Author Interview: Book Q+A with Girls Garage Founder, Emily Pilloton

In anticipation of the upcoming publication of Girls Garage: How to Use Any Tool, Tackle Any Project, and Build the World You Want to See, author (and Girls Garage founder) Emily Pilloton sat down to answer a few questions. Below, you’ll find out what’s included in the book and why, advice for jumping right in, and how the book is a physical representation of the feeling you get walking into Girls Garage.

Learn more about the book and how to pre-order at girlsgarage.org/book.

Why did you write this book?

I wrote this book as an invitation for girls to put on their tool belts and build the world they want to see. And I mean that quite literally: I want girls, who have big dreams, goals, and ideas, to have zero barriers to access the tools they need to be successful. That tool might be a hammer, a little extra confidence to try something new, or the ability to see yourself in the world of STEM. You’ll find all these things in the book. I also wrote this book because, after a decade of teaching and building together, there’s so much knowledge that the Girls Garage community has accumulated and wants to share with others! And lastly, this is the book I wish I had as a kid, when I was peeking into the garage wondering what all those rusty tools were for, and if I could use them to build my next fort.

What was most crucial for you to get right in the book?

It was non-negotiable for me that the language, terminology, and instructions in the book were precise and technical. I want girls to be able to call tools by their name and ask for them, because language is power in building and in life! My dream is for girls to be walking into hardware stores, and when they’re asked if they need help, to respond, “No thanks, just grabbing an ⅛” countersink drill bit and some T-shank jigsaw blades.”

What is the first page I should turn to when I get my copy of the book?

This book is great for “reading roulette” – just flip to a page and see what you discover! It’s laid out in sections: The Toolbox (a whole encyclopedia of tools, by category), Essential Skills (like how to change a flat tire), and Projects (things to build with your newfound skills and tools), with profiles of builder women interspersed throughout. The Safety section is technically the first page you should flip to, though, because before you do anything, you should understand all the ways to keep yourself safe!

What was the most difficult part to write? The easiest?

It is not easy to explain how welding works, or how to use a bandsaw in one paragraph! It was difficult to balance the technical language (“kerf” and “bevel”) with the accessible tone that I wanted to maintain. I also had a hard time writing the story of Girls Garage, the organization, in a way that did justice to the hundreds of girls who make up our community in the Bay Area. These girls are the heart and soul of the book, and I wrote and rewrote the introductory essay in a way that hopefully makes them proud. I always want to do right by them. It was so hard to capture the magic that I feel, and that girls feel, in our physical space, on the page in print. I felt strongly that the book should be an extension of our organization and an invitation for girls everywhere to join a movement. On the flip side, it was easy to edit the interview profiles of 15 inspiring builder women, because they told me their stories straight from the heart. I adore each of these women and was thrilled to share their stories with the next generation of fearless builder girls.

Why did you intersperse people’s profiles throughout?

We know that “you cannot be what you cannot see,” so seeing the faces of women and girls who look like us is an automatic validation and invitation into the world of STEM, trades, and building. The profiles in the book capture the stories and careers of teen girls from Girls Garage, world-famous architects, women-of-color who changed careers, and 90-year-old women who welded ships in World War II. It’s not only important to see one woman who looks like you, but a diversity of many women whose breadth of experience proves that building is for ALL women. And beyond just seeing their faces, we need to know their stories. Because their stories are imperfect, take unexpected terms, hit massive walls, and also are met with mentorship, love, and persistence. To hear these stories makes you realize you don’t have to be perfect, but rather that our strength and success comes from a supportive community.

Why is it important to have a book like this for girls?

When you search for “how to” books, construction manuals, or even video tutorials on how to use tools, that content is almost always written by men, for a primarily male audience. Of course these books aren’t called, “Encyclopedia of Tools for Men,” but they’re also not very inviting to all readers, especially if you’re a first-time builder. It’s important for the Girls Garage book to be categorically inclusive, exciting, and accessible to all readers, especially young girls. And in this way, it’s important that it’s written by me, a woman (and a woman of color), and that when you flip through it, you see the faces of other women, like cheerleaders who pop up every 20 pages or so.

It drives me crazy when products are marketed to girls and women in a pejorative or insulting way, like “let’s just use small words and make it pink.” This book is the opposite of that: it honors the creativity and innate problem-solving skills that girls and women use every day and presents technical information in a way that feels like an invitation to join a sisterhood. And of course, boys and men can read this book too! I’d love it if they did! The book may be designed for girls, but I can assure you a tool does not know or care if a girl or boy is using it. And I love the idea of a girl reading the book and then teaching her brother or father or uncle how to use a new tool.

The book has a lot of fun facts included! What is your favorite? How about a bonus fun fact that didn’t get included?

I love the fun facts that tell the not-so-well-known stories of female inventors. So many tools we know and love were invented by, or influenced or improved by, female inventors. For example, a Shaker woman named Tabitha Babbitt invented the circular saw in the early 1800s after noting the inefficiencies of a two-person handsaw in cutting lumber. And Anne Pauline Crepin patented the technology that made bandsaws durable, brazing the band blade into a smooth loop.

Do you have advice for girls that want to try out the big power tools but don’t have a fully-stocked home workshop yet? Or for girls that want to find builder communities in their area or online to be part of?

Yes! Depending on where you live, you might be able to enroll in a youth class, some of which are for girls only! Girls Build in Oregon, Rosie’s Girls in Vermont, Tools and Tiaras in New York, and others are amazing. The network of maker spaces around the country is robust also, but you’ll need to check to see if your local maker space has woodshop or metalshop tools since some are more tailored to electronics or tinkering. Make:Community has a great online directory of makerspaces around the world. Plus, consider yourself part of the Girls Garage community, wherever you are. We would love to see what you make and help you on your building adventure: tag @_girlsgarage on Instagram!

If you’re just looking for access to tools, tool lending libraries are becoming more common, most often run through the local public library system. In my hometown, the Oakland Public Library (and Berkeley Public Library) does a great job of maintaining and renting out tools for free or low-cost. Some hardware stores also have tool rentals available at a daily rate. I’d also highly recommend getting a group of like-minded friends or family together to create a “tool pool,” where each member purchases one tool, and all are shared by the group! You can even do projects together as a group; think of this as a book club, but for building instead of reading!

How did you pick the eleven building projects?

Almost all of these projects have been tried and tested by hundreds of girls who have been part of Girls Garage. The toolbox project, for example, is the first project that girls build with us, because you have to use about 10 of the most common woodshop tools to build it. The planter boxes too: I think we’ve probably built 200 of them in the past few years! Each of the projects has room for personalization, but also a “recipe” to follow in case you don’t know where to start. And across all 11 of them, there is a wide array of materials, from lumber and plywood to steel and concrete. The projects are great ways to flex different builder muscles, and end up with an artifact you can actually use in your daily life.

If you had to get a tattoo of one of the illustrations, which one would it be?

The miter saw (aka chop saw), for sure! I have a specific memory of being on a jobsite, with a male colleague who did not believe I knew what I was doing. We had about twenty 2x12s to cut, and when he walked away, I cut every single one of them myself on a miter saw. So that tool for me represents an important realization that no one else’s expectations or assumptions can change my ability or confidence to do the thing I set out to do. Plus, my partner/illustrator Kate Bingaman-Burt did such an incredible job capturing the spirit of the miter saw in her line drawings.

What book-related events or activities are on the horizon?

We have a huge book release party planned for Saturday, June 6th at Girls Garage! The book officially comes out on June 2nd, and Saturday the 6th we’ll open our doors and have signed books for sale, tool demos, and an opportunity to meet girls from our community. I’m also hoping there will be a taco truck outside! Beyond that, we’ll be doing a few pop-up workshops, publicity appearances, and events at bookstores. I’m super excited to share the book as far and wide as possible, so folks should let us know if they’d like to collaborate on an event, too! We’re also working on some video content which will complement the book, like tool tutorials and project guides demonstrated by our staff and girls. The more we can help support communities of fearless builder girls everywhere, the better!

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