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Nick Offerman on the Benefits of Good Clean Fun


Nick Offerman is an American actor, comedian, writer, musician, and carpenter. Here, he writes not about showbiz, but about the benefits of doing carpentry. His new book is Good Clean Fun.




GOOD CLEAN FUN by Nick Offerman

Writing my new book Good Clean Fun was the result of me throwing a coup against myself. All of my showbiz escapades far and wide, while incredibly satisfying, had really put a crimp in my woodshop time. So I announced to my redoubtable team of agents that I would be writing my next book about woodworking, and if they could please leave me alone for some months I would really appreciate it. They generously cooperated, and it worked! Clown Nick was neatly and swiftly overthrown by Woodshop Nick, with nary a drop of greasepaint spilled in the revolution.

As I stood at my workbench to begin working on some canoe paddles for the book, the therapeutic nature of my decision immediately overwhelmed me. I was reminded that I didn't crave hand-crafting because it's fun or because other parts of my life bore me. Rather, my desire to shape wood into charismatic products is fueled by the apparent need I have to spend my time in a way that is literally productive. Using my hands, head, and muscle to accomplish something nice like crafting a canoe paddle has proven again and again to provide my life with an ever-burgeoning sense of health.

Solving the set of problems presented by any woodworking project is an active diversion, whereas sitting on my duff watching Catastrophe, while very enjoyable, is a passive diversion. I try to limit my passive fun to a smaller portion of my week so that it works more like a dessert course, or a glass of Scotch whisky at the end of a long day. My active fun, however, I try to strategize into my actual job so that it registers more like the main course. If I get the math right, then I often end up getting paid to have fun all week long.

The beautiful thing about an active diversion is that you are generally leaving the world a better place than it was when you started. Whether you are making Wilco records or lasagna or growing sweet corn or caring for kids or carving paddles, there is a benevolent result to your labors to be enjoyed by you and others. That's why we often remark, upon seeing the produce of a person's crafting: "Hey, that's neat." It's an age-old human tradition that translates as: "I recognize and acknowledge that you are doing right by your tribe."

Woodworking, like any "specialty" craft, can be intimidating to the novice. As you begin to research tools and techniques, you may become quickly daunted by the finesse and mastery on display in refined joinery, or even by the alien-looking tools involved in "fine" woodworking. I know I was always made nervous by the work of more experienced men and women before I managed to achieve each step of my own slow and steady education in the shop. With that in mind, there are two things I want to impart to anyone willing to take a swing at making something useful with her or his hands.

The first thing is that you don't ever need to get fancy with your woodworking if you don't want to. I built a pretty crappy (but amazing) treehouse with my buddy Steve when we were kids, and neither our cuts nor our nailing technique, despite the preponderance of nails we sank, would win any awards. The mediocrity of our carpentry, however, could not have mattered less to us, as we only cared about hanging out in our hideaway and learning how to cuss.

Similarly, if you start your career by building a doghouse or a planter box or a crude coffee table, then that counts as woodworking. If your table holds your coffee level enough that the cup doesn't slide off onto the floor, then congratulations: you have achieved your first success. Mistakes and failures are golden, because quite often you can't make it right unless you make it wrong first.  A great many of the wooden projects that I have completed are not items that I would ever enter into a museum show, but as they say to the recipient (my wife, my siblings, my parents, my friends) "I care about you, so here's some shelves that will improve your kitchen experience," I can understand their great worth just the same.

The second thing is that it's not only ok, but it's really fun, to start slow. When I teach a workshop to beginners, we pick some nice spalted ten-to-twelve inch planks of big leaf maple and we merely cut off a foot of it with a handsaw. This approximate square just gets sanded and oiled, and a big finger hole drilled into it, to become a cutting board or serving tray (or "meat paddle"). Our consumerist society has us thinking that everything should happen as quickly as possible, and so many initiates think they should start their craft education somewhere in the middle of high school, but you should see the wonder on their faces when they are reminded of the pleasures of kindergarten. Wood has a power in it, a charm which can be revealed without years of toil apprenticing under a cabinetmaker. If you simply find a piece that you like and sand it really nice and oil it, then the magic just might find you as well.

Standing at my bench with a quantity of red oak lumber that wants to be sculpted into sleek and valuable canoe-drivers, I recognize all of the savory reasons for which I victoriously wrestled the showbiz side of my life to secure some time here in my shop. I trace the template for my Beavertail paddle design onto the first blank of wood. I step back and consider it, and think, "Hey, that's pretty neat."



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