Vollmer’s wood puzzles
keep customers guessing
He crafts unique,
thought-provoking jewelry boxes
(September 2013) – Twenty-three years ago, Jeff and Lynn Vollmer tossed about the idea of taking a hobby and turning it into a business. The hand-crafted wooden puzzle boxes and jewelry boxes that the couple made soon became popular enough to turn their hobby into a lucrative business.
Photo by Don Ward
Jeff and Lynn Vollmer
create unique wood puzzles.
Jeff & Lynn Vollmer
2012 First Place Crafts
Booth No. 618
They became serious about the idea in 1992 when both lost their jobs with a major Cincinnati retailer. Jeff, a hobbyist woodworker, decided to see what he could create with a saw. “I wanted to see if I could make a box that was hard to open.”
The result has turned into a full-time business for him and his wife of 32 years, Lynn, who has a background as a two-dimensional artist.
Over the years, the Vollmers have become mainstays at the annual Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art. Last year, the judges awarded them the show’s First Place in Crafts. This year will mark the couple’s 20th year at the show. They will set up in Booth No. 618 on Vaughn Drive. “It’s a great town,” said Vollmer. “It’s a wonderful place to do business.”
The couple work six to seven days a week on their creations, which range in price from $30 to $1,000.
“No two boxes are alike,” said Vollmer, also a musician. The couple gets most of their wood from the West Coast. It has to dry three to five years before they can begin using it. This is because they use domestic root burls, the roots of the tree being buried underground.
“We get them fresh out of the ground,” said Vollmer. The wood cannot be kiln dried because it is too thick. It has to dry naturally.
The misshapen root burls give the boxes “beautiful shapes and colors,” he said. While the unique textures and colors are natural, oils are applied to stabilize the wood. An advantage of the wood is that it will never change due to temperature or humidity, and will last for many generations to come.
The couple sells their work at art shows such as the Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art and in galleries across the United States including Hawaii, Illinois, Ohio, Texas, Tennessee, New York, Maryland and North Carolina. Their business name is Merchants of Mirth-Royal Woods.
One show they have participated in more than once is Francisco’s Farm Art Festival in Midway, Ky. “Artists participate from throughout the United States and typically apply online for this juried show,” said festival organizer Sara Hicks.
“Jeff and Lynn Vollmer preserve the art of ancient and intricate Chinese puzzle boxes. Their fine craftsmanship and beautiful woods intrigue and attract both those interested in fine woodworking as well as those who love the mystery and challenge of solving an engineering enigma,” said Hicks.
Each puzzle box is a labor of love, with many hours having been put into every box to craft a distinctive work of art. The simplest box can take three hours over a two-week period to complete. The most complex puzzle box can take 46 hours over a three-week period to craft.
The Vollmer’s work in a church-turned-studio, where they live on Cincinnati’s west side. This studio gives them 3,600 square feet to create their wooden masterpieces. The couple has several pieces in progress at one time, all at different stages of completion.
The King’s Safe is the hardest puzzle and box combination the couple crafts. It is made of redwood and stained or left a natural color. It makes the perfect coffee table conversation piece.
Sometimes boxes will be embellished with springs or magnets. The Spring Secret box is an easy three-piece puzzle box with a twist. Each of these boxes has at least one hidden, spring-loaded drawer that pops out the bottom when the correct piece is pulled. There may be more than one hidden drawer.
The Royal Jig is one of their masterpiece wooden puzzles. The easiest puzzles start with 22 pieces and increase in difficulty from there. The Vollmers can even custom cut the puzzles with three letter monograms.
The Vollmers travel to many shows similar to the Madison Chautauqua throughout the year. In November, they will participate in The Masters Show in Downtown Disney in Florida. “It’s the best of the best. It’s just an honor to get into it,” Vollmer said.
Last year, the couple won an Honorable Mention award at the show.