We’re interviewing makers from all 50 states. Today we’re featuring Milton Mizell, a box builder from Florida.
How did you get started woodworking? Who were your mentors?
Growing up, I watched my super handy Dad build all sorts of things with his hands. He was a “tool junkie” and a jack-of-all-trades. I marveled at his abilities! Time and time again I watched him complete projects and aspired to follow his example.
My first instructional woodworking experience was in my high school woodshop class making cutting boards and toys. When I entered college and studied fine arts for two years, the course requirements included a semester of woodshop, which gave me easy access to the art department’s workshop. It was there that I met Scott, the instructor, who introduced me to tools and techniques that expanded my woodworking skills. I eventually changed my major to graphic design, but by then it was clear to me that I had inherited my father’s fascination with building things and woodworking would always be a part of me.
When I graduated from college there was no internet to watch endless hours of instructional YouTube videos, but I discovered my hero on PBS — Norm Abrams — and watched all the episodes of his shows over and over again. In fact, just a few years ago, I built my first router table based on the Norm Abrams’ design with several improvements in SketchUp.
Another person who had a significant impact on my woodworking skills is box maker, Don Boudreau. I met Don about nine years ago at the Las Olas Art Fair in Ft Lauderdale, Florida where he was a vendor selling his beautifully crafted boxes. I had already seen his work on the web and was so impressed that I went to the art fair just so I could meet him in person. I introduced myself and immediately started asking him questions about his boxes. He took time to answer my questions even though he was super busy. He asked if I was a woodworker, I replied yes and pulled out my phone to show him renderings of my box designs from SketchUp. He jokingly stated, “So you’re a virtual woodworker.” I laughed and said, “No, I am a real woodworker!” That’s when I showed him pictures of my finished boxes. With that, he invited me to the next South Florida Woodworking Guild (SFWG) meeting, and I accepted. Three years later I was serving on the SFWG executive board with Don and spending a lot of time in his 1000SF woodshop, learning everything about box making, marketing my work, and displaying boxes at Art shows.
In 2017, I designed a keepsake lift-lid box in SketchUp with concaved sides and a curved top that I titled “Cove Box.” After building several Cove Boxes in Don’s shop, he suggested a Cove Box build-off for SFWG members. In preparation, I created a class outline and worksheet for he and I to follow while teaching 12 guild members during a two-day class. A short time later Don asked me if I would be interested teaching weekend classes with him at his shop. That is when the South Florida Woodworking School was born! Jointly, we taught four different classes in rotation on weekends, including the Advanced Box Making class which was based on my Cove Box design. We taught these classes for three years until January 2020 when Don went into semi-retirement and the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Those three years allowed Don and I to bond and I am forever grateful for his mentorship and friendship.
What do you think is your best or favorite work? What kind of work do you do the most?
As a designer/maker of modern exotic wood boxes, I am most proud of the series of African-themed boxes I built over the past three years. The series includes functional art, as well as keepsake and jewelry boxes. The boxes in the series are titled AfroPickBox, Ashanti, Impala and Senufo. The inspiration for these boxes came from my love of African design, patterns, motifs, fabrics, carvings, and culture, coupled with a deep appreciation of African craftsmanship.
The Impala jewelry box idea came from a personal challenge to design something modern, African-themed, and unlike anything I had ever seen; its title came from the turned ribbed legs inspired by the male Impala’s chicane-shaped horns.
The Senufo jewelry box was inspired by the beautiful modern shape of the Senufo stools from Ghana, Africa with its bowed seat and tapered legs.
The Ashanti is a keepsake box inspired by the Ashanti Stools of Ghana with an oval base like the traditional Ghanaian stool and a column rising through the center which is the basis for the handles on these pieces.
My most popular design, and attention-grabber on my social media pages, is the AfroPickBox (functional art); it celebrates the historical significance of the African comb and the role it has played in the lives of Africans and the African Diaspora for over 5,000 years.
What’s your best hands-on tip or woodworking technique?
My woodworking tip is to use a small amount of CA glue with yellow glue when gluing small pieces of wood together; the CA works as a clamp while the yellow glue dries. I have used this combination to repair blowouts and breaks in wood and have been very satisfied with the outcome.
Is there anyone you’d like to shout-out or recommend we follow? Who inspires you? (Doesn’t have to be woodworking related, either.)
A few artists that inspire me and I follow on Instagram include:
Here are some supplies and tools we find essential in our everyday work around the shop. We may receive a commission from sales referred by our links; however, we have carefully selected these products for their usefulness and quality.