Menushopping cart
Tools for Working Wood
Invest in your craft. Invest in yourself.

JOEL Joel's Blog

Two Visits From Roy Underhill


Two Visits From Roy Underhill 4I 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.

Two Visits From Roy Underhill 5That 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.

Two Visits From Roy Underhill 6I 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!
Join the conversation
06/22/2011 Steve
I spotted a Gramercy holdfast on the show recently. Now I have two things in common with Roy. That and bandaids.
06/22/2011 Christopher
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?)
06/22/2011 Mike
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.
The picture at 14th street= a.m.a.z.i.n.g!
Mr. Underhill= my hero!
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.
06/22/2011 Cedric
Coincidentally, I have been watching episodes of the Woodwright's Shop online ( 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.
06/25/2011 Steve Branam
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.
06/26/2011 Wally
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??
06/29/2011 michael astera
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
Comments are closed.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the blog's author and guests and in no way reflect the views of Tools for Working Wood.
JOEL Joel's Blog
BEN Built-It Blog
BREN Video Roundup
EVT Classes & Events
WORK Work Magazine
Newer Entries...
JOELA Walk On The Bowery - 09/08/2011
JOELA Visit to the Met with Chris Pye - 08/16/2011
JOELIn Which I Start a Course in Woodcarving With Chris Pye - 08/09/2011
JOELBoston - The Old South Church - 08/02/2011
JOELIn Which We Build a Ridiculously Simple Chair - 07/26/2011
JOELBuilding the Gramercy Tools Turning Saw - The Video - 07/19/2011
JOELIf You Loved The Joiner and Cabinet Maker You Will... - 07/12/2011
JOELA Look At The Work of David Yepez - 07/05/2011
JOELSummertime and the Living is Easy - Except You Might Want To Sit Down - 06/28/2011
JOELTwo Visits From Roy Underhill - 06/22/2011
JOELHappy Father's Day from Tools for Working Wood - 06/17/2011
JOELHow Chisels Work - Part 1 - 06/14/2011
JOELI Go To Festoool Training and Find Out About Splinter Guards on Jigsaws - 06/09/2011
JOELQuick Update - Price Reductions on Festool Jigsaws and Other News - 06/02/2011
JOELMaking (and How To Make) Folding Knives in Sheffield England - 05/31/2011
JOELI Learned Something New - Native American Woodworking - 05/26/2011
JOELThe New Festool CXS Cordless Drill and a Look Back At The Early Days of Cordless - 05/24/2011
JOELHow to Pre-Sell a New Book in 1879 - 05/19/2011
JOELFour Sharpening Station Solutions. - 05/17/2011
JOELSawing Straight Pt 2, The Alexander Technique, and Craftsmanship - 05/11/2011
Older Entries...