By Susi Vogler & Madhavi Athanikar

Meet Jerel Mahaffey:  He’s an artisan in woodworking and a local treasure. In a tiny workspace behind his home on Walker Avenue, Jerel creates original tables and benches constructed from reclaimed, repurposed, and recycled tree and lumber scraps which he collects from all over the city. Each piece is an exquisite, one-of-a-kind work of art that tells a story of turning trash into treasure and reducing landfill waste as a result.

Jerel’s first exposure to carpentry was as a high school student working for a company that produced x-ray rooms for businesses. In his career, he has worked as a general contracting manager for companies such as Google, Apple, and Yahoo.  He began developing his craft after his retirement and at his wife’s request (she had asked for a bench for their home). From there, the hobby took off; Jerel found his passion and notched it into a groove (quite literally). 

As we looked at his latest offerings, Jerel pointed out the unique characteristics that define his work. Although his design concept could be described as modern and simple, it is definitely not indifferent to detail. Jerel’s signature is his use of mortise and tenon (an ancient woodworking practice dating back 7,000 years) while keeping parts of these elements visible and hidden in a very strategic way. You’ll notice the branch support mechanism, which is situated between the base and legs of every piece, is secured with decorative vintage nail hardware. He also likes to keep one side of the surface raw and unfinished to expose the natural condition and beauty of the tree. Jerel’s artistry uses form and function for aesthetic and utilitarian purposes and brings joy to those who are lucky enough to snag one of his masterpieces. In a phrase: it’s just good, sustainable design.

Don’t be surprised if you see Jerel cruising about or surveying the aftermath of storms and other disasters (like a mysterious figure in a TV drama crime) searching for fallen trees.  There is the thrill of discovering that rare and special find known to all scavengers. Jerel is quick to point out that he gets permission from the management at Lake Merritt and the Oakland Hills before removing any tree parts from those areas.

Jerel recalls a story about driving around on an ordinary day and coming across a large piece of oak that had somehow become displaced and landed by the highway near the Lakeview school. Rescuing it involved squeezing through a broken fence, crossing the freeway entrance, and loading it onto a borrowed truck. It was a labor of love and for Jerel Mahaffey it’s the pursuit of that thrill that sustains.

For more information on Jerel’s work or questions regarding pricing and viewing the collection please contact him directly at: jerelm490@gmail.com


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One response to “Neighbor Profiles”

  1. Susi Raub Vogler Avatar
    Susi Raub Vogler

    Jerel, I hope others get to enjoy your brilliant work as much as I do! Your bench is the most feel good, useful, repurposed materials art piece/furniture, and simply special because you are a local and I also didn’t need to get into a car to acquire it!