Behind the Mask: Char Miller-King of @Woodenmaven

Char Miller-King Holding HVAC Filters and Wearing Tie Dye RZ Mask for WoodworkingIf you haven’t already virtually “met” Char, we can’t wait to introduce you to this woodshop teacher, maker, mother, and travel content creator from Georgia. For nearly two decades she has been honing her woodworking skills and spreading her knowledge. She likes to say at this point she knows a little about a lot and what she knows, she wants to share every bit of it. Read on for our Behind the Mask conversation on how it started, and how it’s going.

Q: What made you pick up a power tool and begin creating?

A: It all started shortly after I undergrad, my friend and I moved to a huge apartment. We desperately needed beds, so we went to all the savvy shopper stores, BIG LOTS, Goodwill. I saw a platform bed in my future to compliment the Asian inspired theme décor I planned.

Then, I saw it. The simple, yet expensive, platform bed at an upscale furniture store. It was far out of my reach, but for some reason, I kept going back to the store, maybe the money was going to fall from the sky, or they would gift the bed to me because I’m a nice person. Clearly, none of that happened. After the fifth trip to the store, I was literally under the bed investigating how it was constructed. Then. A light bulb went off. I.CAN.BUILD.THIS.

Char Miller-King Stands Next To Bed frame she built

Q: What’s the story behind one of your favorite projects? 

A: My favorite project is my workbench. It was the first heavy duty projects I made. It is quite heavy, it’s constructed of OSB, plywood, pine, and hardboard. For a few months, I struggled with cutting wood on the floor, not only was it producing uneven cuts, but my back was suffering greatly. Of course, at the time I had no knowledge of bench vices, bench dogs or casters. It worked and still does, although I am thinking about upgrading it, it has been 20 years!

Char Miller-King stands next to workbench she built and tools

Q: What was your biggest “flop” for a project? What did you learn from it?

A: I have always been ambitious, there is not much I cannot do (in my mind). In reality I did not realize my skills and knowledge at one point did not match my talent. A college friend asked me to make a built-in bookcase surrounding a picture window. Without going into too much detail, the final piece was not worthy of a new homeowner’s office space. At the time I only owned a circular saw and a drill. Not to mention, I stained it too dark and went home for Christmas. The stain was baked in!

My uncle, a skilled carpenter, packed up his tools and drove from St. Louis to Atlanta and dismantled the entire project, planed the boards and rebuilt it. Naturally, my friend got a professionally built in for far less than it cost to make.

Q: What do you love about your craft?

A: The beauty of woodworking is you can create anything. There are so many ways to achieve the same goal, whether that be with power tools or hand tools. I love taking raw lumber, revealing its beauty through planing and learning the history of where the wood came from. I have had the opportunity to work with 500-year-old heart pine, turning it into candlestick holders. Holding history like that in your hands is exhilarating, you also don’t want to waste a single bit!

 Wooden tower built by Char Miller-Williams @woodenmaven

I love a good transformation, a homeowner reached out to me during their renovation, to take old wall panels and convert them into shiplap. The house was built in the early 1900’s and several insect nests had made their homes behind the panels. This required a lot of inspection for old nails, moisture, and removing layers of finish. In the end, it all turned out beautifully.

Char Miller-King looking at project plan in construction area

Q: What are your top 5 go-to tools?

A: My go to tools are the ones I use in every project, a drill, impact driver, the table saw, the miter saw, and the track saw. I have one bonus, the hand plane. Having more than one drill saves an abundance of time and allows me to work my efficiently.

Char Miller-King Standing by routing saw table

Q: What is your PPE regimen? What products do you love? What features do you like most about the mask?

A: My PPE for woodworking is intense. Most importantly, I ensure that my lungs are protected and that I know what I am cutting. There are many species of wood that emit toxic dust, I stay clear of those. Recently, I learned that I am highly allergic to MDF dust, so I wear my RZ M2 Mesh woodworking mask when I am working indoors especially during the hot summer months because it is breathable and my safety glasses do not fog. I recommend this mask to all my students. Wearing a mask that is easy to take off is essential with all my other gear.

Second, my eye protection. As a contact lens wearer I do more to protect my eyes as getting the smallest particle in my eye can be quite uncomfortable. I have a heavy-duty pair of safety glasses that are equipped with a high impact certification and anti-fog capabilities.

My only hearing protection must have music. My DEWALT bluetooth headphones are always nearby. I recently received a custom bespoke apron where I will never lose my tape measure or pencil again, it also keeps my clothes dust free.

Q: Who are your go-to people for inspiration?

A: My family is my inspiration for everything. They encourage me to keep going and to become a better maker and teacher. Each of them provides a sounding board for me, from social media reels to workwear choices. In addition to spending time with my family also known as my consultants, I spend a great deal of time at my local makerspace where I teach, serve on the Board of Directors, and volunteer. It is a great community of makers and good energy that provides inspiration.

Char Miller-King with her four children

 

Q: How did you transition from a student to a teacher? What are your favorite parts about being an educator in this space?

A: The transition from student to teacher was a surprise to me. I spent a lot of time at the makerspace, so much that I was asked to teach our intro class for new members. The first night of teaching was an epiphany. I realized that I enjoyed sharing more than I did making. I knew I had discovered my true passion. From there, I spent time soaking up as much information as possible only to translate it in a relatable format for others who were not natural born woodworkers. One teaching job led to another, to teaching children with learning disabilities how to use power tools, television deals, and most recently the opportunity to travel around the country to teach.

My favorite part about teaching is that I am a woman, a woman of color, and I can a bring a different approach to making. I am invested in instilling confidence in those that I teach. When you know what your role on the planet is, you know where to focus your time and energy. Char Miller-King teaching woodshop class at Penland School of Craft

 

Q: What’s a piece of advice for a beginner just getting started?

A: Currently, we live in a world of constant comparison - comparing our talents and tools with others on social media. My advice is to not compare your Chapter 1 to someone else’s Chapter 20. It is okay to make mistakes, even master craftspeople make mistakes. Choose a simple project to start and perfect it before moving on to something more difficult.

Q: Where can students find you if they want to take one of your in-person classes?

A: If you are interested in taking one of my in-person classes this year, they will be held at Decatur Makers. Our calendar is updated monthly with offerings that can be viewed on our website.

Q: If you had a daily mantra, what would it be?

A: I recently read a book titled “Shift Into A Higher Gear”, that details steps to becoming the best version of yourself. One of the key takeaways is to improve yourself by 1% each day.  I like to help people get to the 1% by sharing my life, story, and talents.

Wooden piece made by Char Miller-King that says "In a World Full of Roses, Be a Sunflower"You can Char on Instagram at @woodenmaven for doses of wood history and projects and visit my next class live online with M2 Labs, where we will discuss everything surrounding lumber.