My goal in life, aside from being better than sliced bread, is to engineer and entertain. I want to make things and entertain people. Roy Underhill does this effortlessly. The main instructor of the Woodwright’s School and personality of The Woodwright’s Shop also enlightens, engages, and educates like a fish swims.
The school is in downtown Pittsboro, NC. It is a quaint town that has not forgotten its 1785 establishment. While waiting for Roy to open the school, I chatted with my classmates. Most of them were from North Carolina and the rest were from the East Coast. Out of no where, Roy turns the corner carrying a 10 foot board of tulip poplar with a box of donuts balancing on it. Clad in a gray vest, a flat cap, and a smile, I was surprised when “Kildare’s Fancy” was not playing.
Our benches were decorated with models of the joints we would soon be learning and cutting. Mr. Underhill quipped we could just take those home and go to the bar now rather than learn the skill.
Roy warmly greeted all of us and asked us about our experience levels in woodworking and creating dovetails and mortise & tenons by hand. There were people with no experience all the way to more experienced than St. Roy. If you think you are not good enough to take a class taught by Roy, you are wrong.
Roy demonstrated the through dovetail and along the way shared hilarious anecdotes and delightful feghoots. He then set us to task and we created our own dovetails. At one point in time I was having difficulty paring. Rather than removing thin curls with my chisel, I was pulling off chips. I called the Master over and he performed the same task with the same results. He blamed the chisel and I was relieved that he used that excuse as well.
He set out to sharpen the chisel and this came to a tangent on sharpening tools. What is typically a 4 minute shop task became a 40 minute discourse on grinding and honing.
With no tools to blame, I finished my through dovetail. There are many dovetails, some better and some worse, but these dovetails are mine.
After lunch at a soda shoppe next door, we made half-blind dovetails. Half-blind dovetails are like through dovetails, but the tails are shorted and sit in a socket.
The method Roy taught us to make half-blind dovetails could easily be used to make through dovetails and vice versa. There are many ways to the tree, Grasshopper.
We then moved on to making a mortise and tenon joint. Mortise and tenons are frequently used in making tables. Roy imparted some great wisdom about making tables, “How long do you table legs need to be? They must reach the ground!”
The joint is very simple in that we are cutting a peg to put into a chiseled hole. That said, I still managed to err the layout of my mortise and tenon. Roy shrugged it off and said I am just creating a new school of art.
What you see on The Woodwright’s Shop is exactly what you get when you take a class from Roy. He is a warm and entertaining teacher. Not only does he teach you a skill, but he teaches its application to bigger projects. With practice, I will be making neater and tighter joints. And in no time, I will be applying them to making tables, drawers, keepsake boxes, blanket chests, and plenty of other items my family will hate to receive for Christmas and gift-giving occasions.