Men's Journal

Nick Offerman on Wood-Working, Gift-Giving, and His New Charity Initiative

Nick Offerman was a boy when he received his first hammer. Over the course of his childhood, his father Ric would give him the gift of a new tool to add to his collection. Before he made it in the entertainment business, and eventually as benchmark of masculinity Ron Swanson on Parks And Recreation, Offerman used those tools to make a living building television sets. Currently a man of enterprise, Offerman operates two full-functioning woodshops. Each day working in those shops is a reminder of those life-changing gifts from his father.

“I still have all of them,” says Offerman thoughtfully from his home in Los Angeles. “Socket sets. Wrenches. Corded drills. Circular saws. I was able to pay my way through college because of them. Those tools allowed me to become the man that I am today. Their value has only become more immense as the years ago on.”

Now, through a new partnership with non-profit Would Works, which allows individuals with an immediate financial need to work with their hands in exchange for assistance, Offerman is looking to give that same kind of life-changing gift to fellow citizens who have fallen on hard times, with a dollar-for-dollar matching campaign (up to $20,000), which begins today, October 16th, and will run through October 30th. 

“Theodore Roosevelt said, ‘Far and away the best prize life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.’ It was as true when he said it in 1903 as it is today,” Offerman says. The hand-made items available for purchase from Would Works include a bottle opener, cocktail board, and a charcuterie board, all just in time for the holiday hosting season.

How did you get connected and start working with Would Works?

There is a wonderful collective that works in our Offerman Woodshop. It is filled with an amazing crew of creative and hard-working people. Lee, who runs my shop, has a significant other who works for the government in homeless initiatives. She brought it to our attention, and we immediately cottoned to it. I hope that programs like this can spread to every city in the world, frankly, because there are citizens that are homeless everywhere.

What makes this program different?

What I really liked about this program is it not only gives assistance, it also allows those who can’t find work to be able to build up solid work references. They are earning these credits through labor like finishing wood products. So down the road they can apply for jobs, and hopefully eventually get back on their own two feet. Our economy leaves a lot of people out in the cold, and all they want is the opportunity to get out there doing work to earn their own bread.

What would you say to people who are looking to give better gifts?

Because of the technology we live with it is so easy these days to detach when you are doing all of your shopping online. It is very simple to purchase products from across the world, without thinking of the resources you are burning through when it comes to packaging and shipping. The fact is there are incredible craftsmen proprietors out there, making fine products in your very own neighborhood. Go to your local farmers market, or craft fair, and help people in your own community.

Speaking of craftsmanship, you are selling a bottle opener, what do you recommend people crack open with one of those?

That is another point; the choices of craft brew beers and distilleries make for an embarrassment of riches. My brother works at an incredible brewery in Illinois called Brickstone. He is a brilliant brewer of beers, and that makes him the king of the family if you can imagine. Personally I will have a bottle of that, but more likely a bottle of Lagavulin scotch.

What is the best gift you have been given?

I have been blessed to give so many fantastic gifts, but I will admit that stereotypical fancy items don’t move the needle for me. I will always favor the intangible, and the simplest gifts. I will always love the gift of a nice hammer. But truly, I have to say the best gift I have ever been given is my wife’s hand in marriage.

Do you enjoy giving gifts?

I very much enjoy the practice of giving gifts, and when I have the time to make something beautiful for people I get a lot of pleasure out of that. Not because I want people to speak of what a great gift-giver I am, but because of the knowledge they will have of how much they mean to me.

What is the best gift you have ever given?

I ended up with all of the red oak trim from all of the windows and the doors from the sets. I milled it up in my shop, and then made it into a few dozen canoe paddles that I gave to the cast and the producers. It was a lot of work. I am very proud of that gift. Because I was able to give them a piece of the set, and do it in the form of a Ron Swanson-style implement. That was my chance to tell those 24 people I loved them.

How many times have you been called Santa Claus with that beard you are able to grow?

[Laughs] This is surprising actually, but nobody has ever made that connection before. I am actually clean-shaven now, because my wife likes to see my face every once in awhile. She is one of the very few. I will likely have the whiskers back by the holidays though. It only takes about five weeks to get that full Ron Swanson thickness.