Popular Woodworking Magazine Article

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Woodworking Celeb Builds Canoe

Most woodworkers know about President Jimmy Carter’s passion for woodworking. We have all been bitten by the woodworking bug. Some of those bites are bigger, and some are deeper – while some barely break skin. But when you have a full-fledged career not centered on this craft, becoming proficient is that much harder. Of course, I may be preaching to the choir. And while President Carter’s woodworking has been widely publicized, many other celebrities fly under the radar. Nick Offerman is a prime example.

Offerman decided that he wanted to become an actor. The Chicago acting community was his calling, but by his own admission, he wasn’t a great actor at the outset. Offerman, however, grew up in a family involved in carpentry and he swung a mean hammer; he says he quickly realized that the best way to work while learning to act was to build sets for the theaters by day, then act at night. That kept him smack-dab in the middle of what he wanted to do.

Later, after moving to California to continue with his acting career (he was obviously a quick study) Offerman was turned on by the work of Greene & Greene in Pasadena and fell for woodworking in a big way. He found out that he had a talent besides acting that people desired, and would pay for. Offerman developed a long list of patrons. He built two careers that continuously intertwined.

He is an accomplished woodworker who (like so many of us) began with Arts & Crafts and Shaker furniture before discovering Nakashima designs – where most of his focus is today. Offerman says that, while building sets, he swallowed more MDF dust than anyone should, so he now avoids sheetgoods and builds with solid lumber. He hand-cuts his dovetails (he’s a pins-first guy) and tries to make each project push his skill set to new levels.

As an accomplished actor, Offerman found himself in New York City performing in plays and filming the soon-to-be-released movie “All Good Things.” He had a bit of downtime on his hands when his woodworking passion kicked in and he decided to build a canoe. He discovered that the book of all books on canoe-craft was written by Ted Moores, so he picked up a copy. After reading the book, he picked the kit he wanted to build, called Bear Mountain Boats – Ted Moore’s company – and talked with the owner’s wife to place his order. During the conversation, she enlisted Offerman to film a DVD as he built the canoe – it’s a project, she said, that anyone with a hint of woodworking chops could build. Offerman agreed to the challenge.

During his time in New York, Offerman stole  as much time as he could to build the canoe, which he did in a warehouse in Red Hook Brooklyn while filming the DVD with the help of his pal, Jimmy Diresta (whom you might know from a few DIY Network shows). During the build Offerman began a blog, if you will, that went out to a few close friends. By the time the canoe was complete, there were some 300 people waiting for the updates. Click here to download the complete Canoe Club Journal of the journey; it’s a fun, interesting and entertaining read.

How did the canoe build turn out? The DVD is available tomorrow, April 21, 2010. Click here to watch a clip and to place your order. In all, some 500 hours were spent building the canoe. Click here to take a look as the crew lowers the finished canoe out of an upper-floor window, and see Offerman set off in the waters around New York. He told me that no water had to be bailed when they once again reached dry land.

And how are Offerman’s two careers intertwined:? The canoe he built shows up in an episode of “Parks and Recreation” (Thursday nights on NBC) in which Offerman stars as Ron Swanson. His character delves in woodworking on the show, as Offerman does in real life. And if you’re a regular viewer, you’ve been inside a woodshop in the episode as well. That shop is Offerman’s shop in real life. He says, however, that the code violations shown during the episode were all staged for the storyline.

— Glen D. Huey