Volume 8, Issue 3 - January 2014
Chat with Nick Offerman
Offerman (center) with the team of woodworkers who work out
of Offerman Woodshop.
(Photo by John Lichtwardt)
Nick Offerman has enjoyed a successful career as an actor, most
recently playing the character Ron Swanson on the hit TV show
Parks and Recreation. Those of you who watch the show know that
Ron loves meat, whiskey and woodworking, but did you also know
that the man behind the character has a deep-seated passion
for woodworking? He even runs his own shop, Offerman Woodshop.
We recently had the opportunity to speak to Nick Offerman on
the phone. Here are some excerpts from that conversation. To
view the complete transcript of our conversation, please click
How did you get into woodworking?
I grew up using tools in a farm family. That translated well
into a theatre career, because I wasn't very good at acting
when I started but I could build the sets and props. People
would give me little parts in their plays so that I would use
And your starting point was the skills you had learned on
the farm while growing up?
Well, sure. There were always things to be built — fences
and barns and dog houses and what have you. My dad and my uncles
and my grandfathers were really instrumental in teaching me
to swing a hammer.
Do you remember the first project you built?
Probably the first thing that had four sides was a pretty rickety
treehouse down by the creek that my friend Steve and I built.
What's the one thing you've made that you're most proud of?
Do you have just one thing?
There's kind of a handful of answers to that question, but if
I had to pick one thing so far it would be the first canoe that
I built. It certainly took the longest of all my projects and
I think, you know, it's like comparing a bunch of coffee cups
to a full set of china.
What was it that compelled you to build a canoe?
Well, because I saw myself woodworking through Fine Woodworking
magazine, and then from the magazine's recommendations I graduated
to books by great woodworkers: James Krenov, Sam Maloof, George
Nakashima, Tage Frid, Christian Becksvoort, Lonnie Bird, Jim
Tolpin, and on and on. I devoured these books, and as you continue
to graduate to more difficult joinery and new tools, one of
the things that kept recurring was eventually you're going to
have to build a boat. [laughs]
Then I started looking at WoodenBoat magazine. I'm really a
poster child for these publications. In the back was a plan
for a baby cradle by a guy named Warren Jordan. It's this beautiful
little rowboat. My best friend
and his wife had just
gotten pregnant and I said, "Oh great. I'll build this
Baby Tender." So I built that, and it was really challenging
and fun and very satisfying.
Then I said, "I've built a tiny boat, now I can build a
full-sized one" and fate was just very good to me. My wife
[actress Megan Mullally] got a job in a Broadway show. We agreed
that we would move to New York for a year and a half and by
moving away from my shop and my clientele, I was thereby freed
from having to build any furniture for a year and a half. I
took a bag of chisels and spokeshaves and block planes with
me and said, "This is my chance". So I rented a shop
space in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and undertook my first canoe.
built by Nick, is one of three canoes he has worked on so far.
You're on a hit TV show now, which means your schedule is
extremely busy. Do you still make time for woodworking?
Not nearly as much as I would like. I knew if my show took off
and stuck around for a while, I knew what sort of changes were
about to happen in my life. My shop is so beautiful and living
and I couldn't bear the thought of just locking the doors and
shutting the lights off. So I've put together this group of
woodworkers captained by a redoubtable young lady named Rebecca
Lee, and we created this going concern, Offerman Woodshop. It's
like a co-op where everybody can build whatever they want to
and then they just pay an overhead to the shop.
I do a lot of advising, I do a lot of administrating. I'll design
pieces that the woodworkers will then build. But they're also
very good, and so I often just hand off commissions to them
if I'm busy.
Are you in every week?
I am, by and large. I still, you know, I cling to it like heroin,
kind of like a heroin addiction. I've got to get in there and
make sawdust at least once a week or I go crazy.
So it's therapeutic for you. Is that what motivates you to
continue with it?
Well, it is absolutely therapeutic. I mean the entertainment
business is so crazy, especially in Los Angeles. To just escape
into the autonomy of me, and some wood, and some tools is like
an incredible vacation.
Coffee Table", built by Nick, features a buckeye burl slab
top, buckeye stump base and black walnut stretchers and a hand-rubbed wax finish.
In interviews, you seem to really want to spread the word
about woodworking. Is that important to you and why?
It is. When people started interviewing me, I immediately recognized
that the last thing I wanted to do was what a lot of actors
do, which is just talk about things like acting and movies and
the makeup trailer, things that I find really boring to talk
I thought, "Well I don't want to just talk about making
a TV show. This is an opportunity, if I'm reaching a lot of
people, to try to promote woodworking and even more generally
just making things with one's hands", which is something
that's my own little soapbox.
I feel like the work ethic that I grew up with and the tool
skills that I have, have served me in so many ways and made
my life so much more prosperous than had I grown up in an environment
where all I did was play video games and go to the mall. It's
something that I think I'll always continue to promote. I talk
a lot about encouraging people to make things with their hands
because I think it's a very healthy thing to do.
Do you have projects on your "bucket list"?
Sure. It's funny, when people ask me as an actor what roles
are you dying to play, I feel sort of the same about this question.
I don't have any sort of Hamlet or Gandalf kind of dreams. I
just want to continue to get to do the best work I can and I
don't know what mask I'll be wearing when I do. I never could
have predicted the role I have right now, but it'll be a long
time before I have one that I feel is better.
My next immediate dream projects are some ukuleles, which will
be a gateway project into some acoustic guitars. Hopefully my
seventh or eighth one will sound okay.
How much did your personal interests shape the character
Ron Swanson? Did they make him an avid woodworker because they
knew you were?
They did, yeah. When we were creating the show, I was on the
phone a lot with the writers, fleshing things out and figuring
out what they thought was funny about me and what they could
use. They eventually piled into a bus and came to the shop and
said "Oh, this is really funny. You're a huge nerd. We
can wring great comedy from your love of woodworking."
character Nick plays on Parks and Recreation, Ron Swanson,
is known for his incredibly thick mustache. The "Official
Offerman Woodshop Mustache Comb" (offermanwoodshop.com)
is hand carved and has a "non-toxic 'stache friendly finish".
In the episode where Ron attends a woodworking show, employees
from Lee Valley,
Lie-Nielsen and Fine Woodworking magazine were brought in to
take part. Why was it important to have real woodworking companies
That was a gift to me. They wrote that episode and said they
were going to have this big woodworking show and I said as part
of my mission to promote woodworking, I'd love to promote Lee
Valley and Lie-Nielsen and Fine Woodworking. And so they brought
them in. It's a great thing about this dream job is that we
can pull things like that off.
Last question- what's something that few people know about
I do love to sew. I am quite handy with a needle and thread.
Yeah. Yesterday my wife had a very expensive coat and one of
the flaps of the pockets ripped off, and I was very proud that
she asked me to mend it. It was sturdy and invisibly fixed.
If my shop goes belly up, I might have a future as a seamstress.
see more of Nick's projects and those of his colleagues, visit
Offerman Woodshop at http://www.offermanwoodshop.com/.
Lee Valley staff
Photos courtesy of Offerman Woodshop