Nina MacLaughlin’s engaging memoir about her decision to quit journalism and become a carpenter is honest, informative and thought provoking. “Hammer Head: The Making of Carpenter” is MacLaughlin’s account of her at first fumbling attempts to master the entirely new skill set of carpentering is interspersed with meditations on the origins of the hand tools she is learning to use and discussions on the underrepresentation of women in the building trades.
My favorite character in MacLaughlin’s book is her mentor Mary, who took a chance on Nina, a willing but totally unskilled young woman apprentice and patiently taught her how to hammer, saw, nail, tile, build, demolish and swear. Mary teaches Nina how to assess and begin a job, how to plan her work and how to recover from a miscalculation and make it all fit together. Under Mary’s careful tutelage Nina learns more than woodworking skills. She learns to trust her physicality and take pride in her strength and her labors.
MacLaughlin chronicles her journey from journalist to carpenter with grace, wit and humor. This book is a paean to the joys of working with your hands and working with wood, of being your own boss and learning to do what makes you happy (and, incidentally, getting good at it and getting paid for it). Plus, I learned an awful lot about building bookshelves, a piece of furniture that one can never have enough of.