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. Tom Robb

    I watch the show because I like the hand tool stuff.
    What I don’t like is the single camera/no editing, scrambling to find the next tool, bit of timber or whatever – the chaos is absurd. Don’t the producers plan ahead?
    I also get really annoyed with the way he grabs things from guests hands. It’s rude at best. I don’t understand why his guests put up with it.
    Feel free to forward this to him or his people.

  2. geppetto425

    I love all his shows and his command of hand tools and how easily he makes it look always astounds me. But I’ll always remember the first show I ever saw, he was in the middle of making a log cabin and he was using a two man large bow saw by himself to cut the opening through those thick logs for the door! Not knowing he was just a hand tool guy I still remember screaming at the TV “Chainsaw, chainsaw!”

  3. akrouse

    I too, like Rpy. I have watched him for the past 30 years. The PBS station here has quit airing the show for some reason, but I am glad I can still watch on the “net”. Roy got me started in traditional woodworking, and I almost shut the power off to my shop because of him, but i realized I needed to see after it got dark.
    I really don’t have a favorite episode. I think that the one that i am watching at the moment would be the favorite.

  4. degennarod

    My favorite episode has always been Roy’s tour of Monticello – Thomas Jefferson’s home. I used the video for many years when I taught sixth grade history. Roy’s narration, his choice of segments to focus on (the tiny upper window beneath the dome, as seen on our nickels), his reflections on the meaning of a man’s life, etc., still call up feelings of deep nostalgia. I’ve also met Roy several times, and you’re right, he’s the same in person; warm, very funny, and best of all, he lets you try out his tools!

  5. akrouse

    I have been watching Roy for about 30 years or more, and have enjoyed every episode i saw. I have recorded them, and watched them so often that I have worn the tapes out, (yes the TAPES, Remember the VCR tapes!).
    Roy about had me convinced to turn the power off to my shop, and i almost dit, but I realized I needed to see when i worked after dark. ( I guess i could have used a candle!!).
    Our PBS station here in Houston has quit airing Roy”s shows, so I am glad to be able to see them again on CDs. I havn’t bought any yet, but Fathers Day is coming.



  6. tpobrienjr

    My favorite Roy episode wasn’t on TV at all. When our kids were 6 and 8, respectively, we took them to visit Colonial Williamsburg, and who did we see but Roy Underhill, the Housewright, in the Carpenter’s Yard. He let the kids work a pole lathe, and then put them to work with a two-kid saw, slicing a big slab off the end of a white oak log. If I remember right, that’s when I heard the best-ever Roy joke – about the fate of the saw pit when steam-powered saws came along: they were cut up and sold for post holes!

  7. navy1

    I have enjoyed just about everything that Roy has built, or talked about. What stands out the most to me is his methodology is very much like that of both my grandfathers, and my own father. They were all “old school”, no power tools, just very old, and well used hand tools. They also made some very beautiful work, out of recycled wood from barns and other old buildings. The ancient chestnut wood that they used was so beautiful, and stable. Most of it was at least 150 years old from the first usage, plus however old the tree was when cut. I am weaning myself from depending on so many power tools, and find the hand planning, jointing, and sharpening to be almost therapeutic. It also fosters the connection with my ancestors when I take up their old tools, and build with them. When hand planning with a well sharpened and keenly honed antique plane, it is sometimes almost hypnotic, hearing the tool do it’s job, and see the shavings accumulate, and with a thickness so fine, that I can read a newspaper thru it.

  8. dkemp

    We just returned from a month long vacation in NC. We stayed at a place out near the beaches but I worked things out so that I could attend a one day session at Roy’s Woodwright School. I am a relative newcomer to woodworking and took the dovetail and mortise session hoping to build a solid foundation of hand tool skills. What a great experience it was and I recommend it to any one who gets the chance.

    Roy was entertaining, informative, patient, and many other traits that we see on his show. I came away a much better woodworker with a better understanding of how hand tools work and are most enjoyable to use. I used portions of the remainder of our vacation to build a Shaker style clock entirely using hand tools (full disclosure the parts were rough milled using power tools before we left home). And I used the “milkman’s bench” clamped to a patio table to do all the work.

    As for my most favourite episode I am still catching up on online ones and can’t decide as of yet. I must admit The Spirit of Woodcraft did bring a smile to my face, especially the hand puppet portion.

    Cheers, Dave

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