Herrick Kimball
One Man's Journey
As A How-To Writer

By: Herrick Kimball

Me, at 8 months.

I was born in Bath, Maine in 1958. I was a happy little guy. I have the picture to prove it.

Thirty-Three years later, all growed up, and pretty much still happy, I decided that I wanted to write an article about making plastic laminate countertops for Fine Homebuilding magazine. 

So, I typed the start of the article and mailed it in. This was, by the way, back in those days before everyone had computers and e-mail. 

A short while later I received a letter from the magazine's managing editor, Kevin Ireton. He told me it was obvious that I knew the subject and that I was off to a great start with the article. Then he asked when he could come here to New York and take pictures. 

That was the beginning of my career as a professional writer. The article was published in July of 1992 (Fine Homebuilding issue No. 75).

This picture is from the first article I wrote for
Fine Homebuilding magazine back in 1992. 

The concept of taking knowledge and ideas from my brain, putting them into words on paper, and then getting money for it was powerfully inspiring to me. Up to that point I had always done physical work to earn money. 

It helped that I had some God-given talent (where else could it possibly come from?) when it came to writing. Not so much creative writing, but writing of a more technical sort—writing that organizes and presents information in a clear, understandable manner.  

After that first article, Kevin Ireton gave me lots more opportunities to write for Fine Homebuilding. He wasn't just an editor. He was an encourager. He actually asked me once if I would be interested in interviewing for an editor position at the magazine. That was real nice.

This picture from Fine Homebuilding magazine shows a tool I made and used when fabricating countertops.

My last article for Fine Homebuilding magazine was in March 1998 (Issue #114). That issue actually had four contributions from me: a how-to article (about making bevel-edge laminate countertops), a Great Moments in Building History story (Titled,The Shop Vac), a tool review (of the AMPS straightedge system), and a Q&A response (about how to attach grab bars to a fiberglass shower wall). I guess you could say it was my grand finale.

This picture is from the last article I wrote for 
Fine Homebuilding magazine back in 1998. 
The sander is a tool I made. That green 
motor would play an important role later 
in my writing career, as I'll explain shortly.

I stopped writing for the magazine so I could focus on writing my first book for the Fine Homebuilding books division. Making Plastic Laminate Countertops was published in 1996.

That first book was not even into print when I had a contract to write Refacing Cabinets: Making An Old Kitchen New. It was published in 1997

My third book was The Kitchen Consultant. It was published in 1998.

I cranked out three books in three years. I considered writing a fourth. But I turned that opportunity down. While writing books for Fine Homebuilding was downright satisfying from a personal perspective, it was not all that profitable for me.

Besides, I had my sights on my own projects by then. I was publishing my Professional Kitchen Craftsman newsletter. And I produced my first two self-published books, Winning With References and The Successful Cabinet Refacer. Click Here for more details.

I called my little self-publishing business, Tradesman Publications. That initial foray into self publishing was a real learning experience. In retrospect, I had a lot of gumption. I'll say that much.

What I didn't have was enough good business sense, and I was a total amateur at publishing. In the final analysis, it takes more than God-given writing talent to be a successful newsletter publisher.

My self-publishing dreams were on hold for a few years after the Tradesman Publications phase came to a close. Then, in 1998 my family started raising chickens. That's right... chickens. Egg layers and meat birds. 

We raised the meat birds on our front lawn. You can do that sort of thing when you live out in the boonies, which is pretty much where I live. 

Raising chickens for meat (a freezer full) is actually a lot of fun. What isn't fun is butchering those chickens when they've fattened up. Stick with me here—this is directly related to my writing career...

The worst part of butchering chickens is plucking them by hand after you dunk them in scalding hot water. It's an awful bad experience hand-plucking chickens. You know this if you've ever done it. It's something you never forget.

So, I did some research on chicken plucking machines. I found out that they are available but they are much too expensive for your average homesteader with a small flock of meat birds. However, it appeared to me that I ought to be able to make a chicken plucking machine of my own.

Long story short, that's what I did. And I powered it with the green motor off that homemade disc sander you can see in the photo above. 

Here I am holding a couple of just-plucked, 
homegrown chickens. Simply turn the plucker on, 
drop the birds in, and 15 seconds later, 
all the feathers are gone! 

Then, of course, I had to write a plan book...

It was yet another self-published volume. The pages were paste-up mechanicals; each was a veritable handmade work of art. Once again, I didn't let my lack of publishing sophistication get in the way of producing another book.

But this time was different. The world had changed in a big way in just a few years. The internet had arrived. I was able to present my book to the masses at almost no cost. And people on the internet started telling each other about my plan book. It was a beautiful thing.

That Whizbang Chicken Plucker plan book was published in 2002. My first printing was 100 comb-bound copies made by a local quick-print shop. To date, the book has sold more than 25,000 copies.

It has been a gratifying success. My plucker plan book didn't make the NY Times best sellers list, but it did make Dave Barry's 2003 Holiday Gift Guide Literary Selection

Better yet, it was the beginning of what has become a satisfying home-based mail order business.  I've self-published several other "down-to-earth" books after the plucker plan book, and I have all kinds of other products that I make and sell.

My mail-order business is called Planet Whizbang. Stop on by someday and see what I've been up to.

This is the Planet Whizbang logo. 
It's a beet. Not a radish. 
Click Here to learn more 
about the logo.

So there you have it. That's the story of my journey as a how-to writer. Here's a relatively recent picture of me with my grandson...