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Women in Woodworking - Meet Merissa Piper
By Char Miller-King
Atlanta, GA

This month's feature, Merissa Piper, hails from New Hampshire and is an incredible, knowledgeable self- taught woodworker. She started woodworking back in 2016 to create furniture for her home and was hooked after her first time. As a weekend woodworker, she holds down a full time job while managing to put out great content and share her greatest tips and information with fellow woodworkers.

Merissa's first project was a rustic coffee table based on an overpriced manufactured one coupled with plans from Ana White. In one weekend she managed to complete the table with only a drill, a Kreg Pocket Hole Jig, and a borrowed miter saw. She still uses the coffee table to this day. After making the table, she realized that woodworking and carpentry was the only work that was fulfilling for her. She dove into the online world of education, blog posts, and videos to learn everything she could about her newly found passion. Her project list grew as did her skill set.

Today her projects are 100% commissioned based. One of her favorite builds was an 8' trestle table she made this past summer. It was designed to be a knock down piece that can be assembled and disassembled with ease. Merissa has no issue using screws to assemble, but relies on traditional joinery not only for its beauty, but for its strength. The trestle table was made with ash, floating mortise and tenon joinery and a few z-clips. Floating mortises are actually stronger than standard mortises. In fact they may be simpler to make, especially if you have limited tools. With a plunge router and a scrap wood jig, you can have your project assembled in no time.

A few times a year, some of the most talented woodworkers join forces to host what's known as the IG Builders Challenge, The Original Online Building Party. The plans are drawn to perfection and the contest is often sponsored by many well-known companies who offer sought after tools and accessories. Each participant of the challenge can enter under one of three categories, including: Finest Craftsman, Intermediate, and Novice. A winner is selected from each category and of course bragging rights that you took the plunge to participate. It's a great way to build your community and network on Instagram. Merissa decided to enter and credits this as one of her most challenging builds. It forced her to learn new types of joinery and techniques. There were many mistakes and the stress levels were high while the time to complete it was short. While challenging, the part she remembers most was the pride of finishing it and increasing her skills.

All the magic for Merissa happens in her 23' x 19' metal barn shop on her property. Over the last few years she has made it match her personality "under construction and always evolving" and not to mention making it a spider free zone. Before visiting her local lumber yard in Brentwood, New Hampshire or ordering from another favorite, Jackson Lumber in Amesbury, Massachusetts to stock her shop; she puts pencil to paper. All of her builds are her own design often paired with her clients inspiration. They are sketched out on graph paper initially. At the computer she uses a different software for each type of project. For her CNC projects, she uses Aspire to get her cuts and routing exact. For furniture and carpentry projects, it's all about Sketch Up, and for basic signs they get created in Microsoft Word.

With a growing tool base, there aren't any favorites brands yet, though she's partial to Makita's tools. Merissa says the most used tools are her clamps. The clamp of choice is the Bessey F-Clamp. Over the last two years she has grown her collection by picking up a pack or two when they go on sale. The clamps are the only thing used in every project so having several on hand is instrumental to the success of her business.

With all of her accomplishments, Merissa doesn't shy away from admitting her mistakes and learning from them. She reflected on a CNC project she was working on for a customer's wedding that was not going according to plan. "I was convinced my CNC was broken. I was convinced the software was junk. I was convinced everything was wrong with my equipment...newsflash, it was user error." After two attempts to get the CNC to cut the back edge of her project she realized the CNC automatically takes into account an offset to where the spindle has reached capacity. On some projects, we as woodworkers lose money due to mishaps, Merissa took it in stride and learned from the experience.

Forever the lover of new techniques that save time and money, Merissa found a great way to rout grooves in drawer bottoms. Typically, you can set the fence on your router table and run each piece across the table, one at a time, and hope they all match perfectly. To ensure that they do match, she assembled her box first with clamps, and ran the entire interior around the bit. A perfect match!

Each maker I interview has something special about them besides building and it usually has something to do with the knowledge they share with the community. Merissa introduced us to Heath Street Minutes, one minute videos infused with humor and woodworking history and knowledge. She researches things so she can become an expert on the topic, because complex things often don't allow for simple answers in this instant gotta have it now world. Merissa was able to condense the highlights and give good, sound information to her followers in under a minute on topics such as the difference between dye and stain, sanding tips, and porosity.

A year from now Merissa hopes to run her business full-time with a booming online presence. She hopes to "add a little bit of humor, knowledge, and confidence to the lives of everyone who takes a minute to follow along with my journey." If you are new to woodworking, her advice is to join Instagram immediately. She credits the online woodworking community for getting her to where she is now.

For more great tips and cool projects you follow Merissa on the following social media platforms: Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube at Heath Street Woodworking.

You can check out Char's website at https://www.thewoodenmaven.com/ and follow her on Instagram at @woodenmaven.

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