way that running a woodworking business requires some skills that can’t be learned in the woodshop. “It’s not an easy field or business to break even, let alone make money. So it’s encouraging to see that now the WWC focuses even more than when I was there on how to build a shop, do machine maintenance, and how to think about running your business.” That includes the perennial challenge of finding the overlap or sweet spot between making the things she wants to make, and making something that people want to buy. “You need to find something you can make that’s profitable – and that can sustain you to make the things you do want to make. It helps that instructors come in and are honest about that, and are willing to share what they’ve learned.”

In March, she’ll get a chance to share her own hard-won lessons as a business owner, when she teaches a new course, Build Your Woodworking Business, with WWC lead instructor Justin Kramer. “This had been a goal of mine for a long time, to do a dedicated course at Yestermorrow on how to do this, and what are the templates for knowing if a piece of furniture is even profitable.”

Another exciting venture lies even nearer on her horizon. This month, she and her wife will close on the purchase of a historic building in Bethel, Vermont, that will eventually become home to her own woodshop and a community incubator space. Lindley has a vision of outfitting the space with hand tools and teaching hands-on sessions for local kids. “The goal is to be able to host teaching events for kids, a space for weekend woodworking projects,” she says, “getting kids using their hands, interacting with something that isn’t a computer or a phone.”

Looking back on her own unfolding journey to date, Lindley has advice for those considering taking the plunge and pursuing intensive woodworking study at Yestermorrow. “It’s such a cool eye-opening experience, and you’ll get more out of it if you’re mentally ready. Come in with ideas of what you want to learn and try new things. Your mistakes are sometimes your biggest discoveries – so give yourself the space to make mistakes.”

“I would not be where I am today without Yestermorrow. It gave me the confidence in myself to go out and figure it out. It didn’t give me all the information and all the how-tos, but all the tools to get there. What did it for me was being given enough information to get started, and then that drive and passion takes over from there.”

Check out all the courses Lindley will be teaching in 2018: 

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