The world may know him as an actor and comedian, but Nick Offerman also loves woodworking. And he doesn't just love it in the evenings-and-weekends, something-to-do-with-my-hands-while-I-listen-to-podcasts way: he's actually devoted a serious chunk of his life, personal and professional, to making things out of trees. As neatly as it may dovetail with the musky, traditionally (and sometimes buffoonishly) masculine characters he plays, the woodworking aspect of Offerman's life exists independently of his other craft — not to say, of course, that you'll find the web site of the Offerman Woodshop completely devoid of humor.
Though pride in physical work well done is its own reward, Offerman believes that his woodworking also made it possible for him to succeed as an entertainer. "People often ask me, how can I get my kid involved in show business?" he says in the Big Think clip above. "And I always say, I would advise that you take up woodworking, because it’s addictive," a "craft that is so satisfying, that doesn’t require the input of any corporate entities." This in contrast to the Hollywood auditions where he always found himself performing for "a room full of bankers" and leaving bewildered, thinking, "'I have no idea how I did,' which gives you a lot of stress and a lot of agita."
This stress and agita sent him straight to his woodshop, where he would "just start sanding a walnut table." Before long, "I would see the tangible result of this work that I had done. The thing is, there’s no way to describe the sensation. There’s magic in it, whether you’re working with glass or metals or food or knitting or wood." He credits that powerful and empowering sensation, which he describes, in a perhaps uncharacteristically Californian manner, as having "an incredible meditative or Zen quality," with giving him "a mellow demeanor to the point that I no longer cared as much about the TV shows." And by caring less, he found that he could handle all of the performances show business demanded of him that much better.
You can get a tour of Offerman's Los Angeles woodshop in the second video from the top, a clip from This Old House. Beginning with his impressive wood stock, it continues on to his even more formidable set of indestructible-looking vintage tools. "The less electricity you can use," he tells the host, "the more pleasurable your woodworking will be." He shares more woodworking advice in the video just above, answering questions from the would-be woodworkers of Twitter: Is an apron really necessary? Yes. Does oak require a pre-stain conditioner? Don't stain oak at all. When one fellow requesting help identifying a joint type addresses Offerman as "Master Crafter Wood," Offerman corrects him: "I'm a student of the form, but I appreciate your optimism." That sums up what woodworking offers: a condition of eternal studenthood, and if not optimism then at least a helpful equanimity. "Zen" may be the right word after all.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.