Nick Offerman is many things, including but not limited to a comedian, an actor, a singer, an author, and a husband. He’s also a man who knows his way around a wood shop, something that’s made clear in his latest book, Good Clean Fun: Misadventures In Sawdust At Offerman Workshop. The 300-plus-page how-to is a guide to building everything from a kazoo to a bed the Offerman way, complete with tons of pictures and some zippy wit. And lest you not be into woodworking—and shame on you if you’re not—Offerman also provides tutorials on some of the best woodworkers in history, as well as other little tidbits, like notes about how to cook the perfect steak and what beers pair well with cookout foods. It’s a handy guide not only to wood but also to life in general.
In honor of Good Clean Fun, The A.V. Club thought it prudent to ask Offerman our own wood-related questions. Namely, what wood he would use to construct different items, from a coffin to a butt plug. He was, as always, candid and informative, the living embodiment of both a gentleman and a scholar.
Nick Offerman: Traditionally, the affordable choice is pine. For centuries, especially by the time one perished from natural causes, one didn’t have the funds to set aside for anything too fancy. And so, throwing your loved ones into a pine box is the traditional way to go. And I supposed it’s probably making a comeback in Williamsburg, if nowhere else, going for a hand-hewn pine coffin.
To my way of thinking, with an eye towards a green sensibility, we’re supposed to be coming around to no coffin. We’re supposed to be getting our remains decomposing as quickly as possible, so that we can make new pine trees with the atoms and molecules that we offer to the earthworms.
I’d go with pine. It’s the chalice that Indiana Jones has to choose. I choose Jesus’ cup. It’s the simple cup of a carpenter. No need for fancy gingerbread.
The A.V. Club: No need for mahogany then? Or would going fancy just cost way too much money?
NO: Well, you can’t take it with you. That’s a saying that I just invented.
A “tobacco” pipe
NO: I believe “a pipe ‘for tobacco products’’ is the proper nomenclature.
That’s a great question. Many young woodworkers start with a pipe for tobacco products or other smokables. Traditionally, the finest tobacco pipes are made from briar roots, which are found in Europe. These specific, crazy little roots just have this incredible density, and they’re really resistant to flame and heat. And so that’s like a meerschaum pipe, those beautifully sculpted pipes. They’re traditionally made from briar root.
Now, there are other hardwood roots that are domestic that are used, but that’s getting into the fancy world of actual pipe-making. If you’re looking to take a little rectangle of wood and drill a couple clever holes into it so that you can smoke your tobacco-like products, I have generally used oak. I tried some out of cherry, but if you can lay your hands on some exotics like rosewood or blackwood or ebony, those are all really good, too.
The thing about it is that if you’re smoking tobacco in a way that you’re keeping a glowing ember for a long time, your wood has to really take a lot of damage, so it doesn’t eventually burn through the bowl area, as it were. But if you’re smoking, say “quick hits” of your smokables, then you can get away with a lot of different woods. But generally, the harder the wood, the better. In a pinch, an apple will serve just fine.
NO: The most magnificent wood for building the hull of a watercraft of that size is American white oak. Navies the world over have agreed that American white oak is the go-to. The Civil War battleship Old Ironsides was made of American white oak.
I work with it quite a bit, and it’s nothing short of absolutely badass. In many ways, it’s like steel but it has the friendly malleability of wood. You can shape it and bend it and coax it to behave in incredible ways while maintaining this incredibly high strength.
There are many other traditional ship-building woods that all have specific attributes that make them ideal. Like teak, for example, is the ideal wood for the deck of your ship because, it’s incredibly impervious to weather and sun. But for the ship itself, you want American white oak. And as Joseph Smith has told us in The Book Of Mormon, the Christian religion is centered in New England. So it’s only fitting that a ship as holy as Noah’s Ark would be made of an American hardwood.
AVC: Are canoes made out of oak as well?
NO: No, they’re not. For smaller watercraft, like canoes or kayaks, and even small skiffs and rowboats, you want something much more lightweight. So the ideal canoe wood is cedar. And there are a few varieties in the cedar family: red cedar, white cedar on the East Coast. Redwood or Alaskan yellow cedar are also magnificent choices for a small watercraft. My canoes are western red cedar. And we made one out of basswood, because the client wanted it to be as white as possible.
The great thing about cedar is that it’s incredibly lightweight, but it has a really high tensile strength. So, you can make this sort of pea-pod-like shell. Once you glue it all together in these curves, it’s incredibly strong. It’s called a monocoque structure. It’s a French word. You can take one stick of cedar and just snap it in half. But if you glue them all together in this pea pod shape, it’s incredibly hard to twist or flex. But it’s really lightweight, which makes it really easy to move over the water and to be paddled swiftly.
Also with a canoe, you’ll have to throw it over your shoulders and portage over a neck of land between two lakes, so that’s what makes cedar the hero.
NO: We have a bed in the book, and our bed is made of American white oak, which, as we’ve mentioned, the same things that make it impermeable with the hull of a ship make it take all kinds of punishment as a bed.
It’s a wonderful bed project in the book. An incredible woman named Lee who runs my shop contributed that chapter. She invented a knock-down joint for the corner where the bed frame meets the legs so it’s a big massive puzzle that you can take apart for when you move. Or if you live in a New York studio apartment, you can take it apart every morning and then you can set up your kitchen table and have breakfast.
If we didn’t have that in the book, though, I’m a huge fan of walnut. There are two primary kinds of walnut in the United States. On the East Coast and Midwest, there’s black walnut. And then on the West Coast, there’s a species called California Claro walnut that’s incredibly beautiful. It’s brown like walnut, but it has an incredible spectrum of secondary colorations in the grain ranging from green to purple to yellow to red. It’s just really gorgeous. It’s not quite as badass as oak, but if oak is a nine, walnut is a 7.5. It’s still an incredibly solid wood. It works and tools really well. It’s very friendly to work with. And once you oil it, it’s just a knockout. It’s just absolutely gorgeous.
A sex toy
AVC: Whatever wood you choose for a sex toy would have to be lacquered well, I suppose.
NO: Well, it would not have to be lacquered. You’re forgiven for not knowing that. Finishes are a very mysterious topic, and even those of us who do a lot of woodworking can have trouble. I don’t think there’s ever a definitive answer to the right finish for the right project.
Anyway, there are woods that are self-oiling. I’m going to interpret sex toy as something in the dildo or butt-plug family. Let’s term this category “the probes.” And I’m going to go with cocobolo, which is an incredible—I believe—South American hardwood. It might be African, but I believe it’s South American. I believe it’s an Amazonian wood.
It’s gorgeous, but the reason I would pick it is because it’s a very dense, hard, oily wood that is actually self-lubricating. If you went the extra yard and oiled it with a food-safe oil, let’s say, the finish would never need replenishing, as long as you continue to oil it, which you would, because presumably you’re going to want to use precaution with anything in the probe category. As long as you use a body-safe, organic lube oil, it will be self-maintaining for decades of pleasure.
If you’re crafting such an implement though, just make sure you sand it as much as possible because you just don’t want to run the risk of a sliver.