Woodworking in America: Milton Mizell

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Impala jewelry box

We are interviewing producers from all 50 states. Today we introduce Milton Mizell, a Florida box builder.

How did you start working with wood? Who were your mentors?
Growing up, I saw my super practical dad build all sorts of things with his hands. He was a “tool junkie” and a handyman. I marveled at his abilities! Several times I saw him complete projects and aspired to follow his example.

My first teaching carpentry experience was in my high school carpentry class, making cutting boards and toys. When I entered college and studied fine arts for two years, the course requirements included a carpentry semester, which gave me easy access to the art department 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 in 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 videos on YouTube, but I discovered my hero on PBS – Norm Abrams – and watched every episode of his shows over and over again. In fact, just a few years ago, I built my first router table based on Norm Abrams’ design with several improvements in SketchUp.

Another person who has had a significant impact on my woodworking skills is the 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 seen his work on the web before and was so impressed that I went to the art fair just to be able to meet him in person. I introduced myself and immediately started asking him questions about his boxes. He took some time to answer my questions even though he was very busy. He asked me if I was a carpenter, I said yes, and pulled out my phone to show him the renderings of my box designs from SketchUp. He jokingly stated: “So you are a virtual carpenter”. I laughed and said, “No, I’m a real carpenter!” At that moment I showed him photos of my finished boxes. That said, he invited me to the next South Florida Woodworking Guild (SFWG) meeting and I accepted. Three years later I was serving on the executive board of SFWG with Don and spending a lot of time in his 1000SF joinery, learning all about making boxes, marketing my work, and displaying boxes at art exhibitions.

In 2017, I designed a flip lid memory box in SketchUp with concave 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 have created a class outline and worksheet that he and I can follow while teaching 12 guild members during a two-day class. A short time later Don asked me if I was interested in teaching him weekend classes at his shop. That’s when South Florida Woodworking School was born! Together, we held four different rotating classes on the weekends, including the Advanced Box Making class based on my Cove Box project. 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 me and Don to bond and I will always be grateful to him for his mentoring and friendship.

Senufo Jewelery box

What do you think is your best or favorite job? What kind of work do you do the most?
As a designer / manufacturer of modern exotic wood boxes, I am very proud of the African themed box series that I have built over the past three years. The series includes functional art, as well as jewelry boxes and souvenirs. The boxes of the series are called AfroPickBox, Ashanti, Impala and Senufo. The inspiration for these boxes came from my love of African design, patterns, patterns, fabrics, carvings and culture, along with a deep appreciation of African craftsmanship.

The idea of ​​the Impala jewelry box was born from a personal challenge to design something modern, African themed and unlike anything I’ve ever seen; its title derives from the ribbed turned legs inspired by the chicane-shaped horns of the male Impala.

The Senufo jewelry box was inspired by the beautiful modern shape of the Senufo stools from Ghana, Africa with its arched seat and tapered legs.

The Ashanti is a souvenir box inspired by Ashanti stools from Ghana with an oval base like the traditional Ghanaian stool and a column rising to the center which is the base for the handles of these pieces.

My most popular and eye-catching design on my social media pages is the AfroPickBox (functional art); celebrates the historical significance of the African comb and the role it played in the life of Africans and the African diaspora for over 5,000 years.

Ashanti souvenir box

What’s your best practical advice 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 like pliers while the yellow glue dries. I used this combination to repair bursts and cracks in the wood and was delighted with the result.

AfroPickBox

Is there anyone you would like to shout out or would you recommend following? Who inspires you? (It doesn’t even have to be related to woodworking.)
Some artists who inspire me and follow on Instagram include:

@fromaseed
@thegoatfarm
@copper_pig_fine_woodworking
@tracieching
@derrick_o_boateng

See more of Milton’s work on his website or on Instagram @mizellwoodworx.


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