Learning to Build a Fine Canoe with Nick Offerman

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Are you, like Amy Poehler and anybody who knows anything, ultra pissed that national treasure Nick Offerman was not nominated for an Emmy? Well, a good way to get that anger out is to watch a canoe-building instructional DVD hosted by the great man himself. It’s very cathartic. “Fine Woodstrip Canoe Building” is a very cool instructional DVD — definitely in the conversation for Best Canoe Building Instructional Video of All Time — and if you also have the accompanying book and virtuosic woodworking skills like Offerman’s, you can end up with a canoe that helps you not sink in water. Or, if you’re like me and your table saw game could use some work, you can just watch an effortlessly hilarious dude build a canoe for 136 minutes. At the end of it, he’s really happy, it’s pretty great. He’s probably happier than if he bagged the Emmy nom.

When not portraying the libertarian meat advocate Ron Swanson on Parks and Recreation, Nick Offerman builds a lot of stuff with wood. If you visit his woodworking shop’s website, you can take a look at some of his fine craftsmanship. My personal favorite is his lacewood paper-shredding basket — not sure about you, but I prefer my document destruction housed in a handsome wood-stained box. As far as the genesis of the canoe DVD goes, Offerman was stuck in New York with time to kill a few years ago, so he decided to build a canoe. He ordered a bunch of wood and plans from Bear Mountain Boats in Ontario and when he called up to ask them a couple questions, they convinced him to make a video of his experience building one of their canoes. He shot it in Red Hook with a buddy of his named Jimmy DiResta. Jimmy makes stuff too, including some really amazing artisanal keys. Usually I don’t have much of an opinion about keys. Jimmy’s keys, however, I do have an opinion about: they’re neat as hell.

Anyway, in the DVD, Offerman shows you how to make a canoe. He’s without mustache and Swanson hair helmet, but he does don a very smart green woodworking apron over a festive red fleece. The apron looks like it can hold a bunch of nails and stuff, but is also quite stylish. He doesn’t ham it up on the video, because really it’s all about the canoe; but he says some Swansonian things, such as when the boat is nearly done and he says, “They grow up so fast these days.” It’s hilarious.

The 136 minutes of the video fly by, even if you don’t care about canoes. But really, who doesn’t care about canoes? Not caring about canoes is like not being a fan of Nick Offerman. Who isn’t a fan of Nick Offerman? Kim Jong-il probably isn’t. Screw North Korea, canoes are sick. They can get you around in the water, and you don’t even need a motor or a sail, so you don’t waste fuel or whatever sails are made of.

In terms of the actual canoe building, it seems like it requires professional woodworking skills and a lot of free time. But Offerman makes you think that you can do it, even though you most likely can’t. The childish glee that slips through his usually subdued manner and the falsetto cries of joy that evade his deliberate baritone make it clear that the dude really loves wood and wants you to love it too. I hated wood before watching the video, thought it was vastly inferior to other materials like plastic and Velcro; but now I love it. Wood is amazing and beautiful. I just needed Offerman to show me the way. The way to wood love. Do people still say no homo?

The video also murders it from a mise-en-scène standpoint. There are some very evocative tracking shots that capture the intense focus of a true craftsman and also give you a good idea how a ‘stongback’ — some part of the canoe I think, but don’t quote me on that — is constructed. And when he gets the spokeshave out, and the camera slithers behind him — boy, I broke into a cold sweat. There’s also a great shot of a shallowly focused pile of wood shavings that reminded me of Terrence Mallick at his most elemental, with a hint of McG’s early work. I had some small gripes with the use of natural light, but that probably says more about my own pigment issues than the particular style of the gaffers on this shoot.

I had a fun time watching this DVD, and I might try to build a canoe now. I probably won’t, because I am too lazy to do things like open mail, even if it’s from the federal government; but who knows, down the line I might just bust out a sick vessel like Offerman and set out with him, both of us decked out in fly camo lifejackets, to tame the wild seas.

Jake Tuck writes screenplays and other things. He is known to be a man for all seasons.