Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter


Nina MacLaughlin spent her twenties working at a Boston newspaper, sitting behind a desk and staring at a screen. Yearning for more tangible work, she applied for a job she saw on Craigslist―Carpenter’s Assistant: Women strongly encouraged to apply―despite being a Classics major who couldn't tell a Phillips from a flathead screwdriver. She got the job, and in Hammer Head she tells the rich and entertaining story of becoming a carpenter.

Writing with infectious curiosity, MacLaughlin describes the joys and frustrations of making things by hand, reveals the challenges of working as a woman in an occupation that is 99 percent male, and explains how manual labor changed the way she sees the world. We meet her unflappable mentor, Mary, a petite but tough carpenter-sage (“Be smarter than the tools!”), as well as wild demo dudes, foul-mouthed plumbers, grizzled hardware store clerks, and the colorful clients whose homes she and Mary work in.

Whisking her readers from job to job―building a wall, remodeling a kitchen, gut-renovating a house―MacLaughlin examines the history of the tools she uses and the virtues and varieties of wood. Throughout, she draws on the wisdom of Ovid, Annie Dillard, Studs Terkel, and Mary Oliver to illuminate her experience of work. And, in a deeply moving climax, MacLaughlin strikes out on her own for the first time to build bookshelves for her own father.

Hammer Head is a passionate book full of sweat, swearing, bashed thumbs, and a deep sense of finding real meaning in work and life.


North American publisher: W.W. Norton

Foreign rights sold: Chinese (simplified characters) to Sunnbook Culture; Chinese (complex characters) to Walkers; German to Suhrkamp; Portuguese (Brazil) to NVersos

Foreign rights: W.W. Norton, Elisabeth Kerr (ekerr@wwnorton.com)

Film rights: Gillian MacKenzie (gmackenzie@gillianmackenzieagency.com)



“Though MacLaughlin may be an apprentice carpenter, she is a master writer, with the rare combination of acute observation and astute word choice that characterizes writers like Annie Dillard or Joan Didion.”—Rebecca Steinitz - Boston Globe

“Beautiful and wise. . . . Like if Annie Dillard had her own show on HGTV.”—Edan Lepucki - The Millions

“MacLaughlin has hit the nail on the head… Stunning… You may very well read [Hammer Head] in one sitting.”—Caroline Goldstein - Bustle

“Inspirational . . . will have Wild fans throwing down their backpacks and picking up a hammer.” —Liberty Hardy - Book Riot

“An effortless blend of literary craft with woodcraft.”—Erin Shea - Library Journal (starred review)

“Inspiring.”—Time Out, (Critics Pick)

“Warm, wise, and authentically inspiring. No other book has made me want to re-read Ovid and retile my bathroom floor, nor given me the conviction that I can do both. I loved it.”—Rosie Schaap, author of Drinking with Men

“In this beautiful memoir about learning a trade, Nina MacLaughlin explores mortality, desire, the passage of time, and the meaning of work. She transcends the personal and makes us question what of our own works are built to endure. This book―a thing well-made―certainly is.”—Philip Connors, author of Fire Season

“Nina MacLaughlin built a dream by becoming a carpenter, and transformed her life. Hammer Head is her exquisitely inspiring story. I loved it.”—Lynne Cox, author of Swimming to Antarctica