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An Oakland Non-Profit Bringing Diversity to Woodworking Communities

Updated: Nov 12, 2022 12:01
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Throughout the holidays, we’ll be featuring even more small businesses where you can DIY gifts, and find more sustainable gift options within The Bay Area. Here is one of those special places:

Lower 48 Woodshop – “turning people into turning people” – photo by Vita Hewitt


Oakland’s Lower 48 Woodshop likes to say they are “turning people into turning people”. Their motto speaks to their passion for creating an inclusive environment and, in turn, a more diverse woodworking community.

It all started out when owner Jolie Karno decided she needed a career change and started to take classes at Oakland’s beloved art school, The Crucible. It was during this time that Karno fell in love with woodworking and knew that she’d found a new passion.

“I was an international flight attendant and my company folded so I started volunteering at The Crucible in Oakland to see if I could find out what I might want to be when I grow up. I fell into woodworking. I was not born into it at all. In fact, I sucked at it. Yet, I kept coming back to volunteer and spent more time in the wood shop following a woman around and asking her a million questions when she was trying to work. Eventually, I got to shadow a class and then became a TA than a teacher.  When I found turning I went from being enthusiastic about woodworking to being obsessed. Almost overnight.  I read and watched everything I could on the subject (and still do!) and eventually, I saved the money to attend a turning symposium where many of the best turners come to demonstrate. To this day, it is my go-to vacation,” says Karno.

Her eventual woodworking shop, Lower 48, was born inside a shared shipping container at the now-shuttered Nimby. It was aptly named “Lower 48” as it was the lower unit in a unit of two stacked containers.

Some projects you can learn to make at Lower 48 – photo by Vita Hewitt

Woodturning is for everyone:

“Inclusion is not just for the sake of the people who have been missing out, but also for the turning community itself.  We do teach EVERYONE,” says Karno.

Karno speaks passionately about how important it is to them that their wood shop creates more opportunities for those who are not as likely to be exposed to the world of woodworking. Her passion first started while traveling to woodworking conventions. Karno noticed it was not unusual to be one of the only women in the room. Also missing were LGBTQI+ and POC representations within the craft. It felt important to Jolie to carve out a space (pun intended) that welcomed those who may have previously felt there was no space for them within the woodworking community.

“I loved going to woodworking symposiums. It’s so much fun and the people are really incredible, but it’s mostly a sea of gray and balding pink heads. There are very few women and almost no people of color. Woodturning really needs diversity as much as people of color and women need woodturning if it’s going to survive as an art form. We want everyone to feel welcome at Lower 48, especially people who wouldn’t have natural and easy access to things like tools, or teachers, or a workspace,”
says Karno.

Owner Jolie Karno of Lower 48 – photo by Vita Hewitt – portrait by Vita Hewitt

As a non-profit, Lower 48 relies on donations to help them offer more to those who want to learn the craft. Specifically, they offer scholarships for those who need it, stretch every dollar donated to create more opportunities for students with the right tools for the job, and Karno volunteers nearly all of their time to the wood shop.

Building self-confidence through woodworking:

Making something with your hands brings a sense of pride that can’t be replicated. Holding something in your hands made with those same hands is a special feeling. Watching her students gain more self-confidence after pushing through something that may have felt intimidating is something that Karno feels is so rewarding that it drives her to keep giving as much as she can to the shop.

“Turning is perfect for giving people self-confidence because new students can make something that doesn’t suck.

It’s challenging and scary so you have to get past a bit of fear and prove to yourself that you have the ability to do scary new things. Then at the end, you have actual evidence that you are a badass.  You take it home and put it somewhere you can remember your value every day.”

Tools of the trade at Lower 48 Woodshop – portrait by Vita Hewitt

What types of classes does Lower 48 Offer?

Karno does believe that Lower 48 is likely the only woodworking studio that focuses solely on woodturning. Other schools have a more varied curriculum but Karno enjoys helping students expand their knowledge within one form of woodworking. Rather than dabbling in a bunch of things, students can continue their knowledge and work towards becoming a master in the craft.

They currently offer:
Introduction to Spindle Turning
Bowl Turning
Boxes (Endgrain)
Make Your Own Pen
Private and Group Classes

For the holidays, a great gift idea would be to give someone a gift certificate so that they can choose their project of choice and learn from Karno themselves. Or, if you’d like to donate to Lower 48 you can through the Lower 48 website.

While Karno is currently focused on creating inventory for The Crucible’s annual Gifty event this December, they are also working to move all of their class ticket sales to Humanitix, a non-profit ticketing hub that serves the same kind of communities they do.

A wall of beautiful tonal wood and finished projects to inspire students at Lower 48 – portrait by Vita Hewitt

Where can you find Lower 48 Woodshop online?

Facebook: @Lower48woodshop
IG: @Lower48woodshop

Learn even more about Lower 48 via this video on their Youtube Channel as well as learn other skills from them on there, too.

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Katy Atchison

Katy Atchison

Katy has lived in The Bay Area since the age of 3. While other kids were attending summer camp & soccer practice, she was raised selling wares at craft shows with her working artist parents and spent vacations in a small 1920s Montana log cabin. This has all given her a unique perspective on the ever-changing texture of San Francisco and the Greater Bay Area. Currently a blend of all that is The Bay Area - she's a web designer at a tech-company, artist and DIY teacher.