Girls Who Build is a series of profiles of women who build...like girls. Yes, that's right. Girls are powerful and so are these women, especially when it comes to creating beautiful and useful pieces from wood, metal, and more. These girls are kicking butt in an historically male-dominated industry, and we cannot get enough! Here we find out how they got started and how you can, too.
On a sunny morning from her living room in Atlanta, Char Miller-King talked to us about why she left the corporate ladder to build full-time, what she hopes to teach people about woodworking, and how her four children benefit from seeing their mom try, fail, and succeed in the career her heart chose.
How It Started
Char’s first venture into woodworking was a somewhat happy accident. “When I graduated from college, I had no money, but I wanted this bed,” she said wistfully, as if she could still imagine it on the showroom floor. “This really nice, expensive platform bed."
She waited patiently for it to go on sale, but when the stars never aligned, she went back again to inspect its construction. As she crawled around on the floor, she thought, “I can make this bed.”
It was 2003 and pre-YouTube, so Char flipped open her phone (“A Motorola Razr!” she exclaimed, mid-story) and called her contractor uncle. He talked her through everything she needed, and she set to work. With a borrowed drill in hand, it took Char three months to build the bed. But after she made it, she was beyond ecstatic.
“I made a bed! I hope it doesn’t break. I hope I don’t fall out.”
From there, Char had a new hobby. She made everything from bookcases to ottomans but admitted they were all very basic and fairly awful. That didn’t stop her from taking custom commissions from her supportive friends and family, all while wishing this could be her full-time life.
“I have always had dreams that were bigger than reality. I’m a dreamer, you cannot reel me back in. I am balloons floating off, don’t try to catch me. Let me go.”
A Build for a Friend—and a Big Mistake
This mindset has propelled her forward in her career, but it's gotten her into slight trouble, too. Shortly after she made her bed, a friend from college asked if she could create a built-in bench and bookcases for his picture window. By this point, she had stockpiled her own tools, but she was still fairly limited. This didn’t stop Char.
Now with a circular saw and a hammer, she turned to magazines, books, and intuition to guide her through. Without a staple gun, she hammered directly into the walls. When she was finished, among other problems, they realized the stain color was wrong.
“It was all bad. It was awful. And it was a built-in, so I couldn’t dismantle it.”
Luckily, her friend was patient and understanding and she again called her uncle for help. He tried to talk her through potential solutions, but the stain had set for too long to be stripped, and she didn’t own a planer. Her uncle packed up his truck in St. Louis and drove to Atlanta to help her fix the project.
Learning From Mistakes and Leveling Up
“You would think after that ok, ‘I don’t have the skills that I thought I had.’ But I never told myself that. I’m just like: I messed up!”
Eager to move forward, Char invested even more into her new hobby. She upgraded her tool collection with a Crafstman toolset from Sears and began buying tools like her friends bought shoes—power tools, drills, saws, fasteners, stains. She was prepared for whatever project came next.
Her Career, Babies, and the Urge to Build Things
Instead, the next project was life. She took a break from her love of building to focus on her career and start her family. But while she was high on the corporate ladder, working in trade show events management, Char started to hear a little voice gnawing at her to move in a different direction.
“I feel it in my bones, I’m so passionate about building. It does something to my soul in a way that I can’t explain. It just sort of feeds my soul. The only time you can really think is when you get in the zone and you’re just creating something out of nothing.”
At this point in her career, she had it all—the corner office, the big responsibilities. But she also couldn't stop thinking about leaving it all with no expectations and no plan.
“I firmly believe that the universe gives you the desires of your heart. If there’s something that you really believe in your soul that you want and it’s something that you were destined to do, then all of the right things that need to happen, that need to come into place, will eventually fall into place... in a way that you never, ever imagined.”
2015: Pregnant With Twins(!) and Leaving Her Career
In 2015, before Char could make any major career decisions, she found herself “magically pregnant... with twins!” She stayed on the team and returned to her corporate job after maternity leave but five months later, she officially called it. She left her career to take a year to focus on her new role as a mother of four.
It wasn’t long before “the itch to build became so strong.”
Her First Project After the Twins
Char decided to dive back in and tackled a folding desk. She called this the gateway project.
She remembers feeling like, “I’m back! I’m back. Let’s start building some stuff again. I don’t know what I’m building but let’s just build.”
The folding desk hung on her bedroom wall and folded up to look like a picture frame. Reminded daily of her success, she began to look for what she could do next.
2017: Joining Decatur Makers and Finding a Prized Tool
2017, she found Decatur Makers, a maker space just outside of Atlanta. Best of all, they had the one tool she wanted but had never actually used: a table saw.
“It’s sort of like being a basketball player and not having a pair of Jordans. Or, you know, it’s like the Mercedes Benz of woodworking. Once you get the Benz, you’ve made it.”
Char joined the makerspace, and used the table saw on every single project. All the while, she was also networking and talking to the other makers.
2018: Molding Her Dream Career
Then, in 2018 and less than a year after she found the makerspace, they hired her to help teach every new member and train them how to use the tools.
She described her role as offering new makers “an opportunity for them to make mistakes and reassure them it’s ok.”
“It’s better to make those mistakes in a group,” explained Char. “That way, you’ll know what to do when you’re by yourself, or if you see someone else doing something potentially dangerous, you’ll know how to assist them.”
Though she initially worked with adults, the makerspace soon opened up to children, too. With Char at the helm, they gave Girl Scouts the chance to earn their woodworking badges and worked with kids to make silent auction items for school fundraisers. The program has since expanded to include community-based initiatives, like a girls makers club where middle school girls come in and learn how to navigate the space safely.
“We just make!” said Char. “Not all of the projects involve wood but if they do, they go into the woodshop and cut their piece.”
Instilling Confidence in Her Students
“So many things that we do and so many things of who I am as a person is about empowering people, especially young people.” And it isn’t just about the tools she’s teaching her students to use. Char said, “It’s about the confidence that you instill in them when you give them the freedom and the opportunities to not only learn how to do something, but [also the] access to something that they may not have been able to get a hold of, either because of resources, income, or interest. Or even awareness!”
While speaking about what makes Decatur Makers so special, Char said, “We [do] the outreach to make making accessible to everybody.”
Along with the students who come into the makerspace, she also works with a local high school that teaches children with learning disabilities. “They had just opened a makerspace [and] I was the first person to use it with these kids.”
In a classroom full of children with all different areas of experience when it comes to building, Char felt the pressure to connect with the group as a whole. Between her experiences at Decatur Makers and with her own children, she knew this came from finding the best way to make making fun. In all areas of teaching, she moves quickly with her classes, running down the rules, giving high fives and fist bumps as she goes.
After a busy and successful first week with the high schoolers, they needed their third project to be something quick and low barrier. “I said, ‘I know, we’ll make catapults.’ And that was the game-changer.”
Thanks to her own quick thinking, they began cutting and drilling, while also learning about engineering—exploring how many rubber bands will affect how far their marshmallows would fly. “That day was the best day,” she said with a grin.
“My mission now is to empower people to envision doing something that they never thought that they could do before. And not just from a woodworking standpoint.”
How It's Going
Today, Char finally owns her own saw—a mobile jobsite saw that is a lot smaller than the cabinet-sized one at the makerspace. As she posts her home projects online, one of the most common comments she receives is from people who are shocked by how much she can accomplish, all while raising four children. “I do what’s important and I make sure I prioritize,” she said with a shrug.
One of her priorities is including her children in her projects—particularly her 6-year-old twin girls. They have their own sets of drills, they can tell you the names of all the tools, and they fight over the scrap wood pile.
“The walnut is off-limits, you may use the plywood, thank you,” Char said. But she’s proud to share this life with them, and they’re often featured in the background of her posts. Char thinks this is important—it’s inspiring and empowering for people to see a busy woman making room in her life for something she loves.
But the children benefit, too. They get to see how she interacts with her students and fellow makers, and they see the literal fruits of her labor. She then revealed that she was currently sitting at a desk that she built for one of the twins for virtual school. It was initially meant for the garage, but her daughter asked if they could move it inside—and also add some shelves.
“How many little girls can say, ‘I’m sitting at a desk that my mother built?”
Important Teaching Moments for Her Children—and Herself
Even more than that, her children see firsthand the importance of trying your best and growing through practice.
“Nothing is perfect, I’m literally figuring this out as I go. And I’m ok with that because I want to remain authentic and genuine. We mess up, we make mistakes. How do you think the scrap wood pile got so huge? Because those are all the pieces that I messed up on because I didn’t measure twice before I cut.”
Learning to Say 'No'
Char has personally learned a lot in her woodworking journey, too. “I have learned my limitations and the power of saying no.” Whether she passes on projects due to time, bandwidth, or capability, she no longer feels the pressure to say yes just for the sake of saying yes.
Her Advice to Aspiring Woodworkers
And when it comes to other women and girls who are interested in pursuing woodworking, Char paused and thought carefully before offering this advice:
“Despite what you may see and despite what the world may tell you, that you must look a certain way or be something else to achieve your goals and follow your dreams, don’t listen to that. You need to listen to what’s in your heart and what you know you are capable of accomplishing. Never ever stop striving for your goals.”