Jeff Vollmer's Puzzling Beginnings

Last week I had the chance to meet Jeff Vollmer, author of “Puzzle Boxes,” as we filmed a new DVD featuring the construction of these fun projects. Between filming the segments I talked with Jeff and learned about the origins of his puzzle boxes.

Jeff is a Cincinnati native, and when he and his wife Lynn lost their jobs in the early ’90s they turned to creative arts. Jeff decided to put his hobbyist woodworking skills to use in making wooden gifts to sell at local shops and festivals.

While he and his wife are most recognized for their box making, Jeff told me that puzzle boxes weren’t his first woodworking wares. It all started during a season at the Ohio Renaissance Festival, when he and his family brought several turned goblets and wooden jewelry to sell at their custom booth. He had spent many weeks making and finishing these turnings, and he was confident that the festival’s patrons would purchase these projects to match their 16th-century attire. Within the first hour of the first day of the festival, Jeff sold his most-expensive goblet.

The following week, Jeff sold none.

Returning from the festival, Jeff hurriedly cut a box in his basement shop.  With his wife’s approval, they quickly made a few boxes to sell for the following weekend. He was still spraying lacquer in the van on the way to the festival.

That day he sold all of his boxes within the first few minutes of the show. He and his wife spent the next week making as many boxes as they could, and again they all sold. The puzzle boxes were a hit! But what about his other products?

“A lot of people got turnings for Christmas,” Jeff said.

Soon after, Jeff and Lynn began hitting the art-show circuit with their boxes, and currently their boxes and other work are found in galleries and gift shops in all 50 states and throughout Europe.

It was a great time hanging out with Jeff and hearing his story. Besides being such an interesting man, he’s very generous. See that box he’s sanding in the image above? After our conversation, he said, “Here, have this. Sand it, and finish it.”

Thanks, Jeff. I will.

, Drew DePenning

- Visit Jeff’s web site, Merchants of Mirth.

- Jeff also teaches classes at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking.

- Take a look at some sample pages from Jeff’s book “Puzzle Boxes.”

- Purchase a copy of “Puzzle Boxes” at the Woodworker’s BookShop.

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