- Associated Press - Saturday, June 13, 2015

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) - Mike Hill’s late father, Glenn, was of a generation, that generation of men and women who fixed things, rather than tossing them and buying something new.

Consequently, Mike Hill learned to tinker and putter alongside his father at an early age. So it came as no surprise that he would take a job at a furniture store in high school, working at the Cedar Bucket in Oxford.

“I did the part of woodworking that was not fun,” said Hill, 52. “I did the sanding, the cleaning up. That’s what I was doing at first. I learned the basics there and they’d let me build some smaller things.”

When it came time for a career, Hill followed in his father’s footsteps and became a firefighter. He retired as fire chief for the Oxford Fire Department in June 2012, after spending more than 28 years on the job.

But even during those years, he always returned to his passion - woodworking.

“If you’re a hands-on person like I am, it’s a good way to relieve stress,” Hill said.

When Hill and his wife, Tammie, built their home 20 years ago, he built a shop next to it to house all his tools, wood, jigs, saws, knives and other paraphernalia.

“I do small custom items,” he said. “I don’t want to do cabinets. That’s like building boxes. Tables are my favorite things to make.”

He uses all varieties of wood, including black walnut, maple, pine and wormy wood, but cherry is his favorite.

“Cherry has a beautiful tone to it as it gets older,” he said. “Cherry just gets darker and darker.”

Sometimes, Hill gets his inspiration from magazines.

“I’ll find an item I want to build and I’ll build two of them,” he said. “One is for my wife and the other I carry to the Antique Depot in Oxford to sell.”

Hill doesn’t take many custom orders, he said, because inevitably what the customer wants and what he envisions are two different things. So it works out better for him if he just builds what he wants and if someone wants to buy it, that’s fine.

“When I’m building something new, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it,” he said. “The good thing about woodworking is if you make a mistake, it’s easy to fix it, redo it or hide it.”

Most of the items Hill has made are in the home he shares with his wife and 17-year-old daughter, Cassidy.

“We have walnut show racks, coat racks, kitchen tables, coffee tables, walnut bookcases, more walnut bookcases, jewelry boxes, bedside tables and beds,” he said. “The biggest thing I’ve ever made is a dining room table and that’s just about as big as I’ll build, because it’s just me moving it around, sanding it.”

Hill makes things the old-fashioned way: He doesn’t use any type of screws or nails in his tables.

“It’s all mortise and tenon joints,” he said, referring to the woodworking term where a cut or recess is made in a piece of wood (mortise) to receive a projecting piece (tenon) shaped to fit into it. “You want to build a piece that will last.”

And all his pieces are made of solid wood.

“Lately I’ve been getting my wood from Arkansas,” he said. “I was getting it from a mill in Walnut until it closed. Sometimes people call me and say they have some old barn wood or something. I’m always looking to buy wood any chance I get.”

Hill said the items he makes might look simple but they actually take a lot of time to craft.

“It takes longer than people think,” he said. “And it really doesn’t depend on the size of the piece. Where you spend all your time is measuring and cutting, so small things still take a lot of time. I’ll get on a project and come out here at 8 o’clock in the morning and then I’ll feel a little twinge in my stomach and realize it’s 3 in the afternoon.”

Old wood isn’t the only thing Hill likes to bring to life. He’s also passionate about old cars, especially Corvettes.

“I drag them home all the time,” he said. “I love to fix them as much as I do woodwork. I fix them or repair them and then move onto something else. I work on wood for a little while and then I get frustrated and go work on cars for a little while.”

The next woodworking project Hill is going to work on is a gift for his wife.

“I’m going to be at a weeklong car show on our 20th wedding anniversary, so I’m making something for her. It’s going to be real special.”


Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, https://djournal.com

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