New Era American

Char Miller-King

Woodworker and Entrepreneur
Atlanta, Georgia

Made in America
May 29, 2023


Tell me who you are and where you are.

Where do I start? I market myself as a woodshop teacher. When I graduated from college, I didn't have a bed. I needed a bed, but the bedframe I wanted was too expensive. Champagne taste, beer money. I thought maybe someone would just say, “You look nice. How about we just give you this bed?” Of course, that never happens. On the fifth trip to the furniture store, I was on the floor, looking underneath the bedframe, thinking, “I could possibly build this bed.” YouTube had only been out for a year; this was 20 years ago. I called my uncle, a carpenter, and I said, “Hey, I'm sending you a picture of this bed I wanna make.” Borrowed a drill. Took 3 months to build the bed. Slept on the bed for seven years.

That did something for me. I said, “I like taking these boards and making something I can actually use.” And from there I said, “I’m going to make stuff that I like. I like just making stuff.” So I made stuff. Horrible stuff. I had no concept of joinery or what it meant, as long as I could join two pieces of wood together. I did this for a decade or so. I started asking, “How can one have a life where you just build all day?” These things weren’t good enough to sell, so I couldn’t be a furniture maker. By that time, I’m married, I have two kids. I’m climbing the corporate ladder and I find myself pregnant with twins.

At this point, every plan shifts: majorly and immediately. This nine month train is moving very fast. I went back to my corporate job after the twins, but soon I left.

I started making again.

Things snowballed in a way that I couldn’t have imagined. I joined a makerspace. I started teaching. I got brand partnerships, TV offers, and speaking gigs. So here we are today. It's been eight years since I left my corporate job. And I think my Instagram bio kind of sums it up. It says woodshop teacher, community builder, and TV personality. I make it up as I go.


What is your favorite thing made in America?

I do a lot of twisting and turning in my work. I don’t want to think about my body. So, I have a brand of clothing I love: Carhartt workwear made in Detroit. I absolutely love their clothing because it's made in America.


What is your craft? What medium do you work in?

Instilling confidence. My medium is power tools and wood.

Why wood?

Once you cut it, it's presumably dead, right? I am able to take what is dead and give it a new life. I transform it into something useful, something functional, something beautiful, something that speaks. That's sort of a metaphor for life. You know, there's many roadblocks where you want to go. Your dreams can be presumably dead. But what can you do to revive those dreams and turn them into something beautiful? Can you use the pain in your life to help propel you forward or propel someone else?

And of course, you have to have roots in the earth. I'm borrowing this material from the Earth, and I'm going to do something beautiful with it, which is why I take great pride in the projects that I do. It's not just, oh, you know, I'm just doing this for the heck of it—which is why I don't create a lot of content, because I want whatever I put out to have some sort of meaning behind it. Turning a bowl is cool. But what if I had a group of refugee girls from Iraq, Iran, Somalia, or Mexico come into the makerspace and help me turn this bowl?


What is your calling?

My calling is to create things with my hands. I have to share that knowledge with as many people as possible, in a way that speaks to spirit or soul. I don’t like society, but society says woodworking is a dirty job. It's done by old white men, and everyone who went to shop in the 1950s was taught by an old white man with nine fingers.

I have this gift. You don’t get to keep gifts to yourself. We all have that person who has given us that boost.

I happen to be black, a woman, married, and have a big family. I can use that gift to say to women, “You don’t have to take the back seat.” I can say to people of color, “It’s okay to be the only rainbow fish in the sea.” Young girls can say, “She did it. I can do it too.” You can create your own future, even if there is no blueprint.

So yes. My calling is to create things with my hands and use that as a base to help uplift other people.


I can’t help but think, “Jesus was a carpenter.” Do you have a faith tradition that plays into this?

100%. I’m Christian, and I rely heavily on my faith. I believe there is a verse in the Bible that talks about God giving you the desires of your heart. For so long, I desired to wake up, put on sweats, and make sawdust.

I remember in 2012, I was pregnant with my second child in my corporate job talking to a colleague. We were talking about what we would do if we didn’t have to work. If money wasn’t an object. I remember when I said the words, “I was created to make things with my hands.” It wasn’t like me saying it. I got chills because that was the moment when I realized what I’m supposed to do.

But how? I am not a master craftsperson. I don’t create beautiful, gallery worthy furniture. But I do offer this incredible passion, sense of purpose, and illumination of light and fresh air to people. That is a gift from God.

Is life about the product or the process?

The process. But it took me years to realize that. I would race to the finish line and say, “look— it’s done!” There is that pretense, “Done is better than perfect.” But it wasn’t until I got older and wiser and started to enjoy, appreciate, and sit in the process of whatever I’m doing and paying attention to — it’s in the process that I learn. How can I call myself a teacher if I don't take the time to learn myself? Being a mother forces you to sit in the moment.


Do you practice what you preach?

Yes. It is hard. But it is also part of being a parent. Children are going to emulate you, so you have to be intentional. I saw my mother doing it. She was a very patient person. I know having one kid is a lot, but four? If I say, “Empowerment for women! Empowerment for girls! Power to the people,” but I don’t teach those things to my children? If I get a new tool, I say, “come on girls, let’s go to the shop. You test it.” They are little woodworkers –- the twins will tell you they were born in the shop.

The only way I’m able to make this life work is to involve my family in my work. For example, I work with Carhartt as a brand ambassador. They wanted to do a photoshoot. I asked if my kids could join. They said yes. I told them, “My children will also need to be compensated.” At the end, I held up the check and I said, “You earned this money because you followed directions. You did what you were supposed to do and you showed up. You did the work. This is how you make a living.” I teach them to give some to the church, save some, and spend some. It is financial literacy.

Like with my kids, I try to instill that confidence in other people, and also myself. I’ll say to myself, “This is hard. I don’t know how to do it, but I know I’m capable. So what’s the hurdle?” I ask others, “What are you afraid of?” “Of getting hurt.” “Okay, let’s look at the ways we can get hurt and learn to avoid them.” It is hard sometimes to do something I’ve never done before, but I give myself the grace to mess up and try again.

It’s a struggle, but the same person I portray online is the same person I am in person. That’s important to me. People can see authenticity. I don’t want to be one of those “Don’t ever meet your heroes” people — not that I’m a hero. Being fake or being someone that you’re not is exhausting after a while, I imagine. I show up as me.

Do you remember a moment when you weren’t yourself and then you became yourself?

It was 2017? At least I think so. I block that period out of my life. That November, my father passed away. My sister called and said that Dad had a stroke and was on life support. They wanted to take him off but I said, “Don’t do anything until I get there.” I caught the next flight out. The doctor said he wasn’t going to wake up. The stroke was too bad. I said, “Okay.” So I sat with him for a little bit and I said, “Take him off.” The reason I said that was because a week before he passed, he called me. For some reason, we started talking about end of life and he said, if anything ever happened to him, he wanted me to take care of it and he didn’t wanna be a burden to anybody.

When we got off the phone, he sent me a text — and he had never said this ever — he said that he was lucky to have a daughter like me. And that was the last message that I got from him.

Then, three months later my step dad passed away suddenly. I mean, my dad and my stepdad? The irony is strange. They were born on the same day and in the same state 20 years apart. My father had a stroke. He was found on the floor. My stepdad fell out of the bed. When he was found, he was on the floor. He was still alive, but he died later in the hospital. And to lose two parents that close together just, you know, took the wind out of me for several months.

And I was not myself.

It was the first time in my life that I walked outside and looked at my tools and said, “I don’t feel like making anything.” It took me six months to get my life back together. I knew they were in a much better place than this world right now. I was grateful for the time I had with them. I wanted to keep their memory alive. But yes, that was a long period of time where I was just like, “Who am I? What am I doing? How? And why?”

What was the impetus for saying “I’m going to get out of this not being myself?”

I knew that is what they would want from me. I knew they would say, “Okay, you need to get back to work.”


What do you know now that you wish you had known 10 years ago?

That I belong. For so long, I felt awkward and uncomfortable in this space, and I didn't know anyone else here. I was waiting for someone to give me permission to belong. I don’t need that permission. I’m going to do it anyway. At some point, you just have to live your life. You can’t care about those opinions. It will get you nowhere.


What are some false idols America needs to kill?

Greed and unbalanced power. There are many other countries that don’t charge people for healthcare or college. In America, allegedly the greatest nation in the world, there are millions of people who don’t have access to healthcare. I have an aunt in the hospital. She hasn’t been able to get an MRI for over 24 hours because hospitals are so overwhelmed. The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.

Laws are being put in place that you can see are directly attacking a certain group of people. Those people then have to fight so hard in order to get basic rights. We are a nation that wants to have power and money because somewhere someone was told that power and money equal respect. A lot of these people are just suffering from a God complex.

It makes me sad that my children have to grow up in a world where they have to fight twice as hard. I have plenty of battles to fight with my own children in predominantly white schools where they deal with racism.

James Baldwin said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Is there something America isn’t facing?

I don’t think we are facing the fact, as far as I can speak being in Atlanta, that some of the laws that are being passed here in Georgia are set up to benefit only some people. That life and liberty is not for all. It’s for some. It’s evident and it’s clear. It’s being shouted from the rooftops. But the people who hold power and the people who have money are making those decisions.

It starts from the top, right? It trickles down. If the leader isn’t right, how can you expect the constituents to be right? People want to be led, and sometimes people don’t realize they are being blindly led. It’s bad in the South -– I grew up in Los Angeles. I didn’t have these problems. I had friends of every race, every background. But there is a clear line in the sand in Georgia that I just want to erase.

A lot of people think power in a democracy starts from the bottom up. But then again, I’m reminded of Cicero (I think) saying “A government a people has, is a government they deserve.” Who knows?

Your People

Who are your people?

Makers with passion. In 2020 when I was schooling four children at home and I wasn’t okay (even if people thought I was), I was dealing with so many intense conversations… my white friends calling, apologizing and asking what they could do… My kids were trying to learn virtually… my maker space was closed… I wasn’t able to get out and make anything.

There is something inside a maker's soul when they do tactile things with their hands that just brings them contentment, inner joy, peace, and a sound mind. There are some people on the planet who say, “if I’m not making, I’m not okay.” I get them, and they get me.

Up Next

Liz Coufal
Austin, Texas

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