“After 10 years working as a journalist in front of a computer screen, Nina knew she needed a career change. An ad on Craigslist caught her eye: 'Carpenter's Assistant sought: Women strongly encouraged to apply.' So begins Nina's journey as Mary, her mentor, transforms her from desk sitter to desk maker. Hammer Head not only shows readers how Nina became a carpenter, but also that she can still work wonders with her words.”
— Barbara Theroux, Fact & Fiction, Missoula, MT
"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
A warm and inspiring book for anyone who has ever dreamed of changing tracks, Hammer Head is the story of a young woman who quit her desk job to become a carpenter. Writing with infectious curiosity, Nina MacLaughlin—a Classics major who couldn’t tell a Phillips from a flathead screwdriver—describes the joys and frustrations of making things by hand. Filled with the wisdom of writers from Ovid to Mary Oliver and MacLaughlin’s own memorable accounts of working with wood, unfamiliar tools, and her unforgettable mentor, Hammer Head is a passionate book full of sweat, bashed thumbs, and a deep sense of finding real meaning in work and life.
About the Author
Nina MacLaughlin lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she works as a carpenter. Formerly an editor at the Boston Phoenix, she has written for the Believer, Bookslut, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere.
MacLaughlin…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
Reading Hammer Head, like consuming Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, feels like a crucial education.
— Isabella Biedenharn
Beautiful and wise…Like if Annie Dillard had her own show on HGTV. — Edan Lepucki
MacLaughlin has hit the nail on the head…Stunning. — Caroline Goldstein
An inspirational account of [MacLaughlin’s] journey to becoming a carpenter, and the lessons she’s learned about life. It will have Wild fans throwing down their backpacks and picking up a hammer.
— Liberty Hardy
Riveting…MacLaughlin weaves together layers of history and literature that lift her memoir beyond a personal narrative and into one of all human knowledge. — Tiffany Gibert
MacLaughlin’s evocative prose is just as plumb, level, and true as all the wood structures she ultimately learns to build. This is a lovely and important book. — Andre Dubus III
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. I loved it from beginning to end. — 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.