Khiem Nguyen Is Making It

Crafty reality competition star on wood and Nick Offerman

Khiem Nguyen, the Austin woodworker and designer on NBC's Making It
Aside from Paul Bunyan and Chippendale (Thomas, the furniture designer, not the dancers), there haven't been many celebrity woodworkers. But Austin's own Khiem Nguyen is changing that, with a prime time slot on NBC's Making It.

The talented craftsman, designer, and owner of A & K Woodworking & Design is one of the contestants on the new show, hosted by Nick Offerman and Amy Poehler, in which assorted makers face a different challenge each week, and come up with beautiful, practical solutions (as should be expected, the winner each week wins a sew-on patch).

Nguyen survived last week's initial round, to create a memory quilt and a photo album – a challenge that's closer to the woodworker's passions than might seem obvious at first glimpse.

Austin Chronicle: How did you become a woodworker in the first place, and start to do it professionally?

Khiem Nguyen: Originally I had gone to art school, and I wanted to major in photography. That was the majority of what I did in art school, and a lot of the photography we did was film. So you work with negatives, and the actual photographs are based off of this single object. I started to really like how special that object was, and I wanted to make boxes or cases to preserve or protect the negative for special photographs, and I started by making those little cases out of wood.

AC: So what was the appeal of wood over any other material?

KN: I think it's two things. One would be accessibility. It's easier for me to find nice wood than metal. I actually did some casting, some foundry work at art school, and that was awesome – I wish I could do more of that now. But when you touch wood, it has a warmer feel to it.

AC: How did you end up on the show?

KN: My woodworking business got an email from a casting producer. We didn't know anything about the show, but they were holding open casting calls here in Austin, and asked if we wanted to interview in person.

That was between March and May, but I didn't know that I was on the show until a few days before the show. They would check in along the way, but I wasn't actually selected until a few days before.

AC: You run a business, so getting on the show meant you had to put that to one side for a while. How did you fit Making It with running A&K?

KN: It works both ways. If I had a normal job, it would probably be pretty difficult for me to tell them, 'I'm going to be on this TV show, so I have to be out of town for a while.' I have the freedom to put A&K on hold for a little bit while I did this.

Khiem Nguyen on the set of NBC's Making It with Nick Offerman and Amy Poehler (Image courtesy of Paul Drinkwater/NBC)

AC: Last week's first task was the secret beast challenge, and involved making an animal of yourself. You got critiqued quite hard. What was it like when Amy and Nick said, "Nice shell, but where's the turtle?"

KN: For me it was funny. When I thought of the turtle shell, the turtle wasn't part of it at all. From the beginning, I thought, I just want to do a shell because the turtle carries the shell on its back, and I've moved a lot, and every time there are certain things I move with me to each apartment or house, and the shell is just that symbolism, not the turtle itself. I guess I would be the turtle that's making the shell. It was funny, and it was one Faster Craft challenge, so I didn't take it too personally.

AC: And Nick Offerman is famous for being one of the first celebrities to repopularize woodwork. Other than Harrison Ford, he's probably the most famous carpenter on the planet, and he really champions hands-on crafts.

KN: It was really exciting to have the chance to meet Nick Offerman and Amy. That was one of the biggest motivators for me to even try and interview for the show, was just hearing that Nick and Amy were going to be the hosts. And just the fact that Nick is also woodworker, and to have the chance to talk to him about it, and for him to have a chance to see my work was super-exciting.

Episode two of Making It airs tonight on NBC at 9pm Central.

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