Millionaires: Nicole Coenen is the internet's favorite lesbian lumberjack

By 04/26/2024
Millionaires: Nicole Coenen is the internet's favorite lesbian lumberjack

Welcome to Millionaires, where we profile creators who have recently crossed the one million follower mark on platforms like YouTube, TikTok, and Twitch. There are creators crossing this threshold every week, and each of them has a story to tell about their success. Read previous installments here.


Nicole Coenen never planned to cut wood for a living.

When she moved to a small island off the west coast of Canada to live with two women she'd adopted as her “cool lesbian aunts,” she didn't know much about woodchopping. She'd worked as a farmhand for a while in a mountain town in British Columbia, and one of her tasks there was to cut wood, but she was certainly not a professional. “The farm owner gave me an axe, put it in my hand, and was like ‘All right, go for it.' It was such a disaster at first,” she laughs. “I'm surprised I didn't just chop right into my knee.”

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On the island, where there's about 3,000 people and a strong sense of tight-knit community, Coenen found out there was a woodchopping group, mostly made up of retired men, that generates around $30,000 a year for 13 local initatives by selling wood. It also donates wood to people in need.

Coenen quickly became “very immersed” in the group, and would go out each week to chop wood with them, getting tips for technique improvement all the while. “I feel like whenever I go out with them, it's like hanging out with a bunch of cool grandpas,” she says. “They're great.”

Around the same time, TikTok was getting popular. Coenen had always had an eye on digital content; back in 2008, she'd launched a YouTube vlog channel with the goal of using video to tell “micro stories.” But she was well ahead of the short-form curve, and had drifted away from content for a decade or so. TikTok's surge made her realize there was finally a place for those “micro stories.”

She launched an account and started posting videos riffing off clips from Thoren Bradley, a woodchopping/fitness TikToker with 10 million followers. She didn't really anticipate those videos going anywhere, but it wasn't long before they started picking up views, and commenters chimed in, asking her to keep going.

“I just kept making woodchopping videos,” she says. “It got to the point where I was becoming the cliche that I was spoofing. Then it just became its own thing.”

These days, Coenen has well over a million followers on TikTok herself, plus another 1.2 million on YouTube, 2.1 million on Instagram, and nearly 450,000 on Facebook. She's become the internet's favorite lesbian lumberjack, known for her precise skill and her impressive collection of flannels (and also her burly arms). She's using her platform to tell the kind of stories she wanted to over a decade ago, and this summer, plans to expand to more long-form content while road-tripping with her partner.

But for now, you can find her in the woods.

Check out our chat with her below.

@nicole_coenen That'll do. #woodsplitting #woodchopping #farmlife #lumberjack #lumberjill #maplesyrup #lumberjack #slowmotion #queertok #queer #lesbian #farmtok #lesbiansoftiktok #lesbianlumberjack #Canadian #homestead #canada #maplemommy #woodtok ♬ original sound - Nicole Maple Coenen

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

B-ru: Nice to meet you! I'm very familiar with you and with your videos, but for this first question, imagine somebody has no idea who you are. They've never seen your stuff. Give me a little bit of background about you and what you get up to.

Nicole Coenen: A little bit about me. Currently, I live on a little island just off the west coast in Canada. Living on a little island town. A couple of times a week, I go out with a nonprofit in my community. We are a little community group of woodchoppers and we go out and we source wood, we buck it up into usable sizes, and then chop those usable sizes of wood into firewood.

Then we sell the firewood to various folks in the community, because a lot of people out here heat their homes with wood. We also donate a bunch of wood, but really the revenue from the selling of the firewood goes back to the community. That's one of the things I do out in my small town. I'm definitely a small-town person. I've always been an introvert growing up, and always just, I guess, was drawn to spaces in nature. I get overstimulated very easily in big cities.

I  like living in a small town, close to nature, where I get to get out a lot of the time and be part of the community and be part of the ecosystem as well.

B-ru: Where did you grow up in Canada?

Nicole Coenen: I grew up in London, Ontario.

B-ru: The other end of the country.

Nicole Coenen: The other end. Yes.

B-ru: How many people is your town, do you know?

Nicole Coenen: My town currently? Before moving here on this island, I lived in a town of 300 people, but on this island, there's around, I guess, close to 3,000.

B-ru: Oh, bigger. Okay.

Nicole Coenen: It's a pretty big town compared to where I used to live. [laughs]

B-ru: How did you end up choosing this place to go?

Nicole Coenen: I live on this island due to friends of mine who are like my adopted family members. They invited me to come live in their backyard cottage, which is where I currently am. They're basically like my cool lesbian aunts. Very much like close family members, chosen family, I guess. It's funny, we raise our dogs together and they're like family. They invited me to start renting their backyard cottage. That's what brought me to this island. Then I just started getting more involved in the community and fell in love with being so close to the ocean.

B-ru: Very classic queer shenanigans.

Nicole Coenen: Queer shenanigans! Yes. Follow the queer. Sometimes we joke that we're starting a lesbian commune because my partner's also coming and then they have an Airbnb and there's a lesbian staying there now.

B-ru: Oh my god. You're importing them.

Nicole Coenen: We're importing them. [laughs] We're going to start, what's that island? Lesbos part two.

B-ru: Your partner, she's coming to live there too?

Nicole Coenen: Yes. She grew up actually on the west coast. She's familiar with the island and island living.

B-ru: Oh, that's good! Did you grow up with some kind of fascination with logging, or is it just the nature that drew you? How did you get into this in the first place?

Nicole Coenen: It's funny because now, since I've gotten into it, I have a bunch of people messaging me saying they used to sell firewood as a kid or they used to heat their home with firewood. I grew up in the suburbs and just started chopping wood…Oh gosh, I guess it was less than four years ago.

I remember first picking up an axe to chop this pile of wood when I was working as a farmhand in a small town in the Kootenays, a small town in the mountains in British Columbia. One of the tasks of the farm was to chop some firewood. The farm owner gave me an axe, put it in my hand, and was like, “All right, go for it.” Oh, it was such a disaster at first. [laughs] I'm surprised I didn't just chop right into my knee.

How I got to where I am with woodchopping was, when I moved to the island here, I got connected with the local woodchopping community group, so the nonprofit. I'd be out chopping two to three times a week, for quite a few hours. The folks in the group were giving me tips and tricks. I think that's actually one of the nice things about woodchopping is it is such a community thing. If you heat your home with firewood, you can't do it alone.

You need to reach out to other people to help you with taking down a tree or bucking it up or just the process of creating firewood. I learned from the community.

B-ru: Is the goal of the nonprofit just to be able to supply that very necessary resource to people?

Nicole Coenen: The goal of the nonprofit, it actually started over 10 years ago on the island. It started with a group of retired men who wanted to get out and wanted to stay immersed in the community and also stay active. Even the group is still a bunch of those original members. It's really cute. I feel like whenever I go out with them, it's like hanging out with a bunch of cool grandpas. They're great. 

The goal of the group is not only for the members to get out and get active, but it's to raise money, essentially, for the community. We do raise quite a bit of money for a small town. I think we raise around $30,000 a year, just from some firewood. A little bit mighty.

B-ru: That's huge. And then you said that money goes back to the community. Are there specific areas it goes to?

Nicole Coenen: Yes. We have at least 13 different initiatives that we support. It varies depending on what the needs of the community are, anything from healthcare to planting trees or taking care of the ecosystem, or if somebody needs help and just needs firewood, then we'll donate the wood to them directly.

B-ru: Very, very cool. What did you do career-wise before this?

Nicole Coenen: Before getting into online woodchopping–or, I don't even know how to define it. [laughs] Before this, I worked quite a few different jobs. My passion has always been in filmmaking and documentary filmmaking. I did quite a few projects in that area. My dream was always to be a filmmaker, but it was passion that drove me towards that. It wasn't always a feasible goal sometimes, but it was something that I just loved doing.

I worked in documentary filmmaking, and then I also worked for a bunch of different nonprofits, from nonprofits that supported folks with different abilities and special needs to also working with nonprofits that worked with nature, like water restoration. A bunch of different types of jobs, so filmmaking. Then I also have a background in being a personal trainer, so a fitness coach.

B-ru: Somehow that's not surprising.

Nicole Coenen: [laughs] That's been helpful with even just getting in the right kinesthetics for woodchopping.

B-ru: How did the “online” become a part of it? When did you start recording videos? You've always been interested in filmmaking, so how did this come together?

Nicole Coenen: It's funny, I was just reflecting on that recently, because I've always been making YouTube videos. I remember back in 2008, the golden age of YouTube, I would make vlogs and try to be a YouTuber at one point. I remember that was always just something I loved to do, capture life and tell little micro-stories and just share it with people and share it with family.

Then I drifted away from that. Then I guess it was almost a year and a half ago when I posted my first woodchopping video. I remember the day that happened. I was just on my bed scrolling through TikTok, as one does, just doom-scrolling. I came across a TikToker named Thoren Bradley. Anyone who has been in the woodchopping space is very familiar with Thoren Bradley. He's the OG woodchopper, the king woodchopper. I saw him just chopping up some wood. I was like, “Oh, I do that as well.”

This is when I was already very immersed in the woodchopping nonprofit. I actually made a spoof of Thoren Bradley. I spoofed a woodchopper. Then people in the comments, when I uploaded that spoof to TikTok, people in the comments were like, “This is great, you should do another one.” Then I just kept making spoof woodchopping videos. It got to the point where I was becoming the cliché that I was spoofing. Then it just became its own thing.

Really, this is all just a running joke, if you want to look at it that way. [laughs]

B-ru: It's a good joke.

Nicole Coenen: Thank you. It's taken a lot of turns.

B-ru: The amount of times where it's like, “I will only do this ironically.”

Nicole Coenen: Then it just takes a life of its own.

B-ru: Do you remember the first video that really did well for you?

Nicole Coenen: I think when I was spoofing Thoren, I did around three of those. Those did pretty good, compared to previous videos. I was TikToking before woodchopping. It would just be little lifestyle videos or life in the small town that I was living in. Mountain-esque videos, very cinematic. Then when I started adding more woodchopping videos to my page, I think one of the ones that hit a million first was a slow-motion video of me chopping a piece of wood to a rendition of “Unholy,” but from the woman's perspective, it was gay.

It was basically a lesbian thirst trap. That was the video that hit a million first for the woodchopping content.

B-ru: That also makes sense.

Nicole Coenen: I found my audience. I was like, “Perfect. This is good.”

B-ru: It's true. Was there a point where you were like, “Okay, I'm going to keep doing this? This is going to be a thing for me”?

Nicole Coenen: Yes, at the time I was getting a lot of traction on TikTok. I then started posting on Instagram. I was working full-time for a nonprofit remotely.

B-ru: A different nonprofit?

Nicole Coenen: Yes. At the time when I first started posting on TikTok, I was full-time working as a communications specialist for a water restoration nonprofit. Working with water bodies. It was funny because I'd be working remotely and posting just casually whenever I had time. I'd be in meetings with other people in this nonprofit. It was a national nonprofit, so other people from all across the country. I would get messages in chats being like, “Hey, I think I came across you on TikTok. Wait, are you the lumberjack girl?”

It was funny, I have so many good friends in the nonprofit that I was working for. At one point, they started to realize that I was really gaining a lot of traction on social media. They're like, “Do you want to just…do that?” I started working part-time with them. Then eventually social media just started consuming more of my time. They also were like, “You're having a lot of fun with it, just go for it!” I slowly transitioned out of the nonprofit and then started doing social media full-time, which was terrifying, but fun.

B-ru: What was that transition like? Aside from terrifying, what changed about your production process and everything else?

Nicole Coenen: Not too much changed about my production process. It was just, I felt a little bit more freedom to take more time in video. Then I also started to expand into not just woodchopping, but also axe renovations, and started to also get into blacksmithing. I was just able to have more time to expand the niche and expand into other realms of the woodchopping, outdoorsy niche. That's been really fun.

I feel so lucky that I basically have an excuse to go play in the woods now and learn new skills and growing up in the suburbs. I never thought that this would be my life. It's fun.

B-ru: You were successfully imported. What does the average week look like for you in terms of going out and chopping and learning these new skills and then posting?

Nicole Coenen: That's a good question, because it's not consistent, or it varies quite a lot. Especially because most of my stuff that I'm filming is outside, so I usually have to coordinate the weather when it's going to be rainy or snowy and what I have access to in terms of materials. In the winter, there was only so many hours of daylight. I had to really rush some projects. My week, it varies a lot. Right now I'm also doing a lot of traveling. This past weekend, I was at a blacksmithing clinic on one of the other islands.

Then this week, I'm also heading back to Vancouver Island. Today, this morning, actually, just before this call, I was out at the community wood pit, just trying to get a bunch of content so that I have enough content to put out there as I'm traveling, so there's that consistency. My week, usually I'll have ideas of what to capture throughout the week. I find I'm a more spontaneous creator. I'll maybe think like, I'll go out to the forest, I'll bring my camera and just see what happens.

Maybe that'll turn into a forest fitness video, or I'll just go to the wood pit and see what wood is available and what wood we haven't chopped into firewood yet, and just play around, I guess.

B-ru: You said your production process can change a lot. How does the average video work for you, from pre-production  to post?

Nicole Coenen: Oh, that's a good question. It varies depending on the video itself. If it's an axe renovation video, I plan out, I look at the bucket of axe heads that I have in my back, and I figure out which one I want to restore. Then I make sure that I have the right type of wood for a handle, and I have the material. There's a little bit of pre-production. Then once I have everything, then it usually takes me a couple of hours to get from the start of the axe, with it just being an axe head, to the end of an axe.

Then also depending on if I want to stain it in a fun way, using wine stain, or using some natural stain, then sometimes those types of stains have a little bit of a of a process to them, I need to heat them in a certain way, or things like that. It's usually quite a few hours to make a 30-second video, because then there's editing. I don't use my phone for capturing content.

B-ru: Oh, really?

Nicole Coenen: No, I have just an old phone. I'm not the most technically savvy person. Having a background in filmmaking, I just love using a camera, just having such a tangible thing with the lens. I love using a camera. Right now I'm using a GH5S, so Lumix Panasonic.

B-ru: And you edit on the computer.

Nicole Coenen: Yes, so then I edit on my computer, which usually takes a little bit, because sometimes I'll do a little bit of color correction. Again, having a background in film, I'm like, I might as well, just amp it up a little bit more. It's usually a full day, if not two days, to do an axe renovation video. Then if I'm just doing a woodchopping video, well, that also depends. Usually, if I go out to the wood pit, or somewhere where there's big rounds to chop, I'll just set the camera up and start chopping.

Sometimes I'll come back with 20 minutes of footage, sometimes there's an hour's worth of footage. I try to find the good couple of seconds in there that's good enough for the internet, I guess. It varies.

B-ru: You do do some longer-form stuff on YouTube occasionally. I'm curious where you see long form-fitting into your channel moving forward.

Nicole Coenen: That's a good one. I personally love long-form more than short-form, because I feel like I can connect more with the audience or the viewer in long-form. It feels more conversational rather than just three seconds of me just doing one action. I would love to move more into long-form and have a lot more time to put into long-form content. I think in the future, that is where I am heading.

My partner and I, we have a lot of plans to do road trips this summer and a bunch of adventures, which will be in that long-form content. I think also just having a background in filmmaking, I just love being able to edit something that's more than five minutes, and maybe even in that horizontal format. I think that's where I would like to head, is having more emphasis on the long-form, because I just find that's better for storytelling and connecting more with people that are watching.

B-ru: Do you feel like short-form has made it more accessible to get into content creation?

Nicole Coenen: Yes, for sure. I definitely think short-form has–exactly as you said, made it more accessible. It's really opened up a lot of doors, because I think I remember when I was first trying to get into YouTube, there were a lot of barriers for people. When people would think about, like, “I want to become a YouTuber, but I need a certain type of camera. I don't know what to say for 20 minutes.” There's a lot more barriers, I think, to get into YouTube, but short-form, you just need a moment or a quick message.

It's a lot more accessible, less barriers to get into it, and get into different niches. Also, you don't need to spend hours editing something. Even though I sometimes spend hours editing a 30-second video, but that's just me. You don't need to. You could just literally pick up your phone and say something to your phone and then send it out there. It could be five minutes. Within five minutes, you could make something, whereas I think with long-form, it definitely takes more than that.

B-ru: Any other cool plans or projects you're working on?

Nicole Coenen: Something I've just been really grateful for is having gone, I guess, “viral” in this niche, it's really opened up so many doors for me in my life. The fact that I'm now training to be a blacksmith, I never would have thought that that would ever be even a possibility. That's been just so cool to get access to. Also, we're in the very early stages of this, but I've been talking to a publisher about doing a book about firewood and woodchopping–which, again, never thought that I would ever be doing these things.

I feel very grateful for being so lucky to have stumbled upon this. I never thought that this would go this far. It's just opened so many doors. I've also been able to connect with so many awesome people, I never would have thought. I've had people that I've admired for years slide into my DMs and be like, “Oh, I love your content.” I just fangirled. It's been a wild experience.

B-ru: That's amazing. What's your blacksmith training been like?

Nicole Coenen: The blacksmith training, it's funny how it even started. One of my previous jobs was as a farmhand. One of the farms that I worked at, one of the owners was a blacksmith. He kept saying that he was going to train me one day because I would go into the shop and see his forge and see his setup. He would tell me about his journey with blacksmithing and knife-making and the tradition behind it. I had always wanted to try it. Then I had to move away from that area.

I thought, oh, my opportunity just left to get into something like that. Then when social media started to take off, I had a blacksmith message me. His message was something along the lines of, “Hey, your stuff is great. Can I make you an axe? I'm a trained axe maker.” I was like, “No way. That's awesome.” I checked out his Instagram page and realized he's actually on basically my neighboring island, he's so close to me.

I messaged him back being like, “Actually, can I come to your shop and watch you make the axe?” I went to his shop, and he showed me how to make an axe. He started teaching me more about blacksmithing. He's basically been my go-to mentor, I was just at his shop this past weekend, learning about different types of metals. He's basically been my mentor in blacksmithing. That's, again, opened up different doors for me in different niches, as I've started to post more about that on my accounts.

B-ru: It's wild that he was so close to you. Any other skills or areas you're looking to expand into more after that?

Nicole Coenen: Definitely. There's so much. I know that I have so much to learn still in terms of outdoorsy skills. Rope tying is definitely one. Just survival skills, I would love to learn a little bit more about. Also, in terms of like, trees, I'm starting to learn far more about the different types of trees and identifying trees. I've known quite a bit of that from my other jobs, but I still have so much to learn in that area and how to care for them bette,r because that's also something I'm hoping to do.

Having worked in so many various nonprofits, I know the power of audience attention and awareness. I do hope to also use my platform to slide in a little bit more of that educational content around ecosystems, around just the importance of trees and how incredible they are, because I think we just don't comprehend how much we need these things. That's also something I want to slide into my content a little bit more, nature education, but I need to learn a lot more about it myself in order to spread those messages. 

B-ru: Anything else you want people to know about you? Anything else you want to share?

Nicole Coenen: One thing that I have been finding interesting and actually really empowering and inspiring is– The content that I post, woodchopping is seen as a more masculine task. Usually, when people think of woodchopping, they think of the big, burly lumberjack guy doing…I mean, I'm actually… [looks down at her arms]

B-ru: You are pretty burly, I have to say.

Nicole Coenen: [laughs] I guess, but I think I do get quite a few mansplaining comments or people comments that are quite sexist. I also get quite a few comments and messages from women who work in the trades, and they're like, “Thank you for the representation.” Or from queers just being like, “Thank you for being so out.” I'm like, “Of course, I'm a lesbian! I'm happy about that!” It took me a long time to even be okay with that. It's something I'm very proud of.

I do try to have a boundary with allowing comments to really hit me. I just received a message from a dad earlier today, and he was saying that he shows his daughters my videos and they want to go out woodchopping and they want to be strong and they want to go climb trees. I'm like, that's what keeps me going. If a little girl is inspired to go climb a tree or chop a piece of wood or pick up a tool that they didn't feel like they could before, that's amazing.

B-ru: Definitely in terms of the trades and professions, girls aren't encouraged to that path a lot of the time.

Nicole Coenen: Yes, that's so true. I hear that it's changing, and we're making progress, and more women are getting into trades and just being represented. And also feeling safe in those spaces, because I think that has been a huge barrier, is women haven't felt safe. Even just at the blacksmith clinic that I was at, it was mostly men that were there, which I figured, but there was one other woman there. It was just nice to have somebody that identified as a woman, somebody that was like you.

B-ru: You mentioned mansplaining comments. I have seen people being like, “She's chopping it wrong. She's doing this wrong.” It's like, “Okay, buddy.”

Nicole Coenen: I'd like to see that. It's funny because they'll say these things, and I would like to see them try. Also, I know I do have a different technique than what is proper and correct, but I had to develop a different technique because I am not a big, burly lumberjack man who's 6 feet tall. I'm a certain height. That's another rant.

B-ru: Wait. I don't know enough about woodchopping to know this. Your technique is different?

Nicole Coenen: Slightly, but also it depends. Your technique will change depending on the type of wood that you're chopping, and also the type of axe that you're using. There's so many factors that will make you have slight adjustments to your technique. It won't change your technique completely. On the basics, my technique is correct, but if I'm chopping a certain piece of wood, then I will have to use a little bit more momentum in a certain way than if I'm chopping dry wood.

There are slight variabilities to the technique depending on certain factors. If somebody wants to nitpick me, they can be like, “Oh, well, she's not doing the flick properly.” But different regions have different techniques. The wood that we split here in the west coast is a little bit different than the wood that is usually split in the east coast. Therefore your technique and the axe that you're using might change a little bit.

B-ru: Is that from the different levels of humidity?

Nicole Coenen: Yes. Levels of humidity can be a factor. But also, on the west coast, we have a lot of soft woods, what people usually think about as conifers and evergreens. Whereas somewhere like Ontario has a lot of hard woods. Those ones are a little bit more dense to split, a little bit harder to split. 

That's not always the case, though. There's also different factors to woodchopping, such as the moisture content of the wood. If a log or if a tree has been what's called “felled,” or taken down, and has been sitting for a long period of time and it's dry, then that's going to be super easy to split versus a tree that has just been cut down that was alive. You try to chop that, that's going to be hard, because it still has a lot of moisture content and water running through it, which makes it more spongy, almost, and your axe doesn't bite into it as much.

There's a lot of factors to woodchopping, but people are like, “Oh, I chopped wood for an entire summer and therefore I'm an expert.” Hey, you know what, I do appreciate that they're part of the conversation and that people are getting back into woodchopping or getting interested in woodchopping. I never thought that that would even be a conversation on the internet. That's cool.

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