I recently purchased a copy of Good Clean Fun: Misadventures in Sawdust at Offerman Woodshop by Nick Offerman. If that name seems familiar it is likely you recognise him for his portrayal of gruff but lovable libertarian Ron Swanson on the hit comedy show Parks and Recreation. Nick has become well known as an actor (mostly the aforementioned role, but also in other TV and movies), as well as a “humourist” and writer. What many don’t realise, however, is that – like his Parks and Rec. counterpart Ron – he is also a skilled carpenter.
This article isn’t really a book review per se – though the book is really very good – nor is it going to be an ode to Nick Offerman (or Ron Swanson), but rather a look at Nick’s motivation for writing the book and what I’ve taken from it so far.
First of all – and I guess this is somewhat important – you don’t have to be in to woodwork…but it helps. As I explained Nick is a fairly experienced woodworker and owner/proprietor of the Offerman Woodshop (which actually appeared as Ron Swanson’s own shop in “Parks”), and as such has a profound love for, and interest in, sharing that passion with others. This book is, I think it’s fair to say, his most explicit attempt to do this so far. His previous books always refer back to woodwork as a major love and interest in his life and he regularly reminds readers that he has, at times, made the majority of his income from it, but Good Clean Fun describes this love and his experiences in more detail than ever before.
This is a real, genuine woodworking book…though perhaps not what you might expect. It takes you behind the scenes at Offerman Woodshop, introduces you to the colourful characters who work there, and describes their passion for the material and the work. It also features a contribution from each person in the form of a project and detailed tutorial for you to try at home, all accompanied by some excellent photography. Perhaps this is the book’s greatest surprise; and an insight into the kind of magnanimous person Nick is. There are in fact very few projects from Nick alone. The majority of the book is dedicated to his “staff,”* Nick’s personal woodworking heroes, and the people who he has helped and have helped him along the way.
The projects are for a variety of skill and experience levels so the cliché that there is “something for everyone” is wonderfully apt here. Nick seems more concerned with helping people find joy in woodwork –or making things in general – at a level they are comfortable with, rather than making anyone feel like they are some soft handed dandy who could never so much as swing a hammer than build a table. Between Nick’s obvious affection for his coworkers and industry friends and his desire to get people involved in “making,” it should come as no surprise that the book feels more about community and friendships forged in the fire of collaboration and mutual interests than it does a dry old instruction manual. So if you’re like me and like a bit of woodwork then you will really, thoroughly enjoy this book.
If, however, the thought of reading a book about woodwork leaves you a bit cold, it is worth noting that Nick’s skill as a humourist and comedic writer are not wasted. Nick has a fantastic warmth and mirth to his writing that is incredibly engaging and his ability to turn a phrase is second to none. Indeed on the cover Nick himself has explained that the pages within contain a wonderful mixture of “how to, mirth, fashion tips, recipes, odes to wood and assorted tom foolery.” So you know this isn’t going to be your Granda’s copy of Fine Woodworking. Nick regularly intersperses the potentially drier parts of the book with funny anecdotes and amusing asides, and there are a few recipes and beverage recommendations that may well take your fancy.
So if you’re looking for a new woodworking book (and even if you’re not), consider picking up a copy of Good Clean Fun and having a go at a project. You might be surprised how much you enjoy it. Oh and get a physical copy like I did; the kindle version is never going to do the photos justice.
*Offerman Woodshop is run as a sort of cooperative i.e. Nick owns the shop and tools and projects are often collaborative but each person decides what they will make, etc.