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Front Page - Friday, June 19, 2009

Woodcraft teaching newbies, catering to pros in Chattanooga

“There’s something about taking a pile of boards, and the next thing you know, you’ve got a dining chair, or a table, or a rocking horse for your grandkids,” says Rodney Milen, owner of Woodcraft. Located on the corner of East Brainerd and Jenkins, the mid-sized retail shop is a mecca for anyone wanting to do anything with wood.
“It’s peaceful to work with wood,” says Milen. “It’s good therapy.”
He should know. Two years ago, he severed his spine in an accident involving a tractor. It was a hard blow for Milen — a husband, father and son who’d spent his life laboring at his father’s wholesale tire business.
“The doctors pieced me back together — I’m lucky to be alive and walking — but my hard work at the warehouse was done,” Milen says, taking a seat at a wood dining table. Dozens of do-it-yourself magazines are within arm’s reach.
“So I got to thinking about what I could do for me and my family,” says Milen. “Tires were my dad’s passion, but woodworking was mine. And I’d been shopping at the Woodcraft store in Knoxville for years and aggravating my wife that we needed to open one in Chattanooga, so we took a serious look at it.”
When several things fell into place Milen says shouldn’t have, he knew he was on the right track. Then, on May 4, 2009, he opened his store with no advertising or pre-launch publicity.
Despite this, Milen’s store has turned a net profit every month, even though the owners of Woodcraft in Harpersburg, W.Va., told him he’d be lucky if he broke even the first year. “A lot of people in this part of the country enjoy woodworking,” he says, his store filled with the aroma of fresh
Many of Milen’s customers come looking to purchase items for making duck decoys, turkey calls, musical instruments, professional grade furniture and cabinets.
“We have everything you could possibly want and a few things you probably didn’t know you wanted. You can’t find 80 percent of what we have anywhere else in Chattanooga,” says Milen, who obtains his more exotic lumber from South America, Central America and Africa.
Not everyone who crosses the threshold at Woodcraft is a skilled craftsman; some people come to learn. “We cater to everyone, including people who have never touched a piece of wood,” Milen says. Customers can even take advantage of several beginners’ classes, which Milen and his staff teach in a fully loaded woodworking shop located in the store.
“On Saturdays in September, we’ll be teaching a class on how to build a splayed leg nightstand. And we have three turning classes coming up in the next three months,” says Milen.
Milen encourages everyone with an interest in woodworking to sign up for a class, including white collar 9 to 5’ers who don’t consider themselves to be good at working with their hands. “I’ve seen guys who aren’t the least bit artistic turn beautiful bowls,” Milen says. “You don’t have to be an artist to work with wood. It’s just a matter of having the right tools and the right techniques.”
That said, Woodcraft has plenty of appeal for people practiced in the art of working wood. For example, Milen says “one of the best turners in the southeast” will be teaching some advanced bowl and vessel turning classes, and his staff is putting together kits that will make it possible for someone to build an acoustic guitar.
“Once you learn how to build an acoustic guitar, you’ll be able to do it on your own,” says Milen. “We can even get a hold of the forms so you don’t have to build your own.” And later this year or in the spring, Woodcraft will be offering an advanced class in which participants will learn to build an electric guitar.
Milen’s staff is more than capable of teaching someone a new skill and answering any questions a customer might have, as everyone who works at Woodcraft is an experienced woodworker. “I was trained as a professional furniture builder. And we’ve got some excellent turners and carvers,”
he says.
Milen’s staff has already answered a variety of questions in the few months the store has been opened, ranging from how to apply stain to how to cut a joint. And in case you think Milen is blowing sawdust, you can submit questions about projects on which you’re working through his Web site (www.chattanoogawoodcraft.com) and test the know-how of his staff from the comfort of your computer chair.
Before long, you might be checking out Milen’s site while sitting in a new chair you made.