Strength Has No Gender™: What It’s Like Being a Woman DIYer

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Strength has no gender - What it's like being a woman DIYer - Thrift Diving

My husband looked at me strangely as I excitedly jumped up and down after learning that a huge woodworking show was coming to our area, and said, “Can’t you just be normal??”

By “normal,” I assumed he meant that, as a woman, I should be excited about typical “woman” things, like makeup, clothes, and shoes–not about “typical manly things” such as woodworking.

I mulled the comment around for some time, partly annoyed and insulted that he couldn’t understand or appreciate my excitement.

But the other part of me felt proud that I’m not your typical wife and mother. 

In fact, I am a power-tool-wielding, sawdust-covered, cargo-pants-wearing, thrift-store-shopping, furniture-paintin’, plaid-shirt-sportin’ mom and wife. 

And not only is this do-it-yourself lifestyle an intense passion of mine, but I’m also blessed to call it my career. In other words, I earned a living doing exciting do-it-yourself (DIY) projects and then teaching others how to do them.

In reality, what I do isn’t all that unusual within the crowds I run.

I am part of an emergence of women woodworkers, women DIYers, and women who aren’t afraid to challenge themselves to transform their home with paint, power tools, and thrift stores.

It’s happening slowly, but finally, the world is beginning to understand (and eventually, hubby will catch on, too, I suppose…) that strength really has no gender.

Strength has no gender - Serena using power tools

The Good News: Brands Are Catching On

Even if husbands around the world haven’t quite caught on yet, one thing is evident: brands are catching on to this phenomenon of women are rocking it out in male-dominated fields. 

One brand that has impressed me with their dedication to strong women is Brawny® paper towels, who totally revolutionized how strong women are celebrated.

Who doesn’t know the iconic, original Brawny® man, Eric Solie, who has graced the packaging of the paper towels since the brand started??

But in honor of Women’s History Month this month, (with International Woman’s Day this past March 8th), it looks like Mr. Brawny® decided to give strong women the spotlight. He has stepped aside–has taken the top shelf, if you will–and it’s time for ladies to shine.

And can I just say, hellllllo, Brawny® woman!

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This month while picking up some supplies for upcoming DIY projects, I stopped by the paper towel aisle and was happy to see the new packaging of Brawny® Pick-a-Size 8 Giant Plus, which is exclusive to Walmart, has hit the shelves. 

My first impression was that this limited-edition Strength Has No Gender™ pack has attitude!

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I don’t know about you, but I think this strong woman’s face has a slight smirk as if to say, “I got this. Don’t worry. Go sit down.”

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Brawny® launched its Strength Has No Gender™ campaign to highlight the inspirational stories of everyday women in cities across America who have been breaking down these barriers.

It’s a phenomenon that I can understand because women in male-dominated fields (such as home improvement) have to explain, complain, restrain, and refrain in ways that a man may never have to.

We each have stories to tell, and people are listening, soaking in our words, our experiences, our truths.

It’s exciting to see Brawny® putting such dedication into this effort!

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The Winding Road

It’s always interesting to learn how a woman landed into a male-dominated field.

For me, landing into this career wasn’t a straight shot; it was more like a winding road.

When I graduated from the University of Maryland with an undergraduate degree in Psychology, I never imagined I’d be working in the home improvement industry as a professional blogger and do-it-yourself (DIY) model. At the time, I felt like a lost soul who accidentally got roped up into the wrong career of clinical research and government contracts, swimming in a field in which I didn’t know how to emerge.

Shortly after graduation, my love of writing and creating, which have been evident since I was a little girl, morphed into blogging, and later, into chronically my home improvement projects about our old 1973 home online.

Out of necessity, and then passion, I began tackling projects around the home that I knew would cost way too much to hire professionals to do.

Rooms were slowly filled with cast-off furniture from my favorite thrift shops.

Wood top dressers were stripped and re-stained, as rows of neatly folded clothes finally had an affordable place to call without spending a fortune.


Vintage Dresser Makeover Reclaim paint Thrift Diving 1



How to Paint a Dresser in 10 Easy Steps


Sofas were adorned with colorful pillows with the promise to turn barren rooms into warm, cozy places to cuddle up with a good book.

Eventually, power tools landed in my hands, and the opportunity to improve my home in ways I had never before imaged were within reach.


I consumed hours of online tutorials, teaching myself how to hang crown molding, cut floor tile with a wet saw, install decorative wall treatments, and much more. I even taught myself how to remove and install toilets, which I have done twice now in my home.


It wasn’t that I was a professional and thousands flocked to my blog to learn how to do it with professional results.

It’s that thousands of (mostly) women began to see that I was an everyday mom and wife who was relatable and inspirational for those times when she, herself, didn’t feel she could pull off a project.

Watching me tackle power tools and home improvement projects, while working a full-time job as a Project Manager, demonstrated that if Serena can learn to do it, so could she!

The pivotal point in my career was the day that I lost my “day-job” as a Project Manager in January 2015.

I jumped for joy and never looked back.

Strength is Celebrated

Flip through any magazine and you can still see women’s role in advertisements: beauty is top priority; how we look matters most, and nothing else matters quite as much. We’re usually doing stereotypical “women” things.

But the good news is that this is changing!

Being in the do-it-yourself industry for the past five years, we women DIYer’s have become a cohort to be celebrated.

It used to be that you’d only see advertisements of men wielding power tools. But I’ve personally worked with companies that promote women power tool users like myself and the projects we use to create with those tools.

In 2015 I was a winner in a model search contest for a brand that makes work wear for men and women! What’s inspiring is that this brand uses real women as their models–women in hardworking, blue-collar careers where she isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. Each photo shoot is an authentic depiction of how we spend our days.

Finally, women’s strength is beginning to be celebrated.

Serena Appiah

Overcoming the Challenges

Back to the woodworking show…

Indeed, I attended the woodworking show, which was amazing the amount of information I learned!


Understanding Wood - Things You Should Know Before You Refinish or Build Furniture

But even while at the show, my attendance was questioned by the instructor of the Understanding Wood seminar I attended.

The instructor looked at me inquisitively and congenially asked, “You’re atypical. Why are you here? Are you a student coming for class credit?”

I simply laughed, explained my love of woodworking and my DIY blog, and the fact that I was building a DIY bathroom vanity from scratch and needed some additional information about wood so that it doesn’t fall apart on me.

I stuck out like a sore thumb in a class full of old men, but there was no hostility, only curiosity. I actually felt honored to be given the opportunity to break down their stereotypes.

It was worth attending, despite my husband’s negativity, because I learned some valuable information that helped me to create my DIY bathroom vanity that I built with my own two hands!




In fact, the whole lavender master bathroom makeover turned out amazing!













A strong woman challenges herself, which is what I did with this bathroom makeover. I had never before built such a large piece of furniture, especially one that will be used daily by my family in this capacity.

But every time I complete a project that I didn’t think I could ever do, my Confidence Meter shoots up by 10 points, and I begin challenging myself, “Okay, what can I try next??”




Strength in the Workshop

I like supporting brands, such as Brawny®, that support and recognize me, which is why I’m excited about the opportunity to share my own story of strength!

Not to mention their towels are the best!

I tried out some of the Brawny® paper towels to see just how absorbent they were with the wood dyes I’ve been experimenting with lately. (I used wood dyes on the DIY bathroom vanity).

They soaked up so much of the mess!

Now that I’ve got a huge pack of Brawny® paper towels, I’ll be keeping them handy for when I have spills and things that need cleaning up. Brawny® offers more sheets on every roll (vs. leading national brand comparable roll and sheet size) and helps you clean up whatever life throws down.

And trust me, in this workshop, there are a lot of throwdowns! LOL

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And Last But Not Least

…..Has anyone noticed that the new Brawny® woman is wearing lipstick??


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Although I’m not a diva and I don’t wear a full face of makeup, I do attest to the transformational power of lipstick. 🙂

So it’s exciting to see that the Brawny® woman didn’t forget hers, either.

If your lips are “on fleek,” you always look pulled together.

Even with paint in your hair and wood dye stains on your hands. 😉


Serena's Curly Hair AFTER

Your Own Story

So do you have a personal story about being a strong woman in a male-dominated world? 

Leave a comment below and let’s chat about it!

Also, be sure to check out the new limited-edition Strength Has No Gender™ pack of Brawny® Pick-a-Size 8 Giant Plus, exclusive to Walmart. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with their commitment to women!

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Download the 5 freebies!

Thrift Diving inspires women to decorate, improve, and maintain their home themselves...using paint, power tools, and thrift stores! Use these 5 printables, checklists, and ebooks to get started!

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  1. Senera, I have been following you from back in the days when you were still working full time. You amazed and inspired me then and you are still amazing and inspiring. You Rock! Thank you for believing in you and allowing us to follow you through your journey so that now we too can believe in ourselves. 🙂
    High five to… GIRL POWER! 🙂

    1. You are so sweet, Shelly! That means a lot to me! That’s what it’s been a journey, indeed! I am so happy that you’re along for the ride! Let’s ride this until we can’t ride it anymore. HA! 🙂 Thank you, friend!

  2. Mandy Casey says:

    My husband and I apparently have a fairly un-traditional house. He cooks and I build. My two daughters both go to him when they’re hungry, and me when they need a new doll house. I love hearing “oh, Mommy can build it!”.

    Last year, for my birthday party, my husband got me and my 3 BFFs engraved hammers. Best party favor ever!

  3. Love this post Serena!! I work in IT so I’m surrounded by men on a daily basis… I’ve become used to it and kind of wonder what it would even be like to work in a place with an equal amount of women and men. I love that women like you blaze the trails and bring tutorials to me so I can follow in your footsteps.

  4. Vivian Oaxaca says:

    In 1978, at the age of 19, I became a wildland firefighter. There weren’t many women fighting fires at that time. I loved it! Growing up with 4 brothers always telling me I could do anything they could do, just as well as they could.

    I had lots of struggles with men challenging me, and doubting my ability, but that only made me try harder to prove I was up to the task.

    I fought fires for 7 years, until I got pregnant with my son, then spent the next 22 years as a dispatcher.

    I have always loved woodworking, and one day, while at the mall, I saw a demonstration for Shopsmith. (Has a table saw, lathe, drill press, and sander, all in one.) I went to check it out. I had always wanted a lathe, and that really drew my attention. I started asking questions, and the salesman said, “Look, Honey, why don’t you have your husband come over, and I can explain it to him?” My 5 year old daughter snapped, “Don’t you call my mom Honey! She doesn’t have a husband, and doesn’t need a husband. She’s getting this for herself!” I was as surprised as the salesman! Haha.

    I have been doing DIY projects, and building things since before DIY was even a term. I love making things! Not only woodworking, but I taught myself to sew about 5 years ago. I just convinced myself that a sewing machine was like a scroll saw. LOL

    Having been a singleom with very little money, I had to learn to fix things and make things that I wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise!

    Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. Hey there, Vivian! Wow, what a great story!! And hats off to your then-5-year old for telling that man like it is! Funny you mention the Shopsmith. I hadn’t heard of those until recently when a woodworking friend of mine told me about them. I hear they’re built SOLID! Did you ever get one?

      That’s what I said about the scroll saw, that it looks like a sewing machine! I have one but haven’t unpacked it yet. But I can’t wait to use it. That’s awesome you taught yourself to sew. I taught myself, too, right out of college, and made everything from silk handbags, to baby shoes, to baby carriers….I love sewing! I don’t get time to do it as much as I would like, but yes, it’s so much fun, isn’t it?

      I’m so glad that you have led such a creative life! I hope your daughter followed in your creative, tough-as-nails footsteps! 🙂

      Thanks for sharing your own story!

      1. Mandy Casey says:

        Scroll saws and baby carriers in the same paragraph? I might love you more than I did before!

        1. Lol, Mandy!! Yep–I loved making baby carriers! I should dig up a picture of one and show you. Those things were triple stitched and so strong I could probably carry my 5 year old in it now!! ?

  5. I’m in the military (in New Zealand, hi from the bottom of the world!) which by nature is a fairly male dominated profession. I’m fortunate that my trade has a higher than average number of women than some of the others but I still find myself sitting in a room full of men sometimes. In fairness though, the men I work with are supportive (to the point of indifference to my sex based on the fact that I can do the job just as well as anyone else) and the general attitude toward the women in our defence force is great. It is funny sometimes when I meet new people, generally civilians and they’re taken aback by the fact i would choose such a “rough and tumble” career.

    The biggest …’problem’ I run into is cultural ideas because I’m part Maori (the indigenous people of New Zealand, not too dissimilar to native Americans i think) and I really want to learn Maori carving (look it up, I think it’s beautiful) but traditionally it is a male profession, so based off traditional protocols, many carving masters are unwilling to teach a woman. Fortunately not everyone thinks like that but it certainly does smart being told someone won’t allow you to learn something because “it’s for men”

    I did find someone in the end, he just laughed at the idea that women can’t learn because of traditional protocols. That’s the attitude I love.

    Sorry for the ramble haha.

    1. Hi, Adele! Wow, I loved your story, too! The first thing I thought of when you mentioned how the men won’t teach women Maori carving was: YOUTUBE!

      So of course I had to search for you and found some stuff there!


      Not that that ever replaces hands-on teaching, but hey!! I heard of a single mom that built her house herself based on watching YouTube videos! So you can surely learn carving from YouTube, too!

      Go, girl!

      And thank you SO much for commenting!

  6. Serena, thank you for knocking down barriers for all of us. I’m a bit put out by the assumptions so many people make about anything they see as “out of the norm”. I’ve grown to dislike the word normal. It’s far too limiting. You are a trailblazer. I hope your husband will one day grow to appreciate that. But you know what: those boys of yours surely will. They’ve seen your entrepreneurial, can-do attitude from the start. They know what a strong woman looks like.

    I’ve always loved the quote “Well behaved women rarely make history.” Society is welcome to have their expectations and we are welcome to shatter them. Rock on.

    1. Well said, Alys! My husband read my post and said to me, “Why did you put that in your post? (about him, that is). I told him, “Well, it happened, so I included it. It was relevant to what I was writing about. LOL. He hates for me to “tell our business.” But hey–that’s what I do best. 🙂

      You are so great to mention my boys! My 10-year-old told me recently, “Mommy, you’re cool, because you build stuff.” That was the best comment ever! As much as I try to get them involved and to teach them about wood and tools and stuff like that (although they aren’t very interested), I know that they’re learning by watching and seeing me do it. I’ve already turned them on to thrift stores. I’m sure very soon they’ll love woodworking, too! 😉

      Thanks for your awesome comment!

  7. Linda Moore says:

    Awesome post, Serena, and so timely, too. I used to fantasize about doing wood projects, but felt that I “needed” a man to teach me how to use power tools. Silly me! I wish I had found the courage to just go for it, but worried that I would cause myself bodily harm (you know, like earning the nickname Lefty, or some such nonsense!). Now, I’m too old and COPD eliminates woodworking as a hobby for me. But that’s okay, ’cause I can live vicariously through YOU! lol

    The picture of you hauling out your old toilet is a testament to your commitment to what you’re doing, I’d say. You inspire, encourage, and challenge your readers, and connect with them on a personal level. Just maybe that psychology degree is working for you in a small way, after all. You’ve decided to be the real you, and you encourage others to do the same.

    Long story short, YOU ROCK!

    1. Awww….Linda, you are awesome! Thank you so much for those kind words! I’m sorry that you didn’t get to experience the joy of using tools when you were younger and in better health! I think about that–the idea that if we don’t do the things we want to when we’re young, we’ll look back in our older years and wish we had done it when we had the chance. The good news is that there are still so many things you can do at all ages and right at your table top: painting something small, covering something in pretty paper, and more. Never let your age or health stop you from doing the creative things you love, even if you have to make adjustments! 😉

      Thank you, Linda! (P.S. I had to chuckle at that comment about using my Psychology degree! LOL)

  8. I want to be you when I grow up! I have done a lot of DIY projects around my home but nothing compared to yours. I can refinish furniture and lay down tile floors, but I’ve always been a little nervous around those bigger power tools. Way to go! #client

    1. Hey there, Carolyn! The bigger tools definitely intimidate! But once you learn how to use them, they make projects sooo much easier! I still haven’t used a table saw, but once my garage is cleaned out, I’ll be able to get one. I might need someone to hold my hand the first time I use it, though. LOL

  9. This is great! I have had gentlemen “explain” something to me that I can do better than them?. I try to just show them what I can do but it’s always an uphill climb- especially when you are in your 50s!!!

    1. OMG, yes!! This just happened to me! I was in Walmart looking at a product for another post coming up, which involves fence paint. I couldn’t figure out what color I wanted: red or gray, their only two choices. And this older gentleman (a customer, mind you….) walks by and says, “So whatcha working on?” I tell him, and said I couldn’t figure out which color I want. He then tries to tell me about other brands, and then asks if I am familiar with the brand I am looking at. I really thought he was trying to be helpful, but I am sure that I just looked like a woman standing in an aisle that I didn’t “belong” in, when really, all I was confused about was what color I wanted! LOL

  10. You are an inspiration to all of us Serena! Thanks for sharing your story! #client

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