Girls Who Build

Inspiring Curiosity and Confidence to Make Anything Possible


By Katie Hughes

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$38.00 CAD


This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around October 13, 2020. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Celebrate the can-do attitude of fierce girls who know how to wield a hammer, fire up a saw, and build everything from a bookshelf to a playhouse. Featuring project photographs, this guide will inspire you to pick up your power tools and make something great.

Carpenter Katie Hughes frequently found that she was the only woman on construction worksites. To change that, she began teaching classes to girls ages 8-14, showing them how to drill, saw, and weld. Her classes quickly became sold out summer camps and she founded her own non-profit, Girls Build.

Girls Who Build features candid and arresting photographs of forty-five girls showing off their power tools and can-do attitudes. Accompanying each girl is a profile interview where she speaks to her inspirations and favorite builds, plus tips for others starting out. Also included are building skills, techniques, and safety tips to teach girls — and older beginners — how to handle hammers, drills, and saws plus thirteen do-it-herself building projects (from the featured girls themselves) such as picture frames, nightstands, playhouses, and more.


DISCLAIMER: Working with tools inherently includes the risk of injury, and projects undertaken based on the information in this book is at your own risk. The author and publisher disclaim any liabilities for any injuries or property damage caused in any way by the content of this book.

1: Alice’s Chicken Ladder

2: Khadija’s Concrete Planter Box

3: Attalia’s Tea Light Holders

4: Brooke’s Jigsaw Puzzle

5: Tanzira’s Tea Light Luminaries

6: Alina’s Wooden Doormat

7: Samantha’s Swing

8: Anfal’s Candleholder

9: Aleeyah’s Mason Bee House

10: Soleil’s Magnet Board

11: Azalea, Bailey, and Zoélie’s Pallet Playhouse

12: Reba’s Salvaged Shelf

13: Valeria’s Nightstand

When I started Girls Build in 2016, I had run a similar program for eight years under the umbrella of another nonprofit organization. Shortly after I left, they cut the program. I didn’t realize how important the education offered by that program had been to local tradeswomen until they began inundating me with requests to continue it. I’d like to say that I took their subtle hints, but really it wasn’t until one of them essentially smacked me over the head with the idea of starting a nonprofit of my own that I realized that, a decade and a half out of college, I was uniquely positioned to run a nonprofit that teaches girls to build. This surprised me. When I look over my shoulder at the past fifteen years I think, “Huh. I never realized it was all leading here.”

In our first year, we held two weeks of camp at the University of Portland (in Oregon) and served eighty girls. In 2019, we held eleven weeks of camp in five locations and served nearly four hundred girls over one summer alone. We’ve grown.

Over the course of any given day at camp, girls attend four workshops and use as many tools as we can put in their hands. LeShayla, a camper from our first year, lived with her grandma and had a fantastic experience at camp. She was nine during her first time at camp, loved woodworking and building a playhouse, and really fell in love with the tools. One tool specifically.

“So, apparently I need to buy LeShayla an… impact driver?” her grandma asked with hesitation, leaning on her walker on the last day of camp. I laughed, picturing LeShayla chatting construction with her grandma over dinner. And she wasn’t the last grandma to come to me with tool questions. Not two weeks ago, I got an email requesting a list. “My granddaughters attended your camp last summer, and for Christmas they want ‘all the tools from Girls Build.’ Can you send me a list?”

It is the ease with which girls learn the lingo and the tools that sticks with me. The first day of camp is quiet. The girls seem weighed down by all the tools and safety equipment. Then, truly overnight, they turn into these confident little beings who don’t need help clasping their tool belts or remembering which tool is the speed square. They find they are capable of installing a solar panel (and using the energy to toast a Pop-Tart), soldering copper, pouring concrete, and stopping a 20′ water-main leak. They also realize that they might drive a nail into the wrong spot, cut a board too short, paint something the wrong color, or make twenty other mistakes in a single day—and that the day is not ruined, projects are not broken, life is not over. Essentially, failure is not the end, and soon they brush off mistakes quickly, give each other tips on repairing damage, and keep moving forward.

On the last day of camp, when the girls are wild, loud, and somewhat preposterous as they tour their parents and guardians around, I make sure to position myself near what is commonly called the chop saw, a stationary tool that sits on its own stand and features a 12″ blade. Formally, it’s known as a sliding compound miter saw. To operate it, girls must reach up to the handle, hit the trigger, and lower the blade through a piece of wood. To parental eyes, it can look terrifying. It’s time to show off, though, and each girl walks up confidently.

She does all the prerequisite measuring and safety steps, and finally rests her fingers on the trigger, ready to cut. It’s at that moment that her parents, who have clearly been holding back, look to her and say, “Are you sure you can use this?” It’s like they waited until the last second, knowing they sent her to camp for this very tool, for this very lesson, and for her to use it with confidence. They can’t help themselves—they even hate themselves for it—but the words escape their mouths almost involuntarily.

Then comes the response.

No matter if she is ten or fourteen, she simultaneously huffs and slowly, meticulously, delivers the best eye roll imaginable.

“Of course I can use a chop saw,” she mutters, as if a chop saw were a pencil or tricycle or one of those little cars kids push with their feet. Of course she can. Duh.

She then hits the trigger, her shoulders thrown back in slight defiance, her cut as perfect as if I’d cut it. Then she blows off the sawdust with a little extra swagger.

I love that swagger. And I’ve started to think of the eye roll as the Girls Build litmus test.

Did she roll her eyes at her parents for doubting her ability to handle the 12″ sliding compound miter saw? Yes?

Mission accomplished.


There are a few things you should know about this book. First, the girls in this book are so rad that I wanted to be friends with all of them. Next, we put some thought into how we organized the book to make it easy to use. Let’s dig in.

The book has the following sections:


Safety always comes first. Make sure you read this section before starting any skills or projects.


This is where I tell you more about the words and phrases I’ll be using throughout the book, and the best way to interpret them.


This list includes all the tools the girls used to complete their projects, and the ones you’ll need if you want to build the projects yourselves. Please don’t go buy tools right away. See what you can borrow from friends and neighbors. Not only is that free, but it’s more fun. And while you are at it, see if they have cut off any of their fingers. If not, get a lesson on that tool from them.


In this section, I go over, in a very basic way, how to hammer, drill, saw, and perform many other skills.


Take a gander at the photos, then read the interviews. These girls are so interesting. I may have cried at a few of the interviews because I found these kids so inspiring and insightful. Take time to get into their stories. You won’t regret it.


The book starts with the easier projects and then moves on to the harder ones. I suggest that you, too, begin with an early project and work your way through the book. As you do each project, you will learn something new that will help you with the next one.

This illustration tells you how closely someone needs to be watching you, and how much help you might need. One pair of safety glasses means someone should watch you, but you can do it all yourself. Four pairs means that you will need an adult to do some parts for you. If you are an adult, one pair of safety glasses means you can do it on your own. Four means you need some classes under your belt, or a skilled friend at your side.

This illustration is pretty self-explanatory. One dollar sign is pretty dang cheap. Four is expensive. Nothing in this book cost us more than $100, excluding tool purchases. Again, beg or borrow tools before you run out and buy them.

This illustration shows you what level of skill is needed to do a project. The first project is rated as one hammer—no skills necessary. The last is rated four hammers, and you will have to work yourself up to it.

This illustration tells you the amount of time a project will take. Four clocks is up to a whole day, depending upon skill level. Two clocks is half a day. You get the idea.

WORK SURFACE: This tells you on what surface you need to complete the project safely. Most of the time you will need a sturdy, flat surface that is clampable, like a table, but sometimes you may only need a wide-open area.

MATERIALS: These are items you will use up while making the project, like wood or screws.

TOOLS: These are the tools you will need for the project. When possible I list more than one option, like a jigsaw or chop saw.

STEPS: I have tested the steps described for each project, and we hope that between the descriptions, the drawings, and the illustrations you will have plenty of information to complete each one.


Should you have an adult with you at all times while you build? Yes. Even for projects rated one pair of safety glasses, you will always need an adult by your side. If nothing else, it’s never good to work alone. A buddy of any age can help you apply a Band-Aid if you are cut, and a smart buddy will remind you to put on safety glasses when you forget. My firm recommendation is to have your buddy be one of your favorite adults who will help hold the drill when you need an extra boost, or use that chop saw when you can’t.


At the end of the book appears a list of many of the materials used in the projects, as well as a few other basic building materials you should know about. My hope is not only that you will reference the list as you work through each project, but that you might read through it ahead of time. I find all this construction talk fascinating, and I hope you do too. You may not. Not yet, at least. But maybe someday you will geek out about it as much as I do.


I have written a book that I would want to read: one that is full of stories, personal anecdotes, and the real scoop on tools and materials. I want you to know the tools that are bunk and the skills that are really rad. I want you to know the reality you will face when you walk into a hardware store, and I want you to walk in with as much secret knowledge as I can pack into these pages.


I run a nonprofit that teaches building to children. It is my number-one priority that everyone have a great time and stay safe while we’re together. My goal is the same for this book. Aside from reading the directions clearly, seeking outside help, and researching techniques and tools, an important part of staying safe is using the proper safety gear. The items listed below are all things that I wear at home while working casually on a project, or at my job when I’m working on something serious. The way I think about it, you will never regret being extra safe.


Once you find a style of glasses you like, buy two pairs of them. You may eventually lose them, or they will get scratched, and you don’t want to get stuck in the middle of your project without safety glasses. I keep safety glasses in my car, in my house, in my workshop, in my basement. It never hurts to have a pair within reach wherever you are working.

These are the glasses I like (see illustration), but you might find something else that fits your face better. What you are looking for is safety glasses that hug your eye sockets, allowing little room for debris to get in from above, below, or the sides. I once got a shard of metal in my eye that came around my safety glasses, because I borrowed a friend’s that didn’t fit me well.

I use glasses like these because they come in a few different sizes, they are comfortable, they are very easy to find, and, honestly, they’re pretty cheap.

You already wear glasses, you say? You still need to wear safety glasses over your glasses. This kind can be large and bulky and aren’t my favorite, but your eyes are worth it. Option B? Find out if your glasses are shatterproof. If they are, you can get pieces of plastic that attach to the ear pieces of your glasses and protect your eyes from projectiles coming at you from the left or right. In my opinion these aren’t as great as the ones that go over your glasses. Option C, for once you really nerd out? Get prescription safety glasses.


Ear damage is permanent. Once I realized this, I finally put on the earmuffs that my friend Dawn gave me for my birthday, because she cares about me more than I do. It’s important to protect your ears so you don’t end up being that person who just smiles and laughs when people talk to you because you have no idea what they said. It’s awkward. Trust me.

You have two routes to go with ear protection. The simplest option is to get protective earmuffs. You can use them in most scenarios, and they are large enough that you probably won’t lose them. You want to protect your ears at roughly the 100-decibel level (I am telling you this so you will bring this knowledge with you as you shop). This will cover the noise put out by table saws, chop saws, drills, and any other power tool in this book.

It doesn’t hurt to buy a few disposable earplugs to keep handy, just in case you can’t find your earmuffs. I like the kind on a string with a very squishy foam. Some are cone shaped—I hate those—and some have the string sticking all the way through the foam. You can’t feel it, but in your heart you know it’s close to poking your eardrum. Go to the hardware store and start smushing earplugs until you find one that you like. To properly put it in, roll it between your fingers so the narrow end comes to a point. Insert the now pointy, narrow end into your ear (not too hard), and hold the exterior end in place for a few seconds. You will hear the foam filling up your ear canal and cutting off sound. Do this in both ears, and be on your way.


Wear closed-toe shoes when you are working to give your toes some protection. Wear long sleeves when possible. On hot days, wear a T-shirt instead of a tank top—you want to protect your skin as much as you can—and long pants, preferably jeans with no holes, instead of something like leggings. There is obviously flexibility here—I love working in shorts and a tank top on hot days—but the more skin you expose, the more cuts and scrapes you can get on that skin.

Make sure your clothes fit well. Don’t wear loose or oversized clothes—trade out that big, baggy, comfy hoodie for one that is fairly tight on your body. Pull your hair into a ponytail if it’s long. If you lean over and your hair hangs down into your work, put it up in a bun. Don’t wear jewelry on your hands, wrists, or neck—even rings can be a hazard. Essentially, you want to minimize anything that can get caught in a tool or machine. Tuck the strings of your hoodie inside your sweatshirt, or get rid of the strings entirely. If you wear a head scarf, make sure it is tied back. As you start work, do a quick evaluation of what you are wearing and make sure it’s safe.


I would be remiss if I didn’t mention hard hats. Most people working in shops don’t wear hard hats. But if you are working with a lot of people, moving a lot of large objects, or have anyone working above you, put a hard hat on. You won’t regret it.


CROW’S FOOT: This is a V-shaped mark that precisely indicates a measurement. Instead of a dot or straight line, the crow’s foot is clear, easy to find later, and, most importantly, precise. See here to learn how to draw a crow’s foot.

DOMINANT HAND: What hand do you write with? That is your dominant hand.

FLUSH: This is when two boards share a joint without one being positioned farther out than the other. The two boards are set even with each other with no overhang.

NARROW END OF BOARD: Unless your board is a square, one side will be longer than the other, like a rectangle. The narrow end is the shorter side.

OVERHANG: When two pieces of material (wood, mostly, but sometimes metal) are placed together, sometimes one piece hangs over the edge of the other. Sometimes you want this, sometimes you don’t.

PENCILS, CARPENTRY PENCILS, AND MARKERS: Normal pencils are round, and you can use them for most of the projects in this book. Carpentry pencils are flat with a rectangular body so they won’t roll away when you set them on a table or sloped surface. A permanent marker is good to use for marking sheet metal or other metal, like copper. A fine-tipped permanent marker is best.

PILOT HOLE: This is the hole you drill to make a path for a screw to go nicely into a piece of wood. It’s not always necessary to drill a pilot hole before driving a screw, but sometimes it’s the best option. If you are just learning how to use a drill, a pilot hole will help the screw go in easy peasy.

SNUGGED UP: This is when your pieces of wood are pushed together as tightly as they can be, which is a good goal to aim for. Please note, this is not a technical term, but I use it a lot anyway.

TOENAILING: This means to connect two pieces of material with a screw or nail going in at an angle from one piece into the other. See here to learn how to toenail.

WASTE SIDE OF THE LINE: When you have measured a board and drawn a line through that measurement, one side of the line is the piece you are keeping, and the other is the waste side. Write your measurement on the good side, or the side you are keeping. That way, you’ll know which side to keep, and it also helps you remember the length of the board for later in the project.


Tools are expensive. Some are more expensive than others. Adults, if you buy a low-quality impact driver for $50, you will buy that same impact driver over and over as it breaks after an average amount of use. Or you can buy one drill and driver set for $150 to $300, and never buy another drill or driver again. This is the better choice all around, so save yourself some dollars, get excited, and go buy that nice drill and driver set you’ve been eyeing for months. The same goes for hand tools, but the price difference is much smaller. A plastic speed square is about $3, and a thick, metal, top-of-the-line speed square is $10. Get the $10 one. It comes with a book, so you can geek out learning all kinds of things you never knew, and you’ll have that speed square your whole life.

Here is a list of the tools you will need to do the projects in this book. Don’t run out and buy all of them, unless that’s something you like to do. Most of the projects are simple and only require a few items. You can always borrow from neighbors or friends, or see if your town has a tool library.


Pipe clamps and bar clamps are essentially the same, but pipe clamps tend to be longer and are used in professional wood shops. Bar clamps are smaller and are perfectly great for any project you are working on from this book.

C-clamps are less commonly used in woodworking, but if you have some at home, they may work for holding down a piece of wood on a table. They will not work for many of the projects in this book, though. My suggestion is to invest in two 36″ bar clamps.


A crowbar is primarily used to pull wood apart. It looks like a large, metal candy cane with a slightly curved stem. It has a claw on the end, like a hammer does, which will pull nails out easily when you have to take apart a project.


A drill is a handheld power tool that bores holes.

An impact driver looks like a drill but has a shorter nose. The impact driver is a great tool that hammers as it turns, making driving a screw much easier, especially for kids. It reduces the possibility that you will strip a screw (hollowing out the head of the screw so you can no longer drive it), as long as you use it correctly.


The chuck is the part of the drill that opens and closes around a bit. By spinning the outer ring, three prongs inside come together to clutch the bit tightly.


The term “drill bit” is used by most people to refer to two different items: a bit that bores holes, and a bit that drives screws. A rare handful of people call the bits that bore holes “twist bits,” but no one I’ve ever worked with has. It is a nice differentiating name, but people don’t commonly say it, so that means you’re left with possible confusion about which type of bit is being referred to. The good news is that in this book, I’ve included enough information to tell you which bit you need. For example, if the instructions ask for a ⅛″ drill bit, that would be a bit that bores a hole. But if the instructions tell you to use a #3 Phillips, you are looking for a bit that drives a screw. If there is a fraction in front of the term “drill bit” or “bit,” you are looking for a long, thin piece of metal that will make a hole for you. Otherwise, you are looking for something that will drive a screw. See, not so bad.

Bits to Bore Holes, or Twist Bits

Bits used to bore holes come in many different sizes and materials, the most common being bits for boring into wood, or wood bits. It’s actually incredible to walk through the drill bit aisle at your local hardware store to see the wide variety that are available. You can get bits that will drill through thick metal as easily as they bore through wood. Pretty cool.

Drill bits are called out by the size of the hole they bore. A ⅛″ drill bit is ⅛″ in diameter and will bore a hole that size. A ⅝″ bit will bore a ⅝″ hole, and so on. Not too complicated. You can buy them individually, but for now it’s probably best to simply buy a set that contains a variety of sizes. For this book you will need the ⅛″, 516″, ⅜″, and ⅝″ bits.

Countersinking Bit

A countersinking bit makes a hole that lets a screw sit below the surface of the wood.

Forstner Bit


  • "For years, Katie Hughes has been challenging the stubborn belief that a career in the trades is no place for a girl. Girls Who Build fosters curiosity and redefines what's possible for young girls in the digital age. If there's girl in your life, get this book into her hands, and watch what happens."—p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 14.0px Calibri}Mike Rowe, host of "Dirty Jobs"
  • "Such a great resource for girls, and women, too, who are curious and want to learn. I wish I had this book when I was younger!"—p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 14.0px Calibri}Kate T. Parker, author of Strong is the New Pretty
  • "Katie Hughes knows can-do determination, and her love for her craft shines through in Girls Who Build. Her book will inspire the next generation of girls to master the art of building!"—p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 14.0px Calibri}Tim Leatherman, Founder of Leatherman Tool Group, Inc.

On Sale
Oct 13, 2020
Page Count
272 pages

Katie Hughes, author, founder of Girls Build

Katie Hughes

About the Author

Katie Hughes is the founder of Girls Build, an organization created in 2016 and based in Portland, Oregon, that offers girls ages 8 to 14 the chance to learn mechanical and electrical skills as well as wood and metalworking.

Learn more about this author