Actors are not their characters. It’s a fairly simple fact that can be hard for some to remember, especially when real people seem to adopt specific traits of fictional icons.
Nick Offerman is not Ron Swanson, the mustachioed, meat-eating Libertarian of Parks & Rec fame – but that doesn’t mean the two men are utterly dissimilar. They both value independence, they both enjoy a good glass of scotch, and they’re both craftsmen. But unlike his on-screen identity, Offerman’s using his artisanal talents to give back in unique ways.
It’s part of the actor’s lore by now, his love of woodworking. He was wielding miter saws and crafting canoes long before he rose to fame on NBC’s beloved comedy about the inner workings of local government. Between jobs he’d take commissions on gazebos and kazoos to pass the time, eventually opening his own workshop in L.A. where he invited other craftsmen (and craftswomen) to indulge in their shared hobby. The Offerman Woodshop, as the place is known, sits in East L.A. and houses a small collective of woodworkers who create one-of-a-kind items to sell on the shop’s website. Lined with antique machinery, cutting-edge saws, personalized workbenches, and memorabilia from Offerman’s day job, it’s practically the physical embodiment of Offerman’s public persona, but it’s the charity work the shop does that better defines the likable comedian.
The shop partners with other small businesses and nonprofits in the LA area in the hopes of finding inventive ways to meet a real need while also spreading a message about the importance of having a craft.
“Making anything with one’s hands is a very healthy pursuit,” Offerman once told Men’s Health. “Anytime you’re using your craft for good is a wonderful thing.”
Offerman, a proud outdoorsman, sources lumber for the shop’s many projects from suppliers on the West Coast who are committed to sustainable practices. These are places like Angel City Lumber, an organization that recycles felled trees around the city to sell to local woodshops. By salvaging these trees – ones that have died because of natural causes or been uprooted because of construction projects – Offerman Woodshop minimizes its ecological footprint, turning material that might serve as chippings or fire-starters into bespoke pieces for collectors to show off.
And while the “what” of what the shop’s working with is important, the “who” it’s giving back to and “how” are almost more so.
Offerman Woodshop has made a habit of partnering with worthwhile foundations across LA, combining a niche hobby with a broader mission. The actor serves on the board of a local nonprofit called Would Works that aims to help the city’s growing homeless community find work and purpose. Created by Connor Johnson in 2012, Would Works invites members of the community to free woodworking workshops where they learn basic craftsman skills – think smoothing a white oak charcuterie board or engraving a cedar soap dish – while getting paid for their labor. They walk away with money and/or necessities, sure, but also with real work experience and job references from the nonprofit and the shop which are meant to make finding employment easier. Offerman Woodshop hosts many of these classes and advertises the nonprofit’s store, where some of the finished products of its participants are sold. The money goes back into funding more workshops for the homeless and into employment programs with partner organizations.
“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,” Offerman told Men’s Journal about the program. “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.”
Offerman’s found a way to use his woodworking hobby to help others before, and since, his partnership with Would Works. He raffled off a giant wood emoji for Conan, starring in a satirical commercial for the piece before Conan decided to sell 100 of them to benefit the Children’s Defense Fund. Recently, the shop hosted a raffle to fund scholarships for prospective BIPOC students to The Krenov School of Fine Woodworking and donated a percentage of proceeds from early sales to the California Coalition for Women Prisoners with Offerman promising to match any donation.
Plenty of celebrities launch charities or put their names behind worthy causes, but Offerman’s approach feels refreshingly simple and authentic. Take something you love and find a way to use it for good. That’s a blueprint anyone can use.