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 Joel's Blog at Tools for Working Wood

Two Visits From Roy Underhill  

06/22/2011

I have learned a lot from a lot of teachers over the years but the single most important lesson that got me started was a visit by Roy Underhill back in the early 1980's.
I was always looking for TV shows on woodworking and while I liked "This Old House" I didn't really connect with the endless installations of windows, landscaping, and other home remodeling. Then one day I turned on my TV and there was this woodwright guy with an axe over his shoulder making stuff. And it didn't look hard when he did it. My own woodworking at the time had reached a plateau where I could do really small model making properly but actually doing joinery seems totally, for reasons I didn't understand, impossible. Roy in those days was a weekly visitor to my house, and 1/2 hour at a time, except during pledge week, I saw what you could do with wood and the tools I had read about in Eric Sloane's "Museum of Woodworking Tools". But I could not get my tools to work right. Then in one episode I saw him grind a chisel, then hone it in a few seconds, and then do a razor sharp cut. A lightbulb went off in my head. My tools were simply not sharp. I owe it to Roy's infectious enthusiasm and ability to explain things in ways that register to get me off my butt and make me realize that if I wanted to build anything I needed to learn the basics. This is what started me on my trek to where I am today.

That was the first visit. In the past years as I have become involved in the woodworking industry I had the pleasure of getting to know Roy personally, and just a week or so ago he decided to take a short vacation with his wife Jane and visit the Big Apple. This of course was our opportunity to show him our town. In the first picture Roy is standing next to what we call an "urban tree". in the next picture Roy teaches by example and shows Tim and Ben what a clean shop looks like and explains that a clean shop is a happy shop. In the third photo Roy explains how he should never be allowed near post colonial metalworking machines.

I should also mention that during his visit a customer dropped in the store and needed advice on turning tools. As I am a mediocre turner I asked Roy for his advice. Patiently he explained to the customer, who had never done any turning, which tools made the most sense to buy first, and how each tool was used. The customer was happy and just watching I once again learned a lot from Roy.

Roy, it was a pleasure seeing you again. We were all thrilled at your visit. I hope you enjoyed the rest of your trip and thanks for everything.

By the way (if you don't know this you should). Roy Underhill has opened a woodworking school that has been getting rave reviews - check it out here!
Tags:Misc.
Comments: 9
06/22/2011Steve 
I spotted a Gramercy holdfast on the show recently. Now I have two things in common with Roy. That and bandaids.
06/22/2011Christopher 
Wow, how cool to be able to have that opportunity to meet such a great mentor face to face.

(Just curious - because I'm starting to get into turning myself - but you don't happen to remember what turning tools Roy recommended, do you?)
06/22/2011Mike 
I have taken three classes at the Woodwright's School, and can honestly say that they are fantastic. Roy and his fellow instructors are great and entertaining teachers, and I learned a lot during my three days with them. I highly recommend going if you have the opportunity.
06/22/2011Niels http://materialogy.blogspot.com/
The picture at 14th street= a.m.a.z.i.n.g!
Mr. Underhill= my hero!
06/22/2011joel http://www.toolsforworkingwood.com
The tools Roy recommended were all scrapers. The customer had never turned before, had a specific project in mind, and didn't have any means of getting format instruction. I would have recommended regular turning tools, but Roy was right here - scrapers got the customer on the scoreboard fast, and allowed her to accomplish her project with a very small learning curve.
06/22/2011Cedric 
Coincidentally, I have been watching episodes of the Woodwright's Shop online (pbs.org) before work in the morning, before dinner, before bed at night and any free time in between for the past week or so. I think I was originally turned off by the suspenders and the outfit and thought it was just a novelty show at first, but after giving Roy Underhill an honest chance I've been enlightened. Particularly inspiring was his episode on "The Spirit of Woodcraft" in the 2006-2007 season.
06/25/2011Steve Branam http://www.CloseGrain.com
I too went from watching "that crazy guy bouncing around in North Carolina" to appreciating the incredible amount of information he packs into a single episode. Now I can't get enough.
06/26/2011Wally 
Hey Joel, Do you recall what turning tools Roy recommended...I would love to know this as iI am "that guy", like the person that came into your store that day and was lucky enough to get advise from Roy personally. Would really appreciate knowing what tools Roy suggested or recommended to that person. Can you help??
06/29/2011michael astera http://soilminerals.com
Roy Underhill is who gave me the confidence and inspiration to do "real" woodworking. I've only seen part of one of his shows, as I never have had any patience with TV; I learned from his first book, The Woodwright's Shop, that I checked out from the library.

At the time, I had no money for tools. I started with a beat-up worn out "transition" jack plane, a 1/4 inch Buck Bros chisel that I bought at a junk store, and some sort of hand saw that I don't recall. Before long I was hand-cutting dovetails by eye. I went on to read all of his books and raised my kids while making a living as a custom woodworker, building everything from jewelry boxes to timber frames, cradles to coffins. I also managed to gather together nearly every hand tool I saw pictured in his books.

As time went on I collected my own copies of all of his books, which I treasure. Recently I ordered a new copy of The Woodwright's Shop along with his newest book, The Woodwright's Guide (2008) with excellent, clear line drawings by his daughter Eleanor. If you don't have his books, get them.

Roy, if you read this, know that you made this guy's life a lot fuller and more fun. Thanks.

Michael Astera
Porlamar, Venezuela
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