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February 20, 2016 8:47 PM   Subscribe

For over 35 years, Roy Underhill has shared his love of American woodcraft. Using only the hand tools of early America, Roy proves that woodworking doesn’t have to be noisy, dangerous or expensive. His insights into the principles of the craft reveal the enduring relationship between tools and material — between the human hand and the creations of culture. 142 episodes of the Woodwright's Shop is available free of charge from PBS. Each episode features construction of a woodworking project using traditional methods or a lesson on use of a traditional tool or technique. posted by Mitheral (42 comments total) 120 users marked this as a favorite
 
Used to watch him all the time when I was a kid. When I saw this post, I thought Roy had passed.
posted by LoveHam at 8:53 PM on February 20, 2016 [6 favorites]


We used to watch it all the time when I was a kid, too. I had a relative who looked just like him (sadly, I think that relative actually has passed).
posted by dirigibleman at 8:56 PM on February 20, 2016


Good Lord, don't scare me like that!

For over 35 years, Roy Underhill, who is very much still alive and kicking, has shared his love of American woodcraft.
posted by damo at 9:06 PM on February 20, 2016 [4 favorites]


One of the great things about getting old is not seeing it in others.

Watched show one and counting.
Quite a skill set being able to construct a workshop with an axe, file, and claw. The Campaign Furniture segments with Chistopher Swartz are always fun. His 'The stupidest glue-up ever' is required reading for glueing-up. Yup, your a woodie if you salvage a river stump then age it for five years.

Thanks for this.
posted by clavdivs at 9:08 PM on February 20, 2016


Yessssssss.
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:56 PM on February 20, 2016


I am in perpetual terror of power lathes. He has a treadle lathe??? *I* want a treadle lathe! It looks so fun, working to get up a good amount of momentum, and not arm-ripping-off-with-cruel-uncaring-blind-power at all! I can make bowls this way, yes.

They do not sell treadle lathes at the local Harbor Freight, I am sad to report, only the electric and steel rip-your-arm-off ones.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:27 PM on February 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


Roy Underhill is an actual honest-to-God national treasure.
posted by eriko at 10:34 PM on February 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


Roy Underhill is a really interesting person, too. He used to live on a radical socialist commune, and much of his motivation for the show has been explicitly motivated by his beliefs about sustainability. He worked at Colonial Williamsburg, but left because the slave quarters were depicted as shabby, which he felt was an injustice to the skill of the African-American laborers who would have built them. He's always highlighted folkcraft and traditional methods of different ethnic groups, both in the US and around the world, and you can tell he's always genuinely fascinated by what his guests have to say.

Also, he just seems like a really nice guy.
posted by teponaztli at 10:36 PM on February 20, 2016 [18 favorites]


They do not sell treadle lathes at the local Harbor Freight, I am sad to report, only the electric and steel rip-your-arm-off ones.


If you have the time, the money, and are within striking distance of Pittsboro, N.C., you can build one with Roy himself!
posted by teponaztli at 10:39 PM on February 20, 2016 [6 favorites]


Roy Underhill is a legend!
posted by cman at 10:54 PM on February 20, 2016


I've never heard of this before (being not from the broadcast area that PBS covers), but what a great find. Thanks!
posted by nonspecialist at 11:24 PM on February 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


It's even available outside the US. Yay! (Now to figure out how to download the videos...)
posted by Harald74 at 11:50 PM on February 20, 2016


Oregon Public Broadcasting used to have his show on right after New Yankee Workshop, where Norm would build a OK chair out of expensive wood and buckets of glue, all while using $50,000 worth of power tools.

Then Roy would come on and be like, "Hey, let's build a cabinet with this string, a sapling, and a rusty thimble I found in the shed! Let's go!" The amount of effort he puts into his craft is amazing.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 12:11 AM on February 21, 2016 [22 favorites]


Popular woodworking has previews of much of the first 18 seasons on youtube to flog his DVDs. The 20th Anniversary Show is there in it's entirety and it's a fun clip shop if you are a fan.

He builds a spring pole lathe in Season 4 Episode 2 (preview).

A youtube search brings up a hit or miss smattering of some other older full episodes.
posted by Mitheral at 12:38 AM on February 21, 2016


"hard-core woodworking"
posted by oheso at 4:49 AM on February 21, 2016


Norm would build a OK chair out of expensive wood and buckets of glue, all while using $50,000 worth of power tools.

I bet you're underestimating the cost of those tools. His shop is the size of a small aircraft hanger, and if he doesn't have at least one of every available power tool, he's about to get one.

Anyway, yeah -- having Roy following Norm was so satisfying. Watching Norm go from one machine to another, none of which I could afford, then seeing Roy make nice stuff using no electricity at all was inspirational.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:00 AM on February 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Good deity, watching that I could smell the sawdust!
posted by oheso at 5:16 AM on February 21, 2016


As I read this my husband is downstairs using a handplane to work on some campaign furniture he is building. This is pretty relevant!
posted by Megami at 5:20 AM on February 21, 2016


Oregon Public Broadcasting used to have his show on right after New Yankee Workshop, where Norm would build a OK chair out of expensive wood and buckets of glue, all while using $50,000 worth of power tools.

Then Roy would come on and be like, "Hey, let's build a cabinet with this string, a sapling, and a rusty thimble I found in the shed! Let's go!" The amount of effort he puts into his craft is amazing.


Omigod yes. I come from a long line of woodworkers/carpenters (always like to tell the story about how my Norwegian great-grandfather got his & his wife's boat tickets to NYC for free by being chief carpenter on the boat), and This Old House, New Yankee Workshop, and Woodwright's Shop were our staples. My grandfather preferred Roy's show – he had the hand tools and skills to show for it – while my father was a huge Norm fan and had a garage filled with stuff that could cut off your arms.

So far I have only used these skills in putting together Ikea furniture singlehandedly, but I keep hoping that someday I'll be able to find and afford nice hand tools and get back into woodworking. Thanks for this post, I loved Roy's show.
posted by fraula at 5:59 AM on February 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


They do not sell treadle lathes at the local Harbor Freight, I am sad to report, only the electric and steel rip-your-arm-off ones.

Me and the youngest son built the one in this video, you only need 2x4s, a saw and a drill: Rapid build pole lathe.

And if you like Roy Underhill, the next step is Paul Sellers.
posted by 445supermag at 6:06 AM on February 21, 2016 [10 favorites]


I've never heard of this before (being not from the broadcast area that PBS covers), but what a great find. Thanks!

This is new to me also, so this will be fun to explore.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:18 AM on February 21, 2016


His show taught me the proper way to hand chisel mortises. I love my mortising chisels.
posted by Max Power at 6:29 AM on February 21, 2016


Little did I know he played machinist for an episode, with a screw cuttin' lathe. My favorite quote from that episode "wood, schmood" ;-)

He did a REALLY good job of demonstrating the versatility of a 4 1/2 inch foot powered lathe... cutting a screw, making a center, and a taper... explaining clearly all the way... awesome.
posted by MikeWarot at 6:59 AM on February 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Worse than his immense collection of tools was Norm's reliance on his air-nailer and general shabby approach to joinery. Skills which Underhill has in spades.

And that title sequence is a cornerstone of my childhood.
posted by hwyengr at 8:35 AM on February 21, 2016


This reminds me that I have a small wood burl in my basement that I've been meaning to do something with for several years now.
posted by Ferreous at 9:04 AM on February 21, 2016


Harald74: (Now to figure out how to download the videos...)

youtube-dl can download individual videos from pbs.org.
posted by James Scott-Brown at 9:44 AM on February 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


Underhill is amazing. He does the show without a script. He does careful planning for each project. He also does the show in at most, three takes. From Wikipedia.
posted by hot_monster at 9:47 AM on February 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


The show with the band (spoiler one of them is his daughter I think) where he sings away the episode, mostly going on about his tool chest.

That is all.
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:11 AM on February 21, 2016


Did I mention it was all in one take? I think it was all one take.
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:16 AM on February 21, 2016


Chris Schwarz did a Reddit AMA and shared this small tidbit about making shows with Roy Underhill.
posted by Western Infidels at 10:36 AM on February 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


I think all of his shows are done in one take, which is why he's often really sweaty and out of breath by the end.
posted by teponaztli at 1:41 PM on February 21, 2016


Oh, nvm, that Reddit link confirms it.

My only problem with his show, and it's really not his fault, is that I've never had the space or money to get into woodworking myself. So I can only watch and wish I had the room for a shop space, a bunch of hand tools, and a bunch of wood to work with.
posted by teponaztli at 1:44 PM on February 21, 2016


Norm would build a OK chair out of expensive wood and buckets of glue, all while using $50,000 worth of power tools.

Yeah, that's true -- but don't in any way take the fact that he used power tools as any knock on Norm Abram's absolute mastery of woodworking. .

Both Roy Underhill and Norm Abram are true masters of their craft. They just pursue different variations -- Underhill is as much a historian and scholar as he is a woodworker, and Abram is as much an R&D type as he is a woodworker.
posted by eriko at 3:04 PM on February 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Always loved the show, but he was forever sporting a bloody knuckle or few by the end of each episode.

While I have no desire to make anything by such laborious methods, the shows are fascinating and educational without being dull. It seems possible that anyone could follow his instructions and actually make something.
posted by mightshould at 3:20 PM on February 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


I remember Roy Underhill as being one of my formative influences - not that I wanted to be a woodworker or carpenter, but that I just wanted to be the kinda guy who goes about his business, finds joy in his work, doesn't mind explaining what he's doing, and generally gets along with all. Actual Roy Underhill could've been a mass murderer for all I knew or cared, but the persona that he exhibited on the show was the kind of person that me at age 6-7-8 wanted to be.

And that title sequence is a cornerstone of my childhood.
I also thought his commute was cool as hell, and now I have one sorta kinda (not really) like it.
posted by eclectist at 3:29 PM on February 21, 2016


If you like Roy Underhill you might like Dick Proenneke in a dvd called Alone in the Wilderness. It is a soothing home movie about a man in his early 50's building a cabin and living in Alaska all by himself.
posted by Pembquist at 3:37 PM on February 21, 2016


but the persona that he exhibited on the show was the kind of person that me at age 6-7-8 wanted to be.

His persona is the kind of person that me at age 30 would still like to be. He's all bad puns, skilled labor, and folkcraft.
posted by teponaztli at 3:39 PM on February 21, 2016


Roy Underhill is 2/3 of the reason I got into hand tools. One episode that especially left a mark was a few years ago, I think it's the one where he makes a grease pot for the shop. Anyway, he takes a straight-up log - still got the bark on it and everything - whacks it once with a froe, pries off a slab, goes over it with a hand plane for about ten seconds, and now it's a board. The machine-tool process for making a board out of a log takes about twenty times as long and requires a bandsaw, jointer, table saw, and planer, along with hearing protection, safety goggles, and a dust mask.

But I still can't find a froe that doesn't cost like $150. It's a dead-simple tool, but there's apparently only about twenty people in the world who want to buy one. I keep hoping for a lucky find at an antique store or flea market...
posted by echo target at 5:57 PM on February 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


But I still can't find a froe that doesn't cost like $150...

Making a Froe from an old farriers rasp in under 2 minutes.

posted by 445supermag at 7:12 PM on February 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Lee Valley is not always the cheapest place however $60 seems somewhat reasonable for a froe.
posted by Mitheral at 8:06 PM on February 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


I keep hoping for a lucky find at an antique store or flea market...

Speaking of, if any of you wonderful people are wanting to get rid of a functional 1- or 2- man crosscut and/or rip saw for timber cutting, please give me a holler.
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:55 AM on February 24, 2016


I propose woodworking.metafilter.com.
posted by Harald74 at 2:01 AM on February 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


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