Char Miller-King: The Determined and Inspiring Wooden Maven

Embarking on the woodworking journey that would define her career and passion, Char Miller-King, known as Wooden Maven, traces the roots of her remarkable story to the quest for a simple platform bed. Fresh out of undergrad, Char found herself on a quest to find the perfect bed to complement her decor. It led her to a high-end furniture store, where the dream bed appeared but it was unattainable. After several trips to the store admiring the bed, she found herself on the floor examining how it was built- then the idea blossomed, she could MAKE it herself.

Fueled by determination and an unwavering belief that she could build it herself, Char enlisted the guidance of her carpenter-extraordinaire uncle, then armed herself with pine wood, screws, and a borrowed drill. Three months of dedication in her modest apartment later, Char had not only crafted a bed but ignited a passion for woodworking that would shape her future.

As she navigated the early days of her newfound love for woodworking, Char's next apartment, complete with an attached garage conveniently located across the street from Lowe's, became the epicenter of her creative endeavors. Every paycheck became a pilgrimage to the hardware store, with power tools multiplying as her skills and projects expanded. We imagine a garage, adorned with sawdust and buzzing with creativity that witnessed the birth of cherished creations, including a workbench that stands proudly to this day.

The evolution from novice to enthusiast led Char to adopt the moniker "Wooden Maven," a title richly deserved as she embraced the role of a knowledgeable and passionate woodworking advocate. Char's blog became a platform to share the wealth of knowledge she accumulated over the years, a testament to her commitment to giving back to the woodworking community that had fueled her own learning journey. She affirms that, while she may not consider herself an expert or professional, her eagerness to share and connect with others in the world of woodworking knows no bounds. Join us as we spotlight the inspiring journey of Char Miller-King, the Wooden Maven, whose story is as intricately crafted as the pieces she brings to life with her hands.

Could you please introduce yourself and provide a brief overview of your background as a maker?

I am Char Miller-King born and raised in Los Angeles, California, now living in Atlanta, Georgia. Known as the Wooden Maven amongst the masses.

Over 20 years ago I started making furniture as I couldn't afford it. I fell in love with the sound of a saw and the smell of sawdust. I poured every cent I could into purchasing tools and cheap lumber.

From that first project, a platform bed, I knew I wanted to be a woodworker. At the time I did not know one could make a living from making things from wood. After all, there was no social media or YouTube when I started. 

The next twelve years were spent working on an exit strategy from corporate America. It happened in 2015. While I didn't have a concrete plan, I knew I had to leave and follow my passion. Thankfully it paid off. I worked hard to teach myself new skills and acquire better tools, I connected with a makerspace to give me access to other makers and the best part was that I found my tribe! This tribe soon led me to the ultimate calling of being a woodworking instructor. This has led to teaching all over the country, on television and in magazines. Today, I serve as Vice President of Decatur Makers, I sit on the advisory board for Hatchspace, a wood studio in Brattleboro, Vermont, and on the council for the Tool Bank Training Center; a nonprofit that provides tools for free to other nonprofits.

My primary role is teaching. I travel the country teaching at camps, craft schools, and guilds. My favorite part is doing it on television. I have had the privilege of teaching the Harlem Globetrotters how to operate a CNC and pour epoxy on the NBC Emmy-nominated show Play It Forward, helping a homeowner's daughter build a lending library on This Old House, and being the first woman of color on the Woodsmith Shop.

When I am not traveling, I am teaching locally at Highland Woodworking or the carpentry club at my children's school. We are making skateboards and our first field trip is to a skateboard lessons class. I enjoy writing about the process of building whether that be for Fine Woodworking Magazine, sharing my projects in The Woodworking Journal or talking about laser printing in Popular Woodworking Magazine.

This Spring you'll see in another commercial that may not appear to be connected to woodworking, but almost everything I do is, it's top secret for now. You'll have to follow me on Instagram to find out. Here's a hint, Tom Bodett.

I am often asked, what is my favorite thing to make, I don't have a thing. It's people. I help people make great things. 

What initially inspired you to start creating and making things?

As a recent college graduate, I didn't have a disposable income, but still wanted nice things. After several trips to the furniture store to admire the bed I wanted on the fifth trip, my always ambitious self concluded I could make that bed. And so I did. It took three months in my shared apartment. The only tool I could afford was a $10 battery-powered screwdriver (which I still have) and a borrowed drill. It was that summer that I fell in love with the idea of taking what once was a tree and converting it into something beautiful and functional. 

Do you have any rituals or routines that you follow?

While I was in corporate America, sitting in my corner office with floor to ceiling windows, I often drifted to thoughts of waking up, putting on sweats and going out to a shop to cut some wood. That is now my life! When I hit the light switch and look around at all tools, the projects, the sawdust I am filled with gratitude that I have been blessed to live the life I always wanted. So, I give thanks for what I have, take a deep breath, and ask for a productive day. Even through the stress of mismeasured cuts and tripped brake cartridges, my worst day in the shop is always better than my worst day in an office.

My ideas are always a thought, then it moves to paper. I am dedicated to the process of making something last and made with love and quality. There's much research that goes into each project, what type of joinery I will use, and how long might the project take. As an instructor, I always make a prototype so I can work through potential problems that may arise during class or even for TV, as there isn't much time for mistakes. 

Can you share a specific project or creation that you're particularly proud of?

Yes! My full circle moment. Remember when I said, my first project was a bed? Let's put that time period into context. The only plans I had were the photo in the catalog and a picture I had taken on my flip phone. The bed was made with two tools. Fast forward 20 years later. I am in a studio building a bed frame for The Home Depot's website. An entire workshop was built for me, there was a team of people that prepped the lumber and set up the tools, an entire film crew, and at least 30 people were on the other side of the camera conversing and giving me directions. I had lines to remember and voiceovers to complete, someone would come touch up my makeup and tease my hair. I was there because I took a chance and did something new decades prior, I networked my way into rooms and let my passion shine through and my skills do the rest.

Can you describe a challenging project or obstacle you've encountered during your journey as a maker? How did you overcome it?

I recently discovered a new hobby, turning bowls. Turning is completely different from woodworking. You have to know the wood in a new way. It's fickle and unpredictable. If you get it when it's green (wet, freshly cut) the most beautiful spirals are created, but it's still months before you can actually use the bowl. Not to mention some bowl blanks are expensive. While out of town, a friend cut bowl blanks from a cherry tree and brought them to me to turn at his shared shop. As a recovering multitasker, I started turning the bowl and moved on to another project. The bowl was left on the lathe where a skilled turner asked if they could take the blank for a few spins. I of course obliged, only he wasn't the one who ended up turning it was someone who was not an avid turner. My bowl was ruined! I didn't know my attachment to wood was so intense until my blank was a horrible mess. I let the blank dry as it was too devastating to repair, it began to crack now threatening to shatter if I dare chuck it up. And that's when the idea struck to cast it in ThickSet Fathom Epoxy, and embark on my first turned resin bowl. It was a success! Life lessons were learned. Don't ever leave anything precious out without explicit instructions and the fine folks at TotalBoat can help save your wood projects. Thankfully, I still have plenty of beautiful bowls and platters I am proud of.

Have you ever collaborated with other makers or artists? Can you share a memorable collaboration experience/event and the outcome?

A good collab is my happy place. It's nothing greater than being around someone smarter than you, who brings different ideas to the table in their own way. One summer I taught at the coveted Penland School of Craft. Teaching at Penland involves a lot of prep work and long days for intensive courses. There were 12 students in the class and our goals were to learn the milling process with rough slabs, and design and create a cutting board and a shaker table. Most of the students had never worked with power tools before, there were a lot of questions and items that needed to be addressed. The class would not have been a success without having the opportunity to work with Ashley Pieper. She was my tech by title, but the class was a true collaboration. Her skill and knowledge made things so much simpler. I tell my students woodworking is 10% woodworking and 90% . For example, the slabs we were working with were so rough as if they were cut with the dullest chain. Ashley was able to quickly put together a planer sled with shims to start squaring up the boards. Every artist needs a person with them who is calmer than them and leads with quiet greatness, Ashley is that person. Our class formed such a unique bond, staying in the shop until midnight, and going out for pitch black hikes to see the rare synchronous blue fireflies that only appear two weeks out of the year. 

Funny story about the summer I discovered TotalBoat Epoxy...

Before my twins went to school, I was always looking for ways to engage them. I suppose most parents probably have their children make sand castles or dolls. Not me, maker mom, ambitious mom. Let's make epoxy coasters. At the age of three, the girls started infusing pigments into MakerPoxy (they would later meet Jess Crow which made their tiny little worlds). They say the apple doesn't fall from the tree, the girls will tell you they were born in a woodshop and they are outgoing creative tinkerers like me. I decided to teach a class at my makerspace and the twins could ‘assist,’ the photo I used was my first lesson in marketing. When I got to the makerspace it was full of 40 home school children and 4 adults! I was looking forward to seeing 20 adults. It all worked out in the end, the kids had fun.

Be sure to follow Char on Instagram @woodenmaven! And if you Google 'Char Miller-King' you'll find a plethora of other highlights and articles featuring this determined and inspiring creative!

Check out her interview with Canvas Rebel here

Check out her interview with VoyageATL here

Check out her spotlight in FineWoodworking here



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