The Eleven Percent: Meet D’ondra Howard, Furniture Maker
D'ondra Howard talks about her path from DIY furniture flipper to custom creator, and what not to say to a woman with power tools.
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This FH series spotlights the women and nonbinary tradespeople who make up 11 percent of the construction workforce in America. Know someone we should feature? Email us here.
D’ondra Howard had no background in the trades when she made her first piece of furniture. She just enjoyed learning to build things for her family’s home. But her furniture projects soon piled up and eventually no longer fit into the house. That’s when she decided to try to sell one on Facebook Marketplace.
“I put a fluted table on there and people went crazy for it,” Howard says. “I realized I could really sell them because people liked them so much.”
In 2021, she decided to make custom furniture crafting a career and started Workboots & Glasses out of her garage in Sacramento, Cal. Today, she makes everything from dining tables and desks to platform beds and charcuterie boards.
Howard still sells some on Facebook, but the rest are custom creations she builds in her garage workshop. Thanks to her ever-growing reputation for quality and creative designs, most of her sales come via word of mouth. She also showcases her work on Instagram.
We asked Howard for her thoughts on the state of the woodworking industry.
Q: What made you start DIYing and building furniture?
A: My husband joined the military and I didn’t want to be miserable without him at home, so I made my home my canvas.
At first I loved putting together IKEA furniture. I took pictures of the kids and put them on the wall. Then I bought rugs, refurbished our outdated furniture and even flipped some of it. It was fun, and I realized I wanted to do more than just paint.
I eventually wanted to get rid of the IKEA furniture and build nice pieces for the house. But the power tools scared me, so at first I didn’t try.
Q: How did you get over that fear of power tools?
A: One night a woman’s DIY Instagram popped up on my feed, Our Nest on Powell. I watched her videos into the middle of the night. She was using DIY to help cope with the death of her sister. She inspired me so much that the next morning I went to get the materials to build a sofa table.
I had no idea what I was doing, and it was the worst sofa table ever. But once I realized what my downfall was, I had to try to make something else. So I built a console table. Then I built a workbench. A storage cabinet. A club chair. And every day after, I just kept building, because I enjoyed it so much.
I also learned that all I need to do is to cover my ears when I use the table saw, so I don’t jump every time.
Courtesy D'onra Howard
Q: What’s it like being a woman in furniture-making?
A: So far, I haven’t had any jerks or anything. When I’m at building stores, I see the same people over and over because I’m constantly getting supplies. They’re curious and they strike up conversations, asking me what I’m making this time. So that’s always cool.
But when some men see a woman making something, they feel the need to explain or tell me what I should be doing because they think their way is better. Guys? Don’t do that. Don’t say, “You should do this,” or “This tool is better.”
I would prefer if you ask a question, like “Hey, why don’t you use this instead?” Then I can be like, “Shoot, I didn’t even know I could do that. Thank you for the tip.” There are many ways to do things; many tools the get the same end result. So please ask a question, don’t just tell.
Q: What changes would you like to see in the trade?
A: It kind of goes back to what I was just saying about asking versus telling. I hope that we can all bump elbows and not judge based off how we do things differently.
Nobody in this world is the same. We may do some things similarly, but there’s still a twist. You may rub a circle and I may swish or swirl. You may use the specific brand of finish that you like, and I might not use the same brand, but it’s still going to look nice in the end.
So I hope we just welcome everybody’s differences and make room at the table for everybody. Even if we learn differently or understand differently, we’re still ultimately doing the same thing.
Q: What’s your advice for young women considering entering the trades?
A: Do it. You have to just start. Put yourself out there.
If you realize you don’t like it after you’ve tried it, you can move on to something different. But if you just sit there hoping and wishing and expecting something to happen without putting in the time or the work to learn, you’re never going to be able to get good enough to enjoy it, or even to just say, “I tried this.”
Also, don’t be too hard on yourself. We all have to start somewhere, and how we get better is by doing.
Q: What are your pro-specific tools?
Courtesy D'onra Howard
A: My Ryobi drill is my right hand, and I have a couple of them so I don’t always have to be changing out bit sizes.
Another tool I use often is my brad nailer. My five-in-one tool is good for opening up cans of paint, prying pieces of wood and getting a nail or a screw unstuck. Of course I need my circular saw with a track to cut straight lines. Then a cloth, because I need some type of cloth to finish or stain, and then to get that stuff off of my hands.
For clothing, I’m a fan of Dovetail, because it fits me the way I’m supposed to. I especially like their overalls and flannel workshirt. I had been wearing Dickies and I was just being swallowed in them. I also just became a brand ambassador for Timberland and Truewerk. I especially like Truewerk’s work pants and performance shirts, and Timberland’s pro hoodie.
D’ondra Howard Bio
When D’ondra Howard discovered a passion for furniture, she overcame her fear of power tools to become a furniture maker, woodworker and DIY professional. She sells her custom furniture creations through her company Workboots & Glasses. She’s also a consultant on Matriarchy Build, an online consultation platform connecting women and LGBTQ experts with people needing advice on DIY projects.
Howard confidently builds benches, TV consoles, Murphy beds and more. She especially enjoys designing and building tables.
Writer Karuna Eberl Bio
Karuna Eberl is a regular contributor to Family Handyman. She spent the last 25 years as a freelance journalist and filmmaker, telling stories of people, nature, travel, science and history. Eberl has won numerous awards for her writing, her Florida Keys Travel Guide and her documentary The Guerrero Project.