Sandblasting is traditionally a male role – I spoke to Kaz Doyle who is probably the only female sandblaster in the UK. She loves her job and gets a thrill from restoring barn beams and walls that will last for hundreds of years – and metal items too.
What’s it like being a sandblaster?
Not surprisingly, when she turns up for jobs, the typical reaction Kaz gets is “Oh, you’re a girl – we don’t think you’ll manage”. Kaz’s usual response is something along the lines of: “Yes, I am a girl, and I’m also very good at what I do!” Or: “Being a woman I’m more able to do the more delicate jobs”.
“Men actually seem to be quite accepting once you show them you are capable of sandblasting” she says.
How do you win work sandblasting?
Kaz has found that in her sandblasting trade, word of mouth is the best recommendation. However, an awful lot of this word of mouth tends to happen in male dominated pubs that are frequented by the building trade, often ones near to new building sites. Being a woman, she hasn’t found it easy to hang around these pubs. “I wouldn’t know how to do this type of ‘mates-for-mates’ networking anyway,” she says, “do I give them a backhander or what?”
How physical is it being a sandblaster?
Working as a sandblaster is so physically strenuous that she can only do the actual blasting part of it for three days a week. “I get around it by organising my week so that on the remaining two days I fit in my new business pitches and admin tasks” she says.
Sometimes, gender stereotyping can work to Kaz’s advantage. “I will admit to the ‘Help! I’m a weak female bit’ if I get really stuck at the end of a very tiring physical day and generally men have jumped to my aid”. She finds that male builders often volunteer to help her carry heavy sandblasting equipment and she accepts their offers gladly. “I have also had occasion to ask for help to tow me out of a muddy field as my sandblasting equipment weighs two tons.”
The biggest helping-hand Kaz has received has been from her own husband. Far from being threatened by what she does, he chips in and does secretarial work for her when she needs him too. He does sometimes get a hard time for it though. “Occasionally men say ‘Oh your husband is your secretary – are you role swapping?’ ”
How did you become a sandblaster?
“My mum was an antique dealer and nothing phased her. We used to restore stripped pine furniture and that’s where I learned to love restoring things”.
“My trade is very niche and small”, says Kaz “and there’s not a huge demand for sandblasting. There are probably only 12 to 15 people in the country doing wet sandblasting, and they’re probably all male. I certainly haven’t heard of any other females doing it!”
Kaz would however tell any woman thinking of going into sandblasting that they should be prepared to “muck in” – which includes using the men’s’ Portaloo toilets on site (“pretty disgusting sometimes”) and not mind getting dirty. “Most of my sandblasting work is outside on construction sites” she says. “It’s a very messy job. I’m usually covered head-to-toe in muck by the end of the day and my hair’s like concrete”.
“Even though sandblasting is considered men’s work and it’s very dirty and physical, by plugging the history angle – that ultimately the job is about restoring beautiful things to their full glory – you could probably attract more women,” says Kaz. “More and more women are being attracted to careers as stone restorers, for example”, she says.
“I would still encourage any woman to work where she is happiest. I am certainly happy blasting away”.
Thanks to Kaz who runs Softblast Ltd for letting us know about the life and times of a female sandblaster. Is being a sandblaster something you fancy? Let us know!