The smell of sawdust and sound of drills and hammers filled the Makerspace RW room at Minnesota State College Southeast Red Wing campus.

A collaboration between several organizations made a girls woodworking workshop possible. The workshop was offered to girls ages 9 to 13 and was the first of its kind in Red Wing. The program - which ran July 15-18 - was taught by female instructors. Together the group built two benches that were donated to local elementary schools.

At first a few girls said they were nervous about using some of the power tools. Isabella Waller was one of them. She talked about her initial reaction to holding down the wood board and feeding it into the saw.

"It was like loud and stuff and I was scared, but I did it and I liked it," Waller said.

With time, practice and patience, all of the girls ended up using the machines.

"My favorite part is that we have had some girls who are super cautious the first day and weren't sure they wanted to be anywhere near any of the machines that we were using," instructor Katie Dunn said. "Later that afternoon they were using them without much assistance at all."

To get them comfortable with the power tools, Dunn and fellow instructor Randii Waddell first taught the girls safety. They explained what each machine does, how to operate it and where to position their hands.

Dunn and Waddell let the girls determine to what degree they wanted to participate in each activity. If they were not comfortable, instructors offered to operate the saw while the girls held the wood or vice versa.

The program is about taking those first steps, Waddell said.

"That's what the goal is of this whole week, is getting them to try things that they haven't done before," she said.

This was the case for Waller.

"I was thinking I'll try it, and if I don't like it, I won't do it. But if I do like it, I'll try it," Waller said.

She said she ended up liking it.

Empowered for the future

The program was designed to build the girls' confidence, help them overcome fears and expose them to activities they may never have participated in before. It gave them the opportunity to work on team-building skills while having fun and being creative.

"There are so many skills that they can learn through using their hands that they can apply to all sorts of other areas of their lives," Dunn said. "It gives them a great experience with all sorts of tools and critical thinking skills that they don't always get other places."

In addition to the benches the girls worked on take-home side projects, including string art and bird houses. They learned how to use the bandsaw and got to make a wood cutout.

"We made the first letter of our name in wood," Waller said. "So I did an 'I' and then we got to color it."

Waller said making the bench has been her favorite part of the program.

"If they have this class next year I would definitely sign up for it again," Waller said.

On Thursday the girls held a dedication ceremony attended by parents, grandparents, representatives of the various supporting organizations and school officials. Not only did the girls get to take home some pride in their accomplishments, but they also took home their side projects they worked so hard on.