We’re interviewing makers from all 50 states. Today we’re featuring Char Miller-King, a woodshop educator from Georgia.
How did you get started woodworking? Who were your mentors?
I am a self-taught maker. My first project was a platform bed that I made in 2003 with a borrowed drill and battery-powered screwdriver. My bed was inspired by a photo from a magazine. I couldn’t afford the bed, so I set out to make it. From there I took on other small projects and learned how to use each tool through trial and error. There were bookcases and more beds. I read a lot of books and watched the Woodsmith Shop and This Old House on the weekends to gain useful insight. Everywhere I went, I picked up a bit of knowledge about tools, techniques, and processes. Soon my circle of friends expanded and our conversations centered around making and resources. Once I get an idea in my mind, I figure out how to do it, with the knowledge I have. My uncle has been a carpenter for over 40 years. He taught me a lot of making and introduced me to the CNC. I send all my questions to him.
What do you think is your best or favorite work? What kind of work do you do the most?
My favorite project is the modern desk that I built last summer. I have gone through several iterations of desks. There was a hanging wall desk that I used for a few years that quickly became too small for my needs. So I set out to make something larger, a place for my monitor, drawers to conceal the papers, and enough room to spread out. It’s my hub, all things start there. My ideas go from my mind to paper there; I communicate with my colleagues from there. I am an educator at heart, most of my work is in the shop showing others how to make. I teach woodshop classes at my local maker space, Decatur Makers, to children as young as seven, and adults of all ages. My mission is to bring woodshop back to schools, I started this by opening maker spaces at schools and teaching students how to use power tools.
I am a champion for women in woodworking, I do this through my monthly column Women in Wood for Highland Woodworking. Highland is an international purveyor of fine woodworking tools and products. I introduce a new maker to the community and share her journey into wood. My heart lies in servitude, whenever there is an opportunity to volunteer to teach children I accept. I work with the Girls’ Maker Club at our makerspace and currently teach classes online to the community on topics ranging from SketchUp to paper circuits.
What advice would you give to someone that wants to start woodworking or pursue it as a profession?
If you want to be great at woodworking, you have to put in the time to make mistakes. No one becomes proficient overnight. It is a very rewarding career once you find your niche. The best place to start is to complete a project someone has already done. Spend some time each day learning, whether that is reading a book or meeting a new maker online or in person. Every bit of knowledge you receive will benefit you in some way in the future. Most importantly, learn how to safely use your tools and protect yourself from dust and chemicals. Take what you know and pass it on, there will always be someone new who shares your passion.
What’s your best hands-on tip or woodworking technique?
I recently started upgrading my shop and rethinking how I could double my work area and get more use of my tools. One of my first builds almost 20 years ago was my workbench. At the time I didn’t add any bench holes, because I had no idea that I would need them someday. Fast forward, they sure would come in handy. However, I am not quite ready to modify my trusty bench. Instead, I used a large piece of scrap wood and a pegboard to mark every six inches and drilled holes with 7/8″ Forstner bit to drop in bench dogs with rubber topped bench cookies. Thanks to the pegboard, I don’t have to measure or worry about even spacing and I have created a secondary workspace. I also built a mobile workbench, which doubles in size when unfolded, has magnetic hardware to attach my measuring tools, a built-in Bluetooth speaker, and a collapsable shelf. I can instantly turn my 2 car garage into a full workshop by unfolding a few pieces of wood.
Is there anyone you’d like to shout-out or recommend we follow? Who inspires you? (Doesn’t have to be woodworking related, either.)
There are so many amazing people on Instagram, it’s hard to choose. My friend Tami, who is also a shop teacher and inspires me and teaches me great techniques. Her handle is @girlyshopteacher.