Fred Miller on power naps, drafting and teaching his daughter woodworking.
Q & A with Fred Miller
How long have you been building furniture?
What sort of furniture do you specialize in?
Live edge, Arts and Crafts, Mission, studio art furniture, custom-made furniture.
Tell us a couple interesting things about your personal life.
I feel very fortunate as my eldest daughter is learning the trade alongside me and will eventually step up when I am ready to step down.
In order, what are the three most important items in your shop apron?
Layout tools, scoring knife, and the knowledge of micro-bevels.
Do you prefer hand tools or power tools?
They both have their place, but I love hand tools.
Solid wood or veneer?
Solid wood! Hands down.
Figured wood or straight grain?
I like straight, quartered or rift wood, but birdseye, blistered and curly are my favorites.
Inherited Vintage Stanley Sweetheart or fresh-out-of-the-box Veritas?
Several inherited vintage Stanley Sweethearts.
Flowing curves or geometric shapes?
Both, I love sailboats and M.C. Escher.
Least favorite wood?
Live-Edge Sofa Table
According to Miller, "Live-edge work is high-nutrient food for the cabinetmaker’s soul". He enjoys live-edge material as every piece is different, and it allows him to work with completely organic curves for a change.
Miller makes exterior doors fairly regularly, though they offer unique challenges. Being exposed to the elements on one side while being protected on the other side wreaks havoc on solid wood, but quarter-cut material is Miller's answer
Quarter-Sawn Oak Island
Miller isn't a big fan of flat-sawn oak, but he enjoys working with quarter-cut oak, which is what he built this kitchen island with. Miller wanted to provide the perfect accent to the painted kitchen cabinets and create a strong focal point in the space.
Quotes from Fred Miller
My studio was built in 1983 by myself and two elder carpenters that had done a lot of work for my father, uncles and neighbors.
Not much for night time anymore. We both get up around 5 AM, have coffee outside on the porch and watch the cows in the farm fields of our western view whenever the weather lets us. I work a long morning, usually nonstop, and then have lunch with my sweetie and almost always a 15-minute power nap before returning to the studio for a few more hours.
It's wall-to-wall music via Apple Music in my shop. I used to listen to CBC Radio, but the conversation gets interrupted by the machine noise.
I love manual drafting and still do so on every project. Never did learn AutoCAD and feel a nice hand-drawn elevation speaks more to my customers.
I really love when things get difficult and you really have to exercise the brain muscle.
I care deeply and profoundly about the final result, the interaction with my customers, and how it has allowed my family a comfortable and happy life.
Live-edge work is a very organic process that often involves diving directly into the layout just to see what the live-edge planks will yield.
Proper proportioning is key to good design so spend some time developing that skill.
Most of the formal designs of England and Europe seem tired to me. I have done a fair bit of this stuff over the years and feel the extra frills and moldings, although challenging to produce, are unnecessary. I like the clean line of Mission, Arts and Crafts and Shaker designs.
I don’t spend much time thinking about what other woodworkers are doing.
I prefer commissions. Speculative work is seldom the right size, colour or function for the buyers.
The Internet and its ease of making myself known to the larger world has been a revolution for marketing for a small business like mine.
When I was going through public and high school, all the schools in these counties had full shops. By the time I was finished high school, I had spent time in welding, auto mechanic, electrical, carpentry and machine shops.
Each day I just want to teach my daughter/protégé as much as I possibly can and walk out of my studio with a smile on my face.
It's getting harder for Canadian furniture makers, but the people that do step up seem to really love the experience. The quality of the experience for both the customer and me is more important than how many people step up to the plate.
Live and love life. You only go round once, and you spend more hours of your life working and sleeping than anything else.
Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.