Stephanie White and the wonderful world of woodworking

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Beyond Ordinary is an exhibition that features the work of 28 women makers, one of whom is West Australian Stephanie White. We asked Steph a few questions about her woodworking life, and about the piece she carved that is now on show at Sturt Galleries.

Steph, can you tell us a little about yourself and your pre-woodworking life – if such a thing existed!
I was blissfully unaware of the wonderful world of woodworking until I fell into it in 2016. Prior to that, I was a lover of timber, lusting after wooden creations in the well known galleries around south west WA, but I had never had the opportunity to get in and make stuff.

I was and still am an avid artist, painting pet portraits as a small side business for some years, though now I only do it through word of mouth. I use watercolours, oils and chalk pastels, with my house covered with portraits of my dog and cat, and drawings of my favourite tools of course.


"Sassy the whippet, who snoozes in the corner of my workshops no matter the chaos and noise of the machines and students."

I am a mad keen dog lady, having worked in the vet and pet industry for much of my working life. I’m passionate about dog behaviour and nutrition as well as responsible and ethical pet ownership. My fur kids are Angus the Scottish Fold (or One Neuron Angus to those that know him) and Sassy the workshop whippet (named after Sassafras of course) I also am a fish nerd, and at the height of my nerdom I had 5 fish tanks in quite a small house, the biggest being 400l. I ended up selling the lot to buy woodworking tools. I now have a humble little 60L which scratches the fish nerd itch satisfactorily.

I am a passionate musician, have played a few instruments, predominately tenor saxophone, and having recently picked up the cello, to supplement my journey into lutherie. I am informally apprencticing under Andrew Tait as a luthier which is an incredibly exciting opportunity and I am currently working on an English style cello, copying the instrument known as “The Duke” made in 1850, played by Rod McGrath as principal cellist in the Western Australian Symphony Orchestra. I love to get to the WASO concerts when I can and am also a keen opera fan.

Fitness wise, I took up running last year which I am very much enjoying, and hoping to run 10km by the end of the year. I like picking heavy things up and putting them down at the gym, and am an avid snow skier, though it’s a tricky sport to enjoy being about as far away from snow as you can get.

I blacksmith as a hobby, making nails, hinges and tools to supplement my woodwork, with Peter Follansbee being an inspiration for this combination of carving and blacksmithing. I also work closely with Our Veterans Forge. I teach recently discharged military veterans and first responders to carve and help them with woodwork, promoting a safe space for those transitioning from military life to civilian life. I hope that I teach that civilians are not all bad guys, as well as providing a safe space to talk about mental health.


How did you get into woodworking? Is it your full-time gig?
Out of the blue in 2016 I decided to build a dining room table with tools I borrowed off dad and no idea what I was doing. I built it out of pallets, blew up a sander in the process and it is the most over-engineered ugliest thing you have seen, but it got me started. I started carving around the same time, again with the pallet wood, and again with no idea what I was doing, I started with a Stanley knife, not something I would recommend.

It was an addictive slippery slope from there. I was insatiable for knowledge and experience, I got a job selling high end wood working tools and relentlessly put the effort in to teach myself as much as I possibly could. I started my business Steph the Woodcarver in 2020, teaching and doing commissions and I went full time in October 2021. I’m working my butt off trying to make it work, woodwork is where I want to be.

What is it about woodcarving in particular that drives your interest?
Woodcarving is just fantastic as it is a never ending learning curve. There are always skills to aquire, theories to test and I can let my imagination run riot in the workshop. It is always a workout for the grey matter, putting ideas in my head onto paper, figuring out the mechanics and tools, how to bring the idea to life, then getting in there and creating it. It’s a language, a way of thinking, and within woodwork there are dialects I’m learning, lutherie, carving, design and so on.

I’ve had to work hard, fight blood sweat and tears, but some of my happiest moments over th last few years have been in workshops, either my own or other makers sharing their space with me. Very early on in my woodworking career I purchased a ryoba saw and I had to resaw a rather big plank of sassafras, and since I didn’t have a bandsaw at the time I put the ryoba to work. Over the course of a week I gradually worked my way through the sassafras, and as the single piece became two, I did not realise such a simple task done well could bring so much joy.

Carving brings me joy in so many little ways, a satisfying little curl of timber from a knife, the hiss of a plane, a sharp chisel slicing through some beautiful timber and a perfect fitting joint. A huge part of it is teaching students and watching their confidence grow and them experiencing the same joy I get from carving.


Beyond Ordinary is a milestone exhibition for women makers in Australia. How do you feel about showing your work within it?
It’s humbling to be involved in such a project with such talented women, collectively flying the flag for female identifying folk in the woodworking world. It’s an absolute privilege and I’m very grateful to be classed amongst such skilled makers.

Is it different for women woodworkers now? Are there obstacles to overcome? What's your advice to newcomers?
I think being a woman in the woodworking world is still tough, but barriers are being broken down all the time. I find a lot of issues are based around ignorance and misinformation. I find once someone has a chance to talk to me for 5 minutes, particulaly if they are a woodworker, we have a great time and compare notes on the three rules of woodwork, you can never having enough clamps, that there is no such thing as too much timber, and the workshop never seems big enough. A woman still has to go that extra mile to prove themselves in the area of manual arts, but as years go by, things are getting better, as societal attitudes are changing and becoming more inclusive.


Can you tell us about the piece you made for the exhibition? Is it a new direction in your work? Were there any challenges?
The sculpture is about my whippet Sassy, how she is a constant calm whatever the chaos is going on around her. She sleeps in my workshop, on her bed, no matter the noise and clatter. Occasionally she does sneak up for kisses when I’m on my drill press, and no matter the urgency of the task, I always indulge in a little time out for some whippet snuggles. Even in everyday life, Sassy gives me purpose and meaning, I have to get out of bed because she needs a walk and her breakfast, after morning cuddles of course. We have an amazing connection and I love her dearly. My cat does not share this opinion.

Carving my workshop whippet was a huge challenge, I spent six months on the sculpture and it got to a point where I wasn’t happy with it, felt I couldn’t save it and had to start again. This was ten days from when I had to have it in the post, so cue freak out. I knew I had to start over, and it was devastating and there were many tears as there was so much I liked about Whippet Version One. I knew it would be a mammoth effort so I organised for all sorts of friends and family to come by my workshop and keep me company, feed me and cheer me on while I carved and carved and carved. It was intense, but I made it, exhausted and sore. Having posted Whippet Version 2 and celebrated, I spent a night tossing and turning thinking of all the things I wish I could have done to it. But if nothing else, it is a physical embodiment of sheer determination and hard work.

Working ‘in the round’ is such a challenge for me, it is a difficult type of carving and something I hope to improve on. I learnt so much from carving Sassy, about my own abilities, skills and strengths as well as how I can improve.


Steph White with the real life inspiration for her sculpture.

What's your aim with your woodworking? What would be the next level for you?
I absolutely love teaching, and hope to continue and expand on that, as well as working with Our Veterans Forge, supporting them however I can. At the moment long term I would like to progress into lutherie, to make cellos and using my carving skills in making early baroque instuments. I hope to continue my passion for funky spoons that stretch the idea of what a spoon is, explore a lot more design heavy pieces and sculptural work. I’ve got a long list of creations I’m waiting to create, and I’m looking forward to working through it. I hope to support as many women and fellow makers creating in the workshop, be a respected member of the woodworking community and above all, create, and keep creating.

Beyond Ordinary: Contemporary Women Makers is on show at Sturt Gallery & Studios until 3 April 2022. The exhibition can be viewed virtually here.

Learn more about Stephanie White at and Instagram @stephthewoodcarver


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