What’s Your Favorite Roy Episode?

Recently, I had the distinct pleasure of watching some of Roy Underhill’s earliest episodes of “The Woodwright’s Shop” – a PBS show he’s been filming since 1979 at UNC-TV in Chapel Hill, N.C. The photo to the left is a screen capture of Roy from what I think is the first season – possibly even the first episode, because in it, he’s introducing the overarching objective of “The Woodwright’s Shop,” and telling viewers what they’ll be seeing as the season progresses. It’s awesome; I wish I could share it with you.

In 1979, I was 11 years old and cared a lot more about soccer, horseback riding and reading Susan Cooper than just about anything else, but I have hazy recollections of turning on the television as a pre-teen only to see Roy’s smiling face (I must have been misbehaving though, because I wasn’t allowed to watch much TV – or maybe I was visiting with my grandparents; my grandfather trained as a cabinetmaker when he was a young man, and took up woodworking as a hobby later in life).

Since I’ve become keenly interested in woodworking in the last decade, I’ve tried to catch as many episodes of “The Woodwright’s Shop” as possible (except episode 3107; that one…I just can’t). And now, having seen (or perhaps re-seen?) some of the earliest shows, I’m astounded by how very little Roy, his love for traditional craft and his on-screen demeanor have changed. He’s now filming what I think is the 33rd season, and he remains every bit as enthusiastic as he was when he started. And he’s still wearing the same hat.

But I have to say, my absolute favorite episodes aren’t about woodworking. I guess it’s because I like learning about new things – and while no doubt every expert he has on the show (not to mention from Roy himself) has something to teach me, I’m most intrigued by the tinsmiths and lock makers and blacksmiths and seat weavers, because I know nothing about those crafts. Or maybe I just haven’t see the absolute best woodworking episodes yet.

So I’m interested in hearing in the comments below about your favorite show(s) – especially if you’ve been watching for three decades. Do you have a preferred season or a favorite guest? Do you prefer Roy when his hat was still pristine or now that it has (more than) a few miles on it – or somewhere in between?

Heck – maybe it’s impossible to narrow it down. I have yet to see an episode I didn’t enjoy. Roy’s sheer joy at sharing traditional craft always shines through, and that’s a delight to watch – no matter what the topic.

— Megan Fitzpatrick

67 thoughts on “What’s Your Favorite Roy Episode?

  1. davelehardt

    Just started in on the ’06 -’07 season and all are great. But I have to say the Spirit of Woodworking with quotes from Star Wars, Monty Python, and Caddyshack make this one my favorite so far – mixing some of my favorite movies with his great knowledge of woodworking.

  2. McDara

    I started watching in 88′ and I remember thinking, I wish I had started learning that kind of woodworking as a young person, because now I’m too old to develop those skills. 20 years later and I realize I was full of hovno (czech term for excrement).

  3. rickb

    The episodes that he and Chris have done together can be a little corny, but they have a good on screen chemistry that seems genuine. Plus there is the added benefit of watching both at once. Oh and one he did with Mike Dunbar.

  4. taco58bell

    Possible favorite: the several episode building of a treadle lathe and a jig-saw attachment that went with it. But I particularly am fond of the ‘travelogue’ episodes in open-air museums where he details the skills of woodworking traditions. This is the only show that combines woodworking, crafts, history, the trades, sociology, …all in a show that PBS calls a “how-to”.

    But you have opened a can-o-worms with the admission that you have seen an early episode. Where these might be found is a hot internet sleuthing topic. I have been collecting episodes and in the last year came into possession of a home-taped collection going back into the ’80s. Almost complete. And I am the envy for it.

    Where, oh where, have you found your source?

  5. jagriz

    Probably the one at Colonial Williamsburg with blacksmith Dave Harvey as Dave explained the bloomery process for making iron. This involved taking bog iron from the swamp through the bloomery process to the point where a usable iron bar was created. Why did I like it? Because, as I recall, it was Ken Schwartz whom kicked Roy to get his attention that it was time for the next step. This happened while Roy prattled on with Dave and wasn’t watching Ken. I thought that was an amusing way to queue someone… My next favorite would have to be 3107.

  6. MarkSchreiber

    I first discovered Roy when I returned from overseas in 1984. I just began collecting antique woodworking tools and was immediately hooked on his show. I know I wasted many Saturday mornings waiting for his show to come on.

    I have many favorites but the show I most would like to see again is the one on sash joinery. I am facinated with making sash windows for my workshop.

    I agree with you GregM, I think think there may be a something coming soon. Please?????

  7. andrae

    They’re all my favorite, but I think generally the best shows for me are either when Roy visits a historical village or, as Megan mentioned, when he has guests on the show talking about something other than making furniture. As much as I appreciate the woodworking techniques, I mostly enjoy the show for the history and Roy’s goofiness.

    I started watching regularly about ten years ago. I would love to see earlier episodes, such as the human hamster wheel. :)

  8. degennarod

    As a teacher, my favorite was Roy’s tour of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home. I used a VHS copy for many years with my sixth grade students to get them interested in history.This program is very emotional for me because it humanized Jefferson, made me feel connected to someone I could never know who lived so long ago, but with whom I shared a passion for design and building. If you’ve seen the program, you’ll never look at a nickel the same way again.

    1. Megan Fitzpatrick Post author

      Yup – I re-read that series, and/or all of Jane Austen, whenever I need to stop thinking about other things. Good books can always distract me from my troubles ;-)

  9. gatsby1923

    Not sure I can pick a fav, but the woodwright has been on one year longer than I have been alive! As a small child I loved watching Roy work! I have grown up with the show. The oldest episode I remember was one where he made some whirlygigs and a whistle with nothing but a pocket knife.

  10. Bob Miller

    Where did you get access to early episodes? I have been wanting to watch all of the episodes (they started playing before I was born so I never got a chance to see them first run). Are the old ones available digital anywhere like the new ones are. Or am I stuck buying them all on VHS(betamax?) on some kind of kind of St. Roy video black market?

      1. GregM

        Methinks somthing’s afoot – and you may have let a little too much of the proverbial feline out of the bag.

        Not naming any names, but while on an educational sojourn in a small North Carolina town last year, a behatted and mustachioed woodworker alluded to the possibility of a certain “popular” magazine working to make available older episodes of public bradcasting’s longest-running how-to series …

        (blame Joel for this – ever since the Work magazine re-issue, I’ve been talking all funny).

        So, what *can* you say?

      2. Jon

        I could be wrong but I’m pretty sure that Roy Underhill owns the rights to the older seasons of the woodwright’s shop. How far back that goes I don’t know. I think it would be up to him to have the older tape converted to some sort of digital media. Roy has said some of the info/techniques he’s demonstrated in the older shows is not correct – he’s been learning much of this too as he goes along.
        Still, I’d love to have the full run so far on DVD. It should be easy enough to add commentary of extra footage correcting any of the old shows on a DVD.
        If Norm could have new Yankee workshop air on the diynetwork (that was a while ago), then why not Roy?

        I have several favorites. One is the recent on where he is making a new crutch – wine glasses(!) in the wood shop, and he seems like he can hardly stop from loosing it when he starts using that antique strap on router.
        My favorite projects were the revolving Jefferson Windsor chair, and the Jefferson revolving book stand. The jefferson chair is not available online, unfortunately.

  11. Gene

    Episode 1513: “Climbing a Colonial Steeple.” The camera follows Roy as he climbs the inside of a steeple (in Williamsburg, I think) and teaches through the materials, toolmarks, etc. The moment that really sticks with me, though, is when Roy shows us a child’s handprint on one of the bricks. It shows that young children were involved in making those bricks, patting them into the molds, etc. More than a toolmark, that link to a real, individual person made an impression. That mental image has stuck with me for years.

  12. mitchellm

    1979 aye? That was the year before I was born. I, like others above have only been able to see the episodes available online. I would gladdly by the old seasons if they were made available on DVD. As for my favorite its impossible to pin down but I’ve seen 3107 several times and it’s high on my list.

  13. renaissanceww

    I wish I could answer this accurately as there is so much of the show I haven’t seen. My local PBS started carrying it about 5 years ago and it only lasted one season. Since then I have only been able to see what is online. I’d bet that if UNC TV were to produce DVDs of past seasons there would be legions of people ready to buy. Megan maybe you can exercise your influence and oratory prowess to let them know this? So in a kind of response to the original question, the episode I WANT to see the most is the one shown in the closing credits where Roy is in the giant hamster wheel.

  14. TTalma

    I like all of the ones I’ve seen, but the episode from a few years back, I think called the “zen of woodworking” or something like that is probably my favorite. As I was only 7 when Roy started, and my PBS where I grew up didn’t carry Roy I have only been a regular viewer for about 8 years. So where can I get a hold of those early episodes of the woodwright’s shop? I’d love to see the 25 years worth that I’ve missed!

    1. stewart-eh

      That’s my favourite episode as well – #2607. It was called the “Spirit of Woodcraft”. I can’t remember when I started watching his show, but it wasn’t long after the beginning of the series. (I’m about the same age as Roy.)

      1. AlanWS

        I like them all, but “The Spirit of Woodcraft” is my favorite too. It’s on the PBS website in the 06-07 season listing. I hope it does not fall off when they put up the next year’s set, since I need to watch it every now and then.

        I’m a cheapskate who’d much rather rescue an old tool and bring it back to full function than buy a new tool that functions well from the start. But I’ll pay to see the early Woodwright episodes I missed.

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