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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

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Showing 67 comments
  • 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.

  • 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!”

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.



  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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

  • AlanWS

    I like them all, but if “The Spirit of Woodcraft” (episode 2607 — it’s still available for streaming) were the only episode and shown every week, it would still be my favorite show.

  • srjaynes

    The Woodwright’s Shop is the ONLY woodworking show my wife enjoys with me. All others, I’m on my own. With only a year between us, Roy and I have become Sr. Citizens together. I’ve actually been woodworking longer than he has, but he’s got LOTS more hours at it, in matters of hand tool woodworking I’m comfortable deferring to his wisdom. I wasn’t allowed to use power tools until I was 13, so I’m gratified to see someone who stuck with the finer skills have hand tools. I especially subscribe to his wisdom there’s almost always multiple excellent ways to accomplish the same woodworking task. Seems I always pick up yet another tidbit with each watching of any episode new or old.

    I doubt I’ve missed an episode with the reruns now on the digital “extra” PBS channels. Some of my favorites have been the very early episodes where Roy tackled a “Campaign Canteen” and with the dialogs between him and some of his many notable guests.

    Congratulations to putting the muscles power back into American woodworking!

    BTW, we were without power to the house for nearly a week a few years back. I managed to build two step stools and a small table that week with the TV out and the power tools silent. It was very nice, but I must confess that with my limited time available for the shop, I do appreciate the power plane, bandsaw, and jointer for prepping stock. Yet, there’s seldom a project that doesn’t get some hand sawing, planing, or sanding before the job is done.

    Steve J.
    Portland, OR

  • Ken

    I’ve enjoyed a lot of the episodes with Chris as a guest. The two of them have a sort of charisma that feeds off each other, I think related to both of their love for the craft.

    A very rewarding experience for me was recently when Roy agreed to be a Guest Instructor for our Outreach Program where we teach woodworking skills to members of the Wounded Warriors Project. He taught hand-cut dovetails to a group of about half-dozen warriors and as always put on a show that was to be remembered. This was at a shop in Liberty, NC as part of the Outreach Program.

    I was one of the lucky volunteers helping out with setup and being a safety monitor for the session. A very rewarding experience and we certainly appreciate Roy’s contribution to the cause.

    A good time was had by all.

    – Ken

  • Steve Frankenberger

    The Woodwright’s Shop has been the driving force in my understanding of my hobby. I have come to appreciate that the older technology of woodworking involved a superior level of knowledge than just turning on the table saw and powering my way through a piece of store-bought, kiln dried, sawn to dimension lumber. The traditional methods are just as effective as contemporary methods, you just have to work a whole lot smarter. The Woodwright’s Shop has been a fixture in my home since the beginning.

  • rorymoulton

    My goodness. You might as well ask me to name my favorite Dead song or single malt (Brown-eyed Woman and Oban. No, wait, Peggy-O and Lagavulin. Or, maybe…).
    My local PBS does not carry Roy, so I’m relegated to watching recent seasons online. I bought a shopclass subscription solely for the purpose of catching up on the oldies. I’m 31, so viewing the old seasons has been quite a walk down memory lane. If you’re on the fence about buying a streaming subscription, let me shamelessly plug it by saying it’s been worth every penny just for vintage Roy.
    I’m partial to big-haired Roy. I love the whetstone-quarry episode, but consider panel frame and dovetail to be my favorite because it motivated me to start dovetailing. And that’s the point after all, right?
    My dad and I will be taking a mortise and tenon and dovetail class with Roy this summer at his school. Can’t wait.

  • esincox

    What is my favorite episode of The Woodwright’s Shop?

    The answer is long enough to be a blog entry…

  • lastwordsmith

    I’m not sure I have a favorite, but I’ve watched his episode on spoon carving with Peter Follansbee. Those two could just bounce off each other for hours, I’ll bet.

    My kids’ favorite episode, however, is the one with Chris Schwarz and the Anarchist’s Tool Chest. They think hiding in a tool chest is really, really funny.

  • dreamsinwood

    My all time favorite was the log cabin building episode. Roy chopped and measured and chopped while all the time talking at a hundred miles an hour. Then when he finally rolled the log into place it wasn’t even close to fitting. He just laughed and said that was how it was done but it was supposed to fit. Always admired the complete lack of ego and reshooting that final scene. Shows him to be pretty calm in his skin.

  • Petersontools64

    I’d watched Roy off and on through the years, even before I’d restored a tool or worked any wood. I suspect I was drawn to Roy, as my dad, a master furniture maker, and master ship’s joiner for the US Navy used hand tools…Roy reminded me, of my own life’s journey, and what I’d witnessed in Dad’s (our) shop. Roy’s skill set, was also a reminder that Dad imbued within me: “no matter what your life’s journey, it’s a skills thing.” As I embarked on my “new” apprenticeship, making levels, plumb bobs, and squares, Roy, provided a visual sequence of purposeful focus and discipline, something I truly relished, that re-connected me to a legacy that was indeed active in my health care and teaching journey, but was needed in my “wood” journey. One episode that stands out? For me, that’s not likely…all I’ve seen provided me perspective, to get up and do, as it were. However, the first items I made, were Roy’s sawhorses and while doing them, I remembered, that these were exactly like the one’s my dad had made so many years ago.

  • roblesj

    I have several favorite shows: the one where he made a water tight box. The saw horse one.

    Mr. Underhill came to the Seattle, Washington WoodCraft store a few years back where I was delighted to see him in person. He was just as personable and knowledgeable in person as he appears on his shows. I was amazed at how sharp his chisels were/are and how simple he made sharpening appear.


  • arwade

    Mr Underhill is a good woodworker with hand tools and, presumably, machine tools as well. However, I served my time with hand tool woodworking some 60 years ago and I’m no fan of doing anything the hard way! Furthermore, I subscribe to eight or so woodworking magazines for the project plans, not editorial comment about the practitioners of the trade. At the expense of being a curmudgeon, I’d rather see no further articles about hand cutting dovetail joints; building Adirondack chairs by hand or machine; articles about other woodworkers and their furniture or TV personality woodworkers other than “The New Yankee Workshop;” continually repeated “tips;” or articles written from manufacturers’ public relations material. I’m also realist enough that–I hope–new blood is coming into the trade/hobby as time goes along so a certain amount of repetition is inevitable. Spare me the flames, please. You have your opinions, I have mine. I’ll share mine when asked but I don’t try to impose them on anyone else.

  • mmyjak

    There is one episode that sticks with me to this day, yet I don’t know the episode title. In this memory of mine, Roy is involved in making a wagon wheel – everything involved, from turning the Elm hub, through constructing the Ash Fellows, to welding the ironworks for and installing the Tire, that simply mesmerized me. Roy talked about the the different character of each specie of wood, it’s strengths, and its weaknesses. Each specie had a different part to play in the construction of this otherwise simple wheel. Roy referenced the Wright Brothers, and how they applied this knowledge to their craft. (*Its what allowed them to construct the Wright Flyer – a strong, stable, and light-weight airplane using only natural materials.) I think this is what charmed me – the strengths (and weaknesses) found in each different specie of wood. Sadly, this seems to be a lost art today. We’re far to preoccupied with how things look and how much it will cost to consider these other ‘minor’ attributes.

  • cutmantom

    the one where he is doing hobo carving i think thats what it was called and he told the story of the hoop snakes and the antlers a guy said he had in his barn that was something like 16 ft from tip to tip

  • Cosmo

    I agree with Woon Man Dan. I really enjoyed the “Spirit of Woodworking episode and I saved that episode on my computer and I’ll bet I’ve viewed it 10 times. Almost every episode is a history lesson. Megan, I agree with you as I find the metal working episode very interesting.

  • djkos

    Like Megan, I remember watching my first Woodwright’s Shop episode in my first decade years with my father. The first episode that we viewed was Roy constructing a shaving horse and all I can remember is him referring to the head of the horse as a dummkopf. My dad and I, having no idea what that meant at the time, got a real kick out of the term. So when we were discussing the episode with a few neighbors and couldn’t remember Roy’s name, he became known as dummkopf. I am sorry to report that in our house Roy is still, very affectionately, referred to as dummkopf. Roy has taught us a great appreciation for traditional woodworking and I now find myself seeking out hand tools for purchase and use while my power tools are slowly being pushed aside. I just saw the note that DVDs of the early episodes are being released. I will definitely be in line to purchase those for my collection!

  • Wood Man Dan

    My favorite episode is “The Spirit of Woodcraft” in the 2006-2007 season. Roy is at his very best, weaving philosophy, Jedi spirituality, history, woodworking and wonderful humor. I’ve watched it several times and never get tired of it.

    Another favorite goes way back, at least 15-20 years, I think. It’s an anniversary show, filled with outtakes and “bloopers” from the previous several years. It had me rolling in laughter. I wish I could see it again.

  • jeffreyi

    My neighbor videotaped a bunch of episodes from the first one to about 1985 or so. I’ve watched them a couple of times now, and I like them all and learn something every time. Some classics: I really enjoyed the episode with Roy’s impossibly cute little daughter, and the one with the golden retriever (made a doghouse with some dogwood) as well as the one where Roy scrounges some goodies from the dump and visits with interesting characters at the flea market.
    The rifle building one and the others from Colonia Williamsburg were really neat, too. They are all good, and it would be nice if they were available on DVD.

  • lspepsi14

    I don’t think you can really define a best or favorite episode. One can come away with something in every one that I have seen. I just wish there was a way to see those early shows that I had missed. Would PBS have an archive link or would that be connected to Roy’s web page?

  • jonpile

    Favorite episode – no question, The Spirit of Woodcraft. Episode 2607.

    Megan – thanks for this post. I too was permanently warped by Roy’s program around the age of 11 or so. It is crystal clear in my mind – he was spinning a table leg on a spring-pole lathe (the kind where if the cord breaks, the pole knocks the shingles off the roof).

    That image opened up the idea that you could build your own tools, not be hamstrung by a lack of expensive power equipment, and joyfully make amazing stuff. Woodworking, the electron-free kind, has been a major part of my life since then.

    Recently I met Roy, and I tried – but likely failed – to explain to him how important his work has been to me. But that’s okay.

    Extremely jealous that you have recently watched some of the earlier episodes. There are a lot of us that would like to see those again.


  • Jim McCoy

    I started watching Roy around 1985 and I have a bunch of shows from that era on VHS. I don’t think there’s ever been a show I didn’t like, but the shows with Peter Ross have always touched an ancient part of me. Maybe I was a blacksmith in a previous life. I guess my favorite “show” was the series of episodes where Roy went into the woods and built a log cabin (with hand tools of course). When the show about Dick Proenneke aired on PBS the first thing I thought of was Roy’s log cabin. Reading Roy’s “Woodwright” books have provided me with a lot of enjoyment over the years too but I’d buy a DVD collection of The Woodwright’s Shop in a heartbeat. I have a bunch of friends who would too. We are extremely lucky here in New Mexico. We get to watch episodes of Roy three times a week here – every Saturday at noon and twice a week on the Create Channel. Not as good as seeing him in person but it helps.

  • 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.

  • bgrimes

    Perhaps modesty won’t allow Megan to tell us that episode #3107 can be viewed here:

    Nice job on the “joint stoool”, Megan. As a child of the ’60’s, I thought this episode was about something to do with hemp. Peace.

  • 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).

  • Seamus

    The Blooper & Outtakes episode of course!

    or, for a “serious” episode

    Don Webber’s first appearance #2102

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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?????

  • 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. 🙂

  • 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.

  • Chefeddie

    The one that sticks out in my mind was when he was working with the wheel wrights and uses water to set the iron band on the wood.

  • Wilbur

    Susan Cooper? As in “The Dark Is Rising”? Those books scared the crap out of me when I was younger and read them for the first time.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • mgiles

    2513 – Restoring Jefferson’s and Madison’s homes. The path of John Hemings made this episode special.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • Bowyerboy

    Ok, here’s a cop-out. My favorite is always the last one I’ve seen.


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