Hardbound book, 141 pages, printed and bound in the United States.
Available for purchase from the following fine distributors:
These poignant, honest, sometimes heartbreaking and sometimes hilarious but always masterful stories are so much more than woodworking anecdotes – they are nakedly human moments…. A necessary read for any aspiring craftsperson, but just as requisite for the clientele. I can’t decide in what retail section this book should be displayed – fine woodworking? Sure, that’s easy, but the integrity of Ms. Hiller’s voice, the tenacity of her principles, and the respect with which she endows honest, hard work compel me to suggest instead the shelves of philosophy, self-help, etiquette, or even religion, goddamnit.”
hands-down the funniest, gut-punchingest book I’ve read in years”
–Chris Schwarz, Lost Art Press
Fashion statement. Celebrity sport. Path to personal salvation.
Furniture making, once a way to earn a living through an arrangement between makers and clients, has been discovered, like a rosy-cheeked girl plucked from a Nebraska farm and made over into a big-city model.
For many of us, making furniture and cabinetry is still a way to earn a living, however marginal. We may do what we love every day, to paraphrase the marketing pitch of a well-known school, but as with most long-term love, ours deepens from the passion of new romance to the mature familiarity of marriage: sometimes tedious, occasionally exasperating, as much taskmaster as muse.
The day-to-day realities of those who make things for a living get scant attention compared to the potential satisfactions of craft as avocation. But they are every bit as important – especially for those actively considering exchanging the lecture hall, office, or operating room for a woodworking shop.
Honest, earthy, and wryly humorous, this collection of tales drawn from more than 30 years of experience at shops in England and the United States is thought provoking as well as entertaining. We follow Hiller as she stumbles into furniture making after dropping out of Cambridge University, finds employment in one, then another, English workshop, grapples with monotony, sexism, and self-doubt, attempts escape, and eventually makes peace with her vocation.
Nancy Hiller’s chisel-sharp, damn-funny memoir reveals that even when someone knows how to put things together to stay – and does an equally elegant job assembling sentences and cabinets – life itself is rarely susceptible to such resolution. Her book is an engaging ramble, the unsparing story of a perceptive woman deeply dedicated to her craft but noting at each turn that her path through it is provisional.
–Jonathan Binzen, Senior Editor, Fine Woodworking magazine
For those of you who have ever dreamed of becoming a professional cabinetmaker, or for those professionals who have the scars to prove it, or for anyone who just enjoys an accurate look into a life spent honing a craft, you really need to get this book. A nationally renowned woodworker, author, and teacher, Nancy Hiller has written a fascinating account of some of her trials and tribulations that compose the nearly Sisyphean task of making a living by doing that which she loves. The stories she tells are funny and sharp, occasionally pathetic, often brave, and most of all, inspirational. Make a space on your bookshelf for this one.
–Charles Bickford, former senior editor, Fine Homebuilding Magazine
A cabinet-maker’s Bildungsroman, Nancy Hiller’s story charts a path fraught with adventures both good and bad, savors the victories, and rises above the adversities with an indomitable, creative spirit that brings joy into homes forever imbued with the craft her hands wring into form and beauty. A must-read for those brave souls ready to sally forth into a creative profession where belief in oneself must never waver.
–Mark Harrell, Bad Axe Tool Works
This is not a book merely about making cabinets or dressers or chairs. It is about the forging of a principled life. Nancy Hiller introduces us to the everyday struggles and big philosophical questions that define what a craftsperson is and how she may survive in our mass-produced world. This book is riveting, pulling the reader into the author’s transatlantic story, including unrequited romances, conflicts about hinges, occasional slapstick, and sleepless nights spent worrying about budget, hardware, and design. Read this book to see how we can make our way, one dovetail joint at a time.
–Kathryn Lofton, Professor of Religious Studies and American Studies, Yale University
These poignant, honest, sometimes heartbreaking and sometimes hilarious but always masterful stories are so much more than woodworking anecdotes – they are nakedly human moments…. A necessary read for any aspiring craftsperson, but just as requisite for the clientele. I can’t decide in what retail section this book should be displayed – fine woodworking? Sure, that’s easy, but the integrity of Ms. Hiller’s voice, the tenacity of her principles, and the respect with which she endows honest, hard work compel me to suggest instead the shelves of philosophy, self-help, etiquette, or even religion, goddamnit.
Comments from readers:
“[W]ill be a true collector’s item/cult classic…something one has to ‘find out’ about, and…all the cooler for being so.”
–E. Sandweiss, via email
“Your book wasn’t what I was expecting. Devoured it in one sitting this afternoon. It is by far the most honest look into the reality of being a professional cabinetmaker that I’ve ever read. Much appreciated for a million different reasons… I was expecting another book parroting what has already been said by a thousand other writers and could be Googled in a millisecond. The kind of book that romanticizes woodworking as a profession but doesn’t deal with the reality of living at the poverty line. This was not that. I will treasure this book.”
–E. Key, via Instagram
“I read your latest book over this past weekend and it couldn’t have been timelier. Monday, I finished/delivered a dining table project that comes with a story that could have fit right in with some of the tales you share in your book. I will spare you the tale, but I felt lucky to come away with a check. Thank you for being brave in your writing. I’m sure you’re hearing this a lot lately, but it’s so good to not feel alone in the day to day struggles of running a small high quality woodworking business.”
–B. Berryman, via email
“I earn my living as a civil servant in the U.K. Government and enjoy cabinetmaking as a hobby…. As an economist and accountant I understand enough about the nature of your sector to smile at people who suggest I should leave my highly paid job with holidays and benefits to ‘take it up for a living’ because they just paid a ‘fortune’ for their Ikea kitchen.”
–T. Taylor, UK, via email
“Just finished this: required reading for all woodworkers (and maybe also their families, clients, potential clients, and other interested parties…). An autobiographical account of Nancy Hiller’s life as a cabinetmaker, told as a series of episodic fables. Often hilarious, always thoughtful, her sheer determination to be a cabinetmaker is fantastically strong, withstanding the slings and arrows of, amongst other things, misogyny, deeply flaky clients, the undervaluing of her work, knowledge, and time, the self-doubt of the self-employed perfectionist, and the chill and filth of bone-numbing damp English winters.”
–Laura Mays, via Instagram
“It’s been a good week of making stuff and a great week of reading thanks to Nancy Hiller’s new book. It’s an instant cabinetmaking classic and deserves a place on my shelf right next to Krenov – not just because of alphabetical order.”
–Bill Pavlak, via Instagram
“I hope this isn’t too gushing. I’ve never read a book like this before. I’m fairly sure that no one has ever written a book like this before!
Combining the nitty gritty of commercial woodwork with humour and a sense of adventure is an impressive feat. It would have been very easy to let it become either negative and whiney or a sort of Krenovian musing on the profundity of craftsmanship. The structure did a lot to make it enthralling and allow you to explore different ideas. You must have spent a lot of time grappling with the order of chapters, what to reveal when and how to open and close the narrative.
The chapters about [spoiler alert] and the [spoiler alert] had me in stitches. The chapters about dealing with clients make me glad I’m an amateur.”
“It is rare that I finish a book in one sitting. I must say the book ‘Making Things Work: Tales from a Cabinetmaker’s Life’ by NR Hiller is a great read for several reasons. First, it’s a glimpse into the wonderful life of the author. One whose life is filled with adventure, passion and struggle. Second, although woodworking and carpentry are the back drop, the situations hold true for other professions. You will find the similarities in your life in the book and laugh uncontrollably. Hiller accurately and honestly describes the realities of small business. The good and bad it’s all there. Finally, you get to understand why people do what they love. I will be sending copies to my family and friends.”
–JA Santiago M.D., via Instagram
“Guilty! I read the whole book last night. I intended just to read a chapter or two, I could not put it down. I actually put aside Ian McEwan, one of the best writers around (in my opinion)… [F]ascinating and interesting and funny and very informative. I loved it.
I was struck by how much credit you give others and with how generous and patient you were in some very f***ing dire circumstances.”
–T. K., via email
“I love your book. I read it straight through as soon as it arrived… Having spent a micro-second in your world [ed. note: the writer took a class that I taught at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking] allowed me to place you personally in the stories… I’d also like to say thank you for allowing us guys to see into the world of a woman who not only made things for a living but had to claim her own space in the shop. And hold on to it.”
–M. Pallasch, Michigan