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Tonda Thompson is a carpenter with a mission to teach

Tonda Thompson

The pandemic has had people jumping into home projects like gardening and finally getting those pictures hung on the wall. If you’re thinking about adding some planter boxes to your garden consider Tonda Thompson. 

Tonda is a woodworker. She has always been a technically skilled person, she grew up in Milwaukee and went to Milwaukee tech where she got into computer engineering and went on to become a videographer. But she wasn’t always into carpentry. At Milwaukee tech it was something she did as a prerequisite but didn’t fall into. It was when her son, years later, broke a family gift that she made an attempt to repair the table and found interest. 

“I had a coffee table that was given to me by one of my uncles who passed away not too long ago,” Tonda says. “It was a glass table; it was near and dear. I wanted to do my best to keep it but my son got into watching Mickey Mouse. At the time, there was an episode where Donald likes to stand on furniture. So my son stood on the glass table, and it almost broke and caved in.”

Due to the pandemic slowing down her full time business of videography, Tonda didn’t want to spend money on a brand new coffee table so building her own was cost effective. In the process she found that carpentry could be a hobby. One that’s relaxing.

“It was really a form of art that I could kind of get away from the normal work that I was doing,” says Tonda. “I got some healing from that work.”

The love of carpentry was a surprise to Tonda though she says it makes sense. A lot of family on her grandfather’s side is into woodworking. She discovered this on a family trip to meet relatives she didn’t know.

“It’s kind of in my bloodline. I went down south during the summer and saw one my aunties doing the same stuff that I was doing. Like, I have a miter saw in my house right now,” says Tonda. “My mom just met her real father and all of the people on his side do that type of carpentry work.” 

Tonda’s woodworking gained traction when she posted her work on Facebook. Soon she had a lot of people asking her to either build tables and other projects.

“I've been building tables, legit, since April,” Tonda says. “I'm still behind right now. I'm trying to catch up. I need to hire people right now, I need to get a building right now because it is cold in my garage.”

The demand in the wake of the pandemic has gotten Tonda to think innovatively. Tonda says she’s offering Zoom lessons on how people can build their own coffee tables. Tonda buys and delivers the wood and hardware and then together, online, you build in your own home. She got the idea from her videography work. She’s thinking about maybe having a Black carpentry YouTube channel.

“You have a lot of people on YouTube, but you don't have a woman from 13th and Keefe,” says Tonda. “I’ma be honest, I got a hood background. You don’t see Black people doing DIY stuff on YouTube.”

Tonda is now doing carpentry full time along with her video and photography business so she’s keeping busy but putting her trade skills to work for the community. She hopes to help empower women through carpentry by teaching them that if they’ve ever felt they weren’t capable for whatever reason, there’s an opportunity here for them.