NFL’s Ron Swanson settles into woodworking hobby

Almost every day is the same in Kenny Wiggins‘ garage. Get a plan. Get the tools and then get to work in his home woodworking shop.

It started in 2015, when the former Detroit Lions offensive lineman and his wife, Jennifer, bought their current home in Northern California. She gave approval for part of a three-car garage to turn into Wiggins’ workspace, where he could become the NFL’s version of Ron Swanson, the beloved woodworking, small-town government official played by Nick Offerman on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation.”

“First bought a table saw and then a miter saw,” Wiggins said. “And just kind of, whenever I need something, I just kind of go and buy it and add it to the collection.”

After the two saws came a planer, movable islands alongside a growing collection of tools ready for use. He’s always been a guy who refused to call someone for help when something needed fixing.

Sometimes, he and Jennifer will walk through a store, she’ll see something she wants and Wiggins will insist he can build it himself. If Jennifer gets her way, they spend the money. If Wiggins wins, as a true DIYer, he goes on YouTube and devours as many videos as possible until he understands what he needs to accomplish.

“I’ve always been like that. If I can do it, why pay somebody else to do it?” Wiggins said. “That’s how I’ve been raised. Even though I’m making good money in the NFL, I find joy and taking pride in what I have.”

Care is key. Although Wiggins, 31, is recovering from a torn biceps he suffered during the season, he’s never been hurt in his shop and is adamant about checking safeties at all times. He tags every piece he makes with “Mr. Mediocre,” the name of his potential future woodworking company and a homage to a career spanning nine seasons with five teams in two leagues and, so far, 22 transactions.


The fascination with construction started with a red Lego briefcase Wiggins would “just take around everywhere.” Any free moment meant a chance to tinker.

Birthday gifts meant more Legos. It was an outlet for Wiggins to be creative as the biggest kid in class. While his size eventually became a positive — by high school, he was nicknamed “The Hulk” — he was teased about it when he was younger.

Legos, along with 3D puzzles, became his way to relax. Even now, before every training camp, Jennifer packs a small Lego kit to take with him. Last year was a space shuttle to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.

“Those are usually a great stocking stuffer for him,” Jennifer said. “That’s kind of his outlet. He’s a hands-on guy, so when he de-stresses it’s usually through Legos or a puzzle or we’re playing a card game.

“That’s just the way he decompresses and I think that kind of takes the mental exhaustion that football can lead to and just gives it an outlet.”

While Legos remain part of his life — and he treats his white 2015 Jeep Rubicon as a real-life Lego with all the accessories he has for it — eventually Wiggins graduated to building other, larger things as a hobby.


In seventh grade, Wiggins and one of his friends had an idea. In the community where they lived, they started gathering scraps around the neighborhood, eventually turning them into a 5-foot-long wooden luge. It meant using wood on skateboard wheels — not an ideal setup for a kid, no matter how big.

Although there was foam on the inside for extra padding, the luge was not very safe.

“We tied it to [my friend’s] moped and we drove around the neighborhood and stuff,” Wiggins said. “I got a big old raspberry from a baseball slide on the concrete, on the asphalt. On my right leg, my butt cheek.

“And the next day I had to drive to Washington from Sacramento, so there was a good 14 hours in the car on top of that.”

Being good with his hands is a family trait passed down through generations. His great-grandfather, Frank Carson, was a carpenter and cabinetmaker. Wiggins never met him, but for years, a small, beat-up picnic table doubled as the family dining room table. Underneath the tabletop was “Carson” inscribed in the wood, with the year 1955.

The table held up OK until Wiggins broke one of its legs one year at Fresno State. Not yet versed in the woodworking world, Wiggins duct-taped the leg together.

“I love the banged-up parts of it because it went through Kenny’s entire college season,” Wiggins’ mom, Suzanne, said. “And the memories probably created. One of the benches is gone, it broke.”

She said this while staring at it in her dining room — where it still sits duct-taped, a project Wiggins has yet to get to.

A single mom raising two boys, cost forced Suzanne to learn how to do many repairs herself. She does her own drywall, texturing and tiling, and has her own workbench and toolkit — and passed along the passion for it to her son. She also passed on her stinginess — Suzanne called her son “a tightwad” financially — saying it comes from his upbringing.

“He’s always referred to me because I’ve always had to fix things and, so, I think he sees there’s a process to things and he’s patient,” Suzanne said. “I’m really intrigued with his woodworking. He told me he’d make me a couple things but I’m not the type that expects anything from him.

“He’s got a family now and everybody says, ‘Oh, your son is going to buy you this.’ I’m like, ‘No, no, my son does not need to buy me anything. I’m reaping the reward of my life and my work. He’s reaping the rewards of his hard work. He’ll get around to making me something.'”


Back in his woodshop, Wiggins started embarking on bigger projects last offseason.

Some came last year when Jennifer found out she was pregnant with the couple’s first child. He constructed a shelf for the nursery along with doing the wainscoting and some of the painting. The baby was born in January. While he chose not to build the crib — “I don’t trust myself that much yet” — he built a pair of bassinet rockers, one for him and one for a friend.

Jennifer sometimes serves as her husband’s assistant and color advisor on home projects, and has a list — one currently on hold because of his injury and their newborn son — of things she wants him to build for her.

Wiggins constructed a small console table for Jennifer’s home office — he wasn’t happy with the bottom of it and plans to redo it this offseason — and his biggest project and “favorite build” so far is a 9-foot walnut table for his patio.

To build the table, he hired a kid from the local high school metal shop to build a metal stand for $200 and then had him spray paint the stand matte black so it could be inserted inside the table, screwed in as the base for the tabletop.

Then Wiggins took care of the top, sanding for a couple of days using an orbital sander to make sure it was exactly how he wanted it. It was a pain — painting and sanding are the banes of Wiggins’ woodworking existence — but it’s part of the job.

Wiggins isn’t quite Ron Swanson, although he’s a Parks and Rec devotee and knows all about Offerman’s Los Angeles-based woodshop. “He’s on a whole different level than I am,” Wiggins said. Jennifer acknowledged her husband would love to be a real-life Swanson, building his own canoes and woodworking every day.

He’s not there yet — a free agent again after two seasons with the Lions, he still wants to play in the NFL this season — but he takes pride in what he’s able to build and how he’s taught himself the craft. He loves the monotony. He gets lost in it, turning on the Hootie and the Blowfish Pandora station, reggae rock band Rebelution, or ’90s alternative music to focus him.

“It just kind of gives me a sense of accomplishment, something that I can totally go mindless into and don’t have to think about it and I have a 9-foot by 5-foot table to sand,” Wiggins said. “Three hours goes by, and I’m still doing the same s—.”

Published at Wed, 08 Apr 2020 22:09:26 +0000

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