A woman in overalls leans against a green kitchen bench smiling.

When Reno’s budget was blown, Kristen picked up the tools to make her dream home

Kristen Hamm has always dreamed of buying an old home in Queensland.

When she did in 2019, she had to do a lot of the inner work herself.

“After we bought our first home, we were so broken, like most people,” says Townsville-based Kristen. “And there was so much I wanted to do for the house.”

“But there were a lot of important things that took up our renovation budget that weren’t on my wish list, like plumbing and electrical.”

There was no money left to do the interiors, like paint, panels, and cabinetry.

“I had to figure out how to do it myself or it might take years to do these things,” Kristen says.

Kristen learned to use power tools only three years ago. She has built her self-confidence.(Supplied: Kristen Hamm)

Since then, Kristen has learned to make and assemble furniture with affordable materials and electrical training—skills she didn’t have before.

She also documented her progress on Instagram and gave tips that she learned along the way.

Working four days in a day care center and raising three young children, DIY is something Kristen has had to fit into her “free time.” But it didn’t feel like it worked.

“It’s something I discovered during this trip that I didn’t really know before, which is how much I like it,” says Kristen.

“I’m still on my mind when I use my hands to create something. And that’s the kind of rush I don’t really get from anything else.”

“I just, really, enjoy the process. Maybe more than the end result. It’s just the actual painting or the creation, and the repetition of doing things with your hands.”

The mud room that Kristen prepared for her home. Pair it with MDF boards, wood panels, two storage units, brass hooks, paint and a nail gun.(Supplied: Kristen Hamm)

This end result and seeing her home transform by hand, are still less than satisfying.

“You look back and you feel so proud,” says Kristen.

“I did it and I feel good about it.”

Getting into crafts

Kristen is fortunate that her father teaches her most of what she knows: “He’s from this generation that knows how to fix things.”

The first project taken up was the laundry, followed by the kitchen.

“My dad got me to use a circular saw, a drill, a drop saw, and all these practical things,” says Kristen.

“The circular saw was probably my scariest tool at the time.

“Once I perfected it kind of opened up a lot of possibilities. I tried a jigsaw, a drop saw.”

Kristen’s kitchen before and after some DIY. Cutting the butcher block for the kitchen counter with a circular saw was one of the “scarier” things Kristen did early on.(Supplied: Kristen Hamm)

Kristen admits that she’s still afraid of angle grinders and won’t go near them.

When setting up, Kristen suggests investing in a mid-range starter kit with the basics.

“For $400 to $500, you can have a set with the main tools you need: a drill, a saw, sanders, all of that stuff,” says Kristen.

“I don’t use a ridiculously expensive brand. What I do is the mid-range is perfect.”

Kristen added a “fluted” finish to her floating dressers for a little warmth.(Supplied: Kristen Hamm)

Kristen recommends looking for a device with a battery.

“If you buy more tools without a battery, it will be easier for you to do it this way,” she says.

open to mistakes

It’s been three years of learning for Kristen, with plenty of mistakes made along the way.

She says, “My dad says every time ‘Measure twice, cut once.'” And I made that mistake a lot.”

“I destroyed whole planks of timber and had to start over which is devastating.”

It is important to practice before embarking on your actual project, especially with power tools.

“You kind of need to know how much pressure to apply, and even how to hold the tool properly so that it goes in the direction you want it to go.”

One of Kristen’s early joinery projects – a bench for the end of the bed.(Supplied: Kristen Hamm)

Different places to learn

While Kristen is lucky to have her dad around, there are other places to learn DIY basics.

Sydney-based Kaz was eager to give the 23-year-old Chatswood a facelift when she picked up her skills two years ago.

“I’ve always kind of come in handy because I’ve lived on my own for so long,” Kaz says.

“I was no stranger to picking up drills but had no idea how to make anything.

“I couldn’t find dealers doing small business… so [DIY] It became a bit of a necessity.”

Kaz in the Chatswood garage workshop.(Supplied: Kaz)

Found a carpentry course for women nearby and signed up.

“I can watch YouTube videos until the cows come home and I can catch a lot, but the face-to-face learning is invaluable,” Kaz says.

Wardrobe made by Kaz from recycled wood.(Supplied: Kaz)

She gradually expanded her range of power tools and took on a number of projects, from decorative shelves and progression to pull out pantry cabinets and painting dividers for her bedroom.

Many are made from recycled materials or free finds online which helps keep costs down.

give her a chance

Some projects are harder than others: “Sometimes I go: ‘I have no idea what I’m doing. Why do I do this? “Then I go take a step back, and be cool, you can do it,” Kaz says.

“Go back to yourself. We often think that as women we should know everything 100 percent before we do that.”

“Just try. It doesn’t have to be perfect.”

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