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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Make a picture easel with nothing but hand tools. Wait, what?

It's very unusual to get any heavy rain this early in the year, but last weekend we had a downpour. It was like January weather. I was staying warm and dry indoors when we suddenly had a power outage. It always takes a power outage to remind me how dependent I am on electricity. Typically, I spend  the first few minutes wandering around the house wondering, "Now what am I going to do?"

I find myself performing absentminded things like flipping the light switch as I enter the bathroom. After a while, I begin to wonder how long the outage will last. Do I need to find candles? What about the food in the fridge? What about my cold beer!

I went out to my shop and puttered around when an novel idea struck me: why not try some woodworking? I've heard it said that there was once a time when guys made stuff without electricity. Madness.

So I made this simple little picture easel. The strangest part? I enjoyed it. Here's my video confession.





Here are the two pieces if you would like to try your own. Simple project.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A whole LOT of uses for sawdust

I received an email from Adam Reed wondering if I had any suggestions for what to do with sawdust. Sure, we occasionally mix it with glue and make wood filler, but mostly it all goes into the garbage. It seems so wasteful.

So I posted the question on the Mere Mortals Facebook page a got a bunch of good suggestions. But special kudos goes to 
Walter Masten who has already been compiling a list of ideas he has run across and has even taken the time to categorize them. I have taken the liberty to edit his list as well as add suggestions from people on Facebook and put them all in the following list.

I can't personally guarantee the veracity of any of these as they are tips from around the web, but most seem like reasonable uses for sawdust. Feel free to add any of your own in the comments section. I just hate throwing stuff away!



Sawdust Uses in the Wood Shop
  • Fill wood holes and defects. Used by professional floor refinishers, very fine sawdust or "wood flour" makes excellent, stainable filler when mixed into putty with wood glue. The wood flour from my sanders I put in small zip lock sandwich bags, label them as to wood type and save for project repairs or repairs to wood structures around the house.
  • I occasionally go through my old cans of paint, finish, and stain to throw away. By law you can’t throw those as a liquid in the landfill. But you can if they are dry. I pour the liquids into a bucket of saw dust until it is absorbed nicely and let it dry. Then I dispose of it.
  • You can pour them into moulds coated with wax to make stuff. You just need to mix them with a bit of resin. Turns out like MDF, except whatever shape you want. Paintable, stainable and super easy to sand and get a glass like finish on.
  • I use mine to protect the concrete floor of my shop. I have found that a 50mm thick layer prevents scratching of the delicate concrete surface and deadens the noise of falling tools.

Sawdust Uses in the House/Body/Cooking

  • Lighten up cement. Sawdust mixed into mortar has long been used when erecting cordwood walls to aid in bonding the logs together. Do the same when casting lightweight vessels and moisture-loving planters.
  • Use wood shavings as a packaging material in place of Styrofoam peanuts, bubble wrap, and other synthetic material.
  • Clean a floor. Moisten a pile of sawdust with water and use a push broom to sweep it around the concrete floor of your garage, basement, or shop. The wet sawdust will capture and absorb fine dust and grime.
  • Cedar can be put in ziploc bags and put in closets.
  • Pack a path. Tamp sawdust into a dirt walkway to curtail erosion and create a soft, fragrant pathway through your garden or wooded lot.
  • For areas that get snow. Use untreated wood shavings for traction on sidewalks etc. better for the plants than using salt products.
  • Get a grip. Winter loggers spread sawdust on their truck paths. It provides traction and strengthens compacted snow while protecting the ground underneath.
  • Use sawdust to stuff decorative pincushions for gifts at holiday time. Pins and needles won’t rust.
  • I use some of my hardwood shavings in my side fire box meat smoker for added flavor.
  • Use sawdust for soaking up oil spills. Just sprinkle it on, let it sit for awhile and then sweep up. Sawdust can also be used to clean greasy, oily hands and tools. Sprinkle it on, massage thoroughly, and add more sawdust as necessary. Better than using messy newspapers or wasting paper towels.

Gardening with Sawdust:

  • If you use a lot of sawdust in your vegetable garden it might turn your soil acidic. Plants need a somewhat neutral PH to be able to pick up nutrients, so add some lime. Do a soil test to determine how much lime. 
  • Walnut sawdust contains an herbicide and will kill tomatoes and other plants.
  • When using sawdust in gardens always add extra nitrogen, because the decay bacteria will use all available nitrogen and leave the plants with the “yellows.” Eventually the nitrogen is freed, but that may take a year or two. 
  • The larger the pieces of wood, the less nitrogen starvation is a problem. 
  • Chase away weeds. Sawdust from walnut wood is a natural weed killer. Sweep this variety between the cracks of your walkway.

Sawdust and Woodchips for Fuel

  • We burn most of ours in the boiler to make the steam to dry wood.
  • Mix it with wood chips and melted paraffin. Pour into empty tuna fish tins for emergency fuel or camp fire starter
  • Another use for hardwood shavings and sawdust is in ceramic raku firings. It won’t use up great quantities of waste sawdust, but maybe you could get a free pot or two out of the deal, and it is fun to watch.
  • How to build and use a sawdust stove
  • The Fire Brick: I start with a large tub (about 2′ * 15″ * 15″) 3/4 full with sawdust. To this I add 15 – 20 litres (3-4 gallons) of the biodiesel byproduct and mix a bit. I leave this for a day or 2 and then mix again. I repeat this until the sawdust is evenly mixed. If it is too moist, I add more sawdust and mix this sawdust in the top layer. When I have sawdust which can be squeezed in my hand, and it retains its shape, but crumbles when pushed from the side or top, it is ready to be packed.
  • Make a fire starter. Melt candle wax in a nonstick pot, add sawdust until the liquid thickens, pour into an empty egg carton, and let cool. Use the briquettes to help get a fire going.

Animal Woodchip and Sawdust Ideas

  • Certain species of woodchips and sawdust make great bedding for cows, horses, chickens, pigs and other farm animals. Beware Black Walnut though… it’s highly toxic to animals.
  • I also bag some red cedar up in burlap bags and sell them for $10 as dog bedding.
  • As bedding for small mammals gerbils, mice, rats etc.

Sawdust Uses in Projects

  • Make fake snow. Mix sawdust with white paint and glue to cover holiday crafts with simulated snow.
  • Lighten up cement. Sawdust mixed into mortar has long been used when erecting cordwood walls to aid in bonding the logs together. Do the same when casting lightweight vessels and moisture-loving planters.
Sell or give away Your Woodchips and Sawdust

  • I cut a lot of Eastern red cedar and I bag the sawdust up and sell it. I get $3 a plastic garbage bag; using kitchen bags (I believe they are 15 gallon). 
  • Craigslist. Thanks to CL, I have a regular picker-upper now. I let her know, leave them out, and she hauls them away.
  • Donate your sawdust to schools for use in pottery making classes. Some special firing techniques (e.g., the Raku process) involve packing the pieces in sawdust and firing in a pit.


Monday, October 25, 2010

More viewer projects

Adam Reed sent some photos of his Mere Mortal projects. He saved this wood post from the fireplace,


and turned it into this familiar looking box and candle holder. I love the candle holder design. It's like a cool recycled wood altar. He used a hidden dowel for the lid hinge on the box. Sweet.


But that's not all. Check out these heart earrings:


Once again, I am humbled that someone tried out some of my stuff. Thanks Adam! Nice work.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Make your own salad tongs

Many of you already know that I have a second passion besides woodworking: cooking. I love food. I love to eat food. I love to cook food. Basically, I love everything about food and I never met a food I didn't like.

This project was based upon necessity. Besides soups, I love salads. Dinner salads especially. I had been tossing salads with large spoons for too long; it was  time for some proper salad tongs.

If you would like to make these, please download my design. Christmas is right around the corner, you know. These are simple and would make great gifts. Make sure you use a hard wood. I used maple in mine and they worked out great.



As a bonus, I have a 13-year-old son who LOVES food. Here is his video on how to make Chinese Chicken Salad. This salad is to die for! We haven't included a recipe because you can be as creative as you want with it. Just use the ingredients Wyatt mentions and make it your own.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

Another bracelet

Just got an email from another Mere Mortal, Bill Akins, who decided to try his hand at turning my wood bracelets. He used red cedar to turn this bracelet for his wife. He used a faceplate on his lathe to cut out the center.

Nice work Bill!




BTW, if any of you have tried any of my projects, send me pics!
I'd love to see them. zrammedia (at) gmail (dot) com.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Friday kickback. Coyote sighting in Marin

I posted this on YouTube last year, but I thought it was worth a revisit as we are diving deep into Autumn. Basically, I wanted to post a simple video showcasing some things I find beautiful this time of year. Little did I know that I was able to capture video of a coyote across the street from my house. It was pretty cool because we rarely get a chance to see coyotes, let alone happen to have a camera handy!

Anyway, not much here...it's short, but keep an eye on the right of the video toward the end and you'll see him. Enjoy.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

New Mere Mortals stuff

A couple things. First, please note that I have finally added a Videos tab at the top of this site to make it easier to find all of my videos. I think this is a lot easier than trying to navigate YouTube's channel pages.

Secondly, a bit of marketing. I want to thank all of you who have splurged and bought Mere Mortals stuff from the gift shop. Everything there makes a great gift for loved ones and as well as not-so-loved ones.

New! Just in time for Christmas. Or the World Series.


The all-new, ultra stylish Mere Mortals baseball jersey You will be the envy of the team. Or better yet, buy nine and start your own team! They are only $19.99. That's under twenty bucks!


But wait, there's more! I've added this sweet Mere Mortals magnet to complement the tee. It's only $3.99 and would make a perfect adornment to that beer fridge in your shop.



Finally, my son came up with this idea and gets all the profits. (He's trying to save up to buy a new guitar.) I kind of like the sentiment. It sums up Mere Mortals perfectly: it has something to say, and yet is ultimately meaningless. It's yours to confuse and perplex people for the low price of $16.99.


For this and more Mere Mortals junk you probably really don't need, visit the Mere Mortals Gift Shop today!

Thanks for your patience with this sales pitch. Back to woodworking tomorrow!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Woodworking at the music store

I was at our local music store yesterday and found a couple of things of note. Check out this slit drum.



It's basically the same as the one I made. The holes in the side do provide a richer sound. I'm not sure what kind of wood it is, but it doesn't appear very fancy. But check out the price tag:


Wow. $115. Develop a system and I'll bet most of us could crank one of these out in an hour. The wood would cost under ten bucks.

But hanging on the wall was this really cool marquetry piece:


Now that would be worth more!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Woodworkers' Halloween episodes

Just thought I would put together a few Halloween episodes of four of my favorite celebrity woodworkers. It's amazing that this stuff never aired.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The interrogative woodworker

Have you ever installed a tablesaw blade backward? Did you then try to use it? Where you certain that the blade was just dull? Do you kind of like the smell of lacquer? If you could build a car out of wood, would you? When you hear the word "Stickley", do you — just for a moment — think "sticky"? Would Greene and Green have become famous if their last name was Henderson?

Does Arts and Crafts style ever involve crayons, construction paper or paste? Have you ever tasted glue? Would you admit it? Does the scent of fresh-cut lumber invoke nostalgia in you? Do you think Norm Abram secretly uses duct tape? Can you tell how old someone is because they use the word varnish? Does the term "butt joint" make you giggle? Have you ever given someone a gift you made just because it wasn't very good and you wanted to get rid of it? Have you ever accidentally drooled on a board as you were running it through a router? Does wondering how long to sand cause you a little anxiety?

What's your tolerance? 1/16"? 1/32"? Can you add fractions in your head? Have you ever really had a need to divide fractions? Would you know how? Do you have a love-hate relationship with the metric system? If I asked you to cut a board about 100 millimeters long, would you be able to? If a wrench isn't handy, do you use pliers? Do adjustable wrenches annoy you as they do me? When you complete a project, do you marvel at it? When is the last time you used the word marvel?

Is it truly possible to make a perfect 45 degree miter? Do you drink coffee in your shop? Have you ever spilled coffee in your shop? Have you ever spilled coffee on a workpiece? Is the ability to hand cut dovetails the ultimate measure of a man? Does that little play on the catch end of a tape measure cause you concern? Have you ever used the word sawyer without preceding it with Tom? If drill is a verb and a noun, why isn't rout? Will you purchase a new rout this year? When a power tool dies, do you think — if just for a moment — that you might be able to to fix it?

Is there one person you know personally who sharpens drill bits? Is that a sane endeavor? Have you given consideration to buying a "DualSaw" because it looks amazing on the infomercials?  Do you get a sense of power when you use a SawzAll? Do you call a SawzAll a reciprocating saw? Is it the only saw whose main purpose is destruction? Can I describe oak as crumbly? Are you troubled by bandsaw tensioning? If you read about a certain woodworking technique, does that technically mean you know how to do it? Why is there very little sawdust in woodworking magazine photos? Do you like using those flat carpenter pencils, or does the idea of sharpening them just seem pointless? Do you chuckle to yourself when you make a completely unintentional pun but don't realize it until much later, as I did in that previous sentence?  Have you ever injured yourself and then dripped blood on a workpiece because you were too lazy to go and get a BandAid?

Do you sometimes use a screwdriver as a chisel? Why do they still make slotted screws? Are there people who simply refuse to use Phillips screws? Can you make something cool with a single chunk of 2x4?  Even when you know a bit of sandpaper is used up, do you find yourself saving it? Is pointing out flaws in your projects a good idea, a bad idea, or a sign of insecurity? How big a role does luck play in your woodworking? Can you imagine woodworking in zero gravity? Would you use, say, a laser saw that made perfect cuts every time? Does cutting miters make you cringe? Would you consider building a project with nothing but hand tools? If you did use hand tools but didn't tell anybody, would they be less impressed by the finished piece?

Are you as amazed as I am at wood glue? Do you have any idea how it works? Do you care? Do you have a chair or a T.V. in your shop? Do you have a bandsaw in your living room? Does it seem odd when someone uses the past participle of saw: sawn? For that matter, when you see the word sewer, do you first think of a plumber or a seamstress?

Have you seen electron microscope pictures of dull blade edges? Do they scare you? Have you ever looked at a carving and tried to imagine what it once looked like as a block of wood? Must I assemble things, or can I just put them together? Why does my ShopVac always find a screw it just can't swallow, so it keeps rattling around inside the hose? Do you ever vacuum up perfectly good screws rather than bend over and pick them up — just because it's easier?

Did you know that the Spanish word for table saw is mesa sawDoes it matter that I just made that up? Does music help you work? What kind of music? Do you eat in your shop? Have you ever eaten a sandwich with grimy hands and got black gunk on the bread but went ahead and ate it anyway?

Why am I sometimes surprised when I complete a project? Do you sometimes need to clarify what "finishing a project" means? When will someone design a better paint can lid? Are you ever going to use all those cut-off scraps of wood? Why is it that some woodworkers look like woodworkers and others don't? Have you ever used a folding ruler? Do you even know what that is?

How often do you think about cutting off a finger? Have you thought it through far enough to consider what you would do if you did? Is safety first, second or third? What is the trick for removing a tiny sliver? Can you imagine a world in which The Home Depot is fuchsia instead of orange? Isn't the lathe a marvelous invention?

Is it ever really worth working on a Tuesday? Have you ever done anything great on a Tuesday? Do you have any formal training? If so, did you wear a tuxedo?

Do you use cheesecloth for anything? Does the word cheesecloth form mixed images in your brain? Do you recall cutting your first board? Do you use the words scrollsaw and jigsaw interchangeably? Have you ever sold your work? Was it worth it? Is it just me, or does it just feel good to hold a well-balanced mallet? Did that question make you snicker? Shouldn't tenon be spelled with a double 'n'? Do you wonder if an equal balance of mortises and tenons exist in the universe? Have you ever made a door?

Does it bother you a little to know that no one will really comprehend all the work you put into a project? Would you trade you greatest project for a state-of-the-art table saw? Does Ikea make you feel more confident as a woodworker? Can you cut a decent circle? Do you have someone to leave your tools to after you die? Will that person appreciate them? Would you ever consider drinking a glass of wine in the shop? Does your imagination exceed your skills? Does it seem that most woodworking stems from knowing how to make a box?

Do you scoff at painting wood? Has anyone ever painted bubinga? Isn't it amazing to see old movies of lumber jocks felling giant trees with those enormous 2-man saws? Does the word felling seem weird? Have you ever felled? Do you consider yourself creative? Should style sometimes trump functionality? What does hand crafted mean to you? What is the difference between an art and a craft? Will anything you make be around in 300 years? How about 1000? Is woodworking still fun for you?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Embracing Old

I received an amusing email recently from my dad regarding a comment I made in my bracelet post:


Antique lathe?  Hhmpf. It's not that old!

      or is it?

You see, my lathe was was originally his, probably built in the 1940s. Understandably, it must seem a bit disconcerting to have something younger than yourself referred to as antique.

In this age of Moores Law, wherein technology becomes obsolete in a couple of years, it's comforting to know that woodworking remains essentially the same as it has been for centuries or even longer. Our tools never become obsolete.

At its core, a lathe is a lathe is a lathe: it's a tool that spins wood rapidly. Sure, a brand new, state-of-the-art lathe will come with features mine lacks, but if you look at a finished candlestick you won't be able to tell on which machine it was turned.

This is about as basic as it gets. Two pointy things grip the ends of the wood. One of them spins.


I have an external motor that I clamp to my bench. To change the speed, I attach the drive belt to different diameter pulleys. 



We seem to associate the word antique with frail, or even useless: something valuable to collectors and for display only. Another term would be vintage, which implies improvement with age. My lathe hasn't improved since it was manufactured, but continues to function as it was intended. The best term is one that is scorned: old.

Here's a word game. Read these adjectives and see if any trigger an emotional reaction:
  • Tall
  • Round
  • Flat
  • Blue
  • Fast
  • Sharp
  • Old
Of course, it's old. As soon as we hear or read that word, our minds draw negative connotations.Think of all the phrases we modify with old: old fart, old junk, old news, old goat...

It's no wonder we live in a disposable culture in which we seem to value little that is old. When people reach some vague, unspecific age we throw condescending euphemisms at them. We avoid old at all costs and call people seniors or mature and tell them that they are in their golden years. We are terrified of using a perfectly accurate word: old. 

So I'm here to take back the word old and embrace it for all the good it implies.

My lathe is old and gets the job done. Half of my hand tools are old, but I wouldn't trade them for anything. I have touched redwood trees that are 1000 years old, yet they still provide shade. Grandma Moses didn't begin painting until she was in her seventies and continued for nearly 30 years.

So Dad, you were right. I shouldn't have defiled the true nature of my lathe by calling it antique. It is proudly old. And that's coming from one old guy to another.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Make your own handcrafted wood earrings

When I began shooting my bracelet video, I wan't sure if I had enough visual material to keep a video about turning bracelets interesting, so I figured I would shoot a segment on earrings. I was having so much fun on the lathe and the bracelet process was so simple, I decided it needed no words and could stand alone.

What to do with the earrings? Well, they are so dreadfully simple to make, shooting a video seemed pointless, so I thought instead I would just clue you in on the way I made these two pairs and show a few pictures.



The top pair is made out of purpleheart; I'm not sure what the bottom pair is. Perhaps Brazilian cherry. They are both spray lacquered.

Making earrings is a great way to use some of those special scraps of lumber you've been saving.


Plane down a board as thin as you can. Obviously, no lady wants to wear big 2x4 chunks from her lobes


Cut two small squares and tape them together with double-sided tape. Then, using any kind of saw you want, cut them down to a rough shape that you like.


Shape them to their final size on a disc sander. Earrings are so tiny, you really don't even need to first cut them with a saw. You can mold them completely into shape with just the sander. Plus, if you don't like what you've done, just toss them out and grab a new pair to work on. It's almost like being a sculptor. 



Drill a tiny hole through the pair, then carefully separate them from each other. Hand sand all the edges and apply a coat of spray lacquer. Craft stores, such as Michaels, sell earring kits containing all the wire hardware you'll need. I'll admit that I had my wife assemble them: it's pretty tedious work. For the purpleheart pair, I drilled the large center holes before I shaped the earrings.


And there you have it. It's almost embarrassing how quickly and easily these can be made. (And I'll bet they would fetch a nice price at a craft fair.) Let your imagination run wild and have fun. 

Friday, October 8, 2010

Make wood bracelets. Wishes are ours.

Woodworking is about transformation.

We can take a dead tree and give it new life. We all wish something else for ourselves. Why?

This is a short video using wood from my apple tree again. I rarely use my antique lathe, but here it's king. I would love to use it more.

I want to thank my friend Nicole, who was willing to appear in this video.


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sanding and sandpaper for absolute beginning woodworkers

I want to thank Shy Lev-Ari, a viewer from Israel, for suggesting this video. A lot of us take sanding wood for granted, yet it is the most basic skill we need to know about woodworking. I've often quipped that woodworking is 10% design, 10% construction, and 80% sanding.

But with all the grades of sandpaper available,  it's something that can easily confuse the beginning woodworker. In this video, I have tried to boil sandpaper down to its basics.

Essentially, woodworkers need to know that you can do almost anything with only three grades of sandpaper: 80, 120, and 220. 80 is the coarsest grit and is used for leveling out rough wood caused mostly by machine marks from saws.

From there, move up to a 120 grit sandpaper to smooth out the marks left by the coarse 80 grit paper. Finish off your wood with a 220 grit (fine) sandpaper.

You can learn a lot more about sanding and get more detailed, but for most of us, we really don't need to bother sanding past 220 grit. Let your finish provide the smooth feel of your project.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Making woodworking entertaining: what Hollywood could do.

This is part two of my article about the dearth of woodworking shows on T.V. Please read part one: Where are the T.V. woodworking shows?

Television money guys need to understand that woodworking is quite popular and that they could actually make money producing a woodworking show. But first, we need to scrap every preconceived notion we have about woodworking shows. Start from scratch and look at them as entertainment first, education a distant second. Take a cue from what’s actually happening on T.V. today. People who watch American Chopper are unlikely to build a motorcycle but we watch because of the highly charged, confrontational personalities of Paul Sr. and Paul Jr. As an upshot, we learn a little about metal fabrication, which would normally be a very dry subject for T.V. I’ll bet American Chopper has inspired more than a few people to get off their duffs and do something with their hands or even decide to learn a trade.

A caveat to fellow woodworkers

Now, I don't mean to upset woodworkers with my suggestions, but none of my ideas for shows will teach you how to make anything step-by-step. Again, I don't think television is the proper medium for detailed instruction. Thirty minutes is not enough time to teach anything properly. These shows would exist purely for entertainment. But they may have the capability to inspire — something that is possible in thirty minutes.

My pitches to Hollywood

So Hollywood, here are a few woodworking show ideas to consider. Any of these would appeal to the general viewing public without alienating woodworkers. Let’s face it, there is nothing duller than watching someone glue up boards or drill a hole, so each of these shows focus on the personalities involved.

"I Got Axed". Twenty people from all walks of life who know nothing about woodworking are selected based on their enthusiasm and outgoing personalities to work alongside professional mentors. Each week they face various challenges to build simple projects. Maybe one week they each have to design and build a birdhouse or a cutting board. Along the way, viewers are exposed to the woodworking techniques and machines the contestants use. Each week, a panel of judges evaluates the finished pieces and eliminates one contestant from the show.

"The Wood Life". Conduct a nationwide search for quirky and charismatic professional woodworkers. Find one shop, bring in the cameras, and chronicle its activities in an ongoing fashion. Like American Chopper, the key is to highlight dynamic interpersonal relationships. But we also get to learn a thing or two about professional furniture making.

"Extreme Wood". Each week, a knowledgeable host travels the world to visit its most highly skilled wood craftsmen and artists: especially those who are employing unique and unusual techniques. Maybe a guy who built his car out of wood, or someone who makes classical Greek sculptures out of wood scraps. Essentially, this would be a travelogue. The host would get a chance work alongside the craftsman, trying out his or her techniques.

"I Made That!" This is the closest I come to a traditional “how-to” show. It would work best on the DIY Network perhaps, and be geared toward people who are already doing a little woodworking, or those who are considering it. The point is to be inspirational. It would feature a dynamic host woodworker who creates a simple project each episode suggested by viewers. Keep it fast-paced with quick editing and lively music. Heavily connect it to a web site on which viewers can collaborate and come up with projects they want to see the host try on the show. Maybe include contests for ideas whereby the winners get to appear on the show and make their projects with the host each week.

"Master Woodworker". Professional woodworkers and cabinetmakers audition to be on the show. They are each given one hour and a limited amount of tools and wood to create something. Each week, we follow each of them around their shops as they create projects for the weekly challenge. Challenges could be as simple as making something cool with a 2x4, then build up to an heirloom piece of furniture. Professionals will dish out sassy judgment each week and eliminate one contestant until the final week when one will be crowned “America’s Master Woodworker”.

"Celebrity Wood". Celebrities team up with mentors who teach them basic woodworking techniques. Each week they construct imaginative, artistic pieces. Imagine the hijinks when Ozzy Osbourne tries his hand at making a guitar stand. How funny would it be to see Paris Hilton whining about sawdust while constructing a makeup kit? Let’s get William Shatner to hand carve a phaser. Now that’s entertainment!


Well there you have it. Woodworking will never be viable on television until it steps into the 21st century and embraces the medium. Many young people are taking up woodworking and yet  the average American still views woodworking as something only for boring old bearded men. As soon as producers discover the entertainment potential of woodworking, I suspect many advertisers will jump at the opportunity. Tool companies could shed their stodgy reputations and appeal to a new generation. It would also be a boon to the woodworking community. Shop classes may reappear in high schools. Kids would get interested in the craft and possibly get inspired to continue its tradition — but with a fresh and new found sense of fun and possibility.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Where are the T.V woodworking shows?


I’ll come right out and say it: I like a lot of what is on television. It seems a lot of us do. More people are involved in their favorite shows than ever before.
  
So why are so many folks are ashamed to admit that? While in casual conversation about T.V., an obligatory response is often, “Oh, I really don’t watch much T.V.” It’s almost a defensive remark. Sometimes I hear, “There’s really nothing worth watching”, or “I’m just too busy to watch T.V.” Some people try to rise above it all with the pseudo-intellectual, “Well, I sometimes watch PBS.” What’s going on here?

Some of television’s best programming has occurred in the past ten years. Shows such as The Sopranos, Rome, Firefly, and Battlestar Gallactica have all broken new ground and are among the best shows ever produced. In my estimation we are in the golden age of television right now.

With the vast array of choices available today, there are top-notch, entertaining programs to fit into every interest and niche.

Dirty Jobs is a fascinating and amusing look into areas of employment that most of us have never witnessed. One of the keys to its success is Mike Rowe, its host, who understands that first and foremost, television must be entertaining.

Another personality-driven, lively show is Mythbusters. It’s pretty hard not to get absorbed into each new episode. Jamie and Adam always keep it funny and we get to see cool things happen.

I adore watching every episode of Man Vs. Wild. Sure, Bear Grylls is pompous, but I get transported to places I’ll never visit and watch Bear perform feats I’ll never attempt. Plus we get to watch him eat bugs.

I get caught up in many of the competition-based reality shows. American Idol continues to showcase some incredibly talented voices. So You Think You Can Dance hooks me every week. I have learned more about dance from that show than I have ever known. Amazing athletes, those kids. America’s Got Talent is the best variety show ever on T.V. When I first watched and listened to ten-year-old Jackie Evancho sing opera, it left me with feelings of elation and awe I will never forget.





I like to cook so I watch lots of food shows. There are many good ones on the Food Network of course, but Gordon Ramsay’s shows are the most entertaining, even if he does spell his last name wrong.

I am totally hooked on Glee, one of the silliest, most outrageous shows ever. With such lightheartedness, catchy music, and charm, you can’t help but enjoy it.

I haven’t even mentioned some of the great programs on the History Channel. (Modern Marvels, anyone?) The key to finding good T.V. is the DVR, which has revolutionized the way I watch. In general, I have no idea what time my shows “air”: they simply show up in my recordings so I can watch them at my convenience and without commercials.

So where are the woodworking shows?

With this cornucopia of television choices, and with all its specialization and niche-marketing, why is there virtually nothing for woodworkers? In this age of technology, more and more people are turning to the hands-on simplicity of woodworking as a hobby and to even make a few extra bucks. Are T.V. producers even aware of this market? Sure there are a couple of woodworking shows on Public Television, but since New Yankee Workshop is no longer on, I watch none of them. Mainly because PBS can’t produce an entertaining show to save its government-funded life.

Problems with woodworking on T.V. 

There has never been a truly entertaining woodworking show. Norm Abram was an exception, but his appeal lay mainly with “serious” woodworkers. Strangely, it worked due to his likeable personality. To be objective, New Yankee was not the most exciting show ever aired and would not survive on commercial T.V., but for sake of this article I will leave Norm aside; he’s a legend and in a category of his own. (What I'd like to see Norm do is broadcast his own low-budget web show.)

Most attempts at woodworking shows get bogged down in instruction. Sure, we want to learn a thing or two, but a half-hour T.V. show is not really a format that suits this kind of education. As a result, the shows are sleep-inducing.

The best shows on television are personality-driven and understand that the primary purpose of T.V. is to entertain. Woodworking hosts may know a lot about their craft, but they come across as tedious and dreadfully boring. If I want woodworking instruction, I’ll turn to the internet or even a book.

Most woodworking shows have been geared toward higher end woodworkers and lead the viewer to believe that the craft can only be accomplished with expensive tools. The finished products are super-fine examples of workmanship, but I wonder how many potential woodworkers have actually been turned away from trying them because they are intimidated by these guys rather than inspired.

Show hosts make projects that most people will never attempt and are expensive. Any of you planning on making a mahogany armoire any time soon? Wouldn’t it be nice to see a show that features projects that are actually approachable?


In part two of this article, I'll pitch Hollywood some suggestions. Woodworking can be entertaining and profitable for television producers.

Read part 2 of this article: Making Woodworking Entertaining