Review – Rough Cut Woodworking with Tommy Mac

I won’t deny that I was excited to hear about a new woodworking television show, so here is my review:

Watch Season One Episodes Online

Rough Cut Woodworking with Tommy Mac

Overall I was basically happy with the first show I saw. In this first episode he constructs a stepstool featuring dovetail joints. There are a number of issues about the show that I hope will be corrected as time goes on, and with that said, there are some really good things about it too.

First of all, I am extremely happy that DIY Network did not produce the show. I really dislike the format of most of their shows. Most of them should be renamed “Short Attention Span TV.” Changing scenes and camera angles every five seconds drives me CRAZY. Woodworking is a craft that demands time and patience, and DIY producers seem to gear most of there shows towards the ADD crowd. WGBH has really done a great job with the film format. The show in HD looks great and they did not skimp on the post production. I really liked they way they used a Google Sketchup format to highlight parts of the construction.

Now on to the problems. In this episode we meet “Al.”  Al is the local community woodworking guy that everyone loves and he is assisting Tommy. I have nothing against Al personally, but Tommy uses Al like a third hand, and he is supposed the be the local woodworking “go to guy,” but to hear Al talk you’d think he had never seen a tool in his life, and declaring, “Sweet!” at the most unastounding things. I’m afraid the guy’s head would explode if he really did see something great! A milk jug ring might excite this guy. And Tommy has a very bad habit of ending ALL his sentences with, “Al” or “guys.” For example, (spoken in a very strong Boston accent), “hand me that hammer there Al, hold this right here Al, isn’t that wicked sweet Al?” You get my drift. And if he is not referring to Al, then it is, “you can do it guys, this is a bandsaw guys.” Oh my oh my I hope they cure him of this as time goes on. One the good side, Tommy Mac, seems to be a generous, nice, all American guy, who likes kids and I sincerely do wish him all the best.

At the start of the show, they visit a real woodworking master who shows Tommy how to cut dovetails by hand. Ironically, they do not use the master’s techniques to cut the dovetails. Why!? Tommy states that anyone can do it with the tools around the house, but I’d like to see anyone cut decent dovetails without a quality dovetail or crosscut saw, and really sharp chisels and a good bench vise. Don’t forget a marking knife, a mallet, and bench dogs. Well, maybe not everyone can do it. Looking in Tommy’s workshop, he pretty much as every tool a master has and more. (it’s good to be the king).

Another aspect of the show I like is the idea that he is starting with rough cut lumber. Now this I can relate too. But does he really address the issues of milling rough cut lumber? Afraid not. Hope he does so in future episodes. It might be nice to see him get pissed off because something warped, twisted, or cupped after he started milling, then I’d like to hear him explain how to fix these problems. I’d like to see him show us how to square four sides, then discover that it is not square on four side and see him stand there slack-jawed trying to figure out what the H_ll happened whilst scratching his head. These are my typical problems I’d like to see addressed. I find that stomping around the shop shouting four letter words seems to ease my frustration a bit. Thank goodness I keep my hair short.

I wish woodworking shows would not make everything look so incredibly easy. For example, every time they use a jointer, you only see them make one pass. One on the thin side and one pass on the wide side. Why doesn’t my jointer work like that? I wish someone would have a whole freakin’ show about using and maintaining a Jointer. I usually need at least a minimum of five passes, and in the end, I give up and go back to using a hand plane. In this first episode, he takes a large butternut rough cut board, cuts out the pieces, squares two sides, then runs it through the power planer, then the table saw for squaring the last side. Then lo and behold, he has one side with mill marks, how can this be!? Then he proceeds to show us the parts of a handplane and in the bat of an eye he has smoothed the side perfectly flat, as Al stands there wide-eyed in total awe. My question is; if he has a power planer, why in the world does he bother to use the smoothing plane? If it had a “wicked” grain pattern, I’d understand. Consistency people, consistency!

After construction is finished, he uses linseed oil, then multiple coats of shellac, and finally a top coat of clear wax. Does he actually plan to use this stepstool, or put it out for display only? Come on, that wax finish would be gone in a week with everyday use. Perhaps if you had a “no shoes” rule for it, but then you would have slid right off in your socks thus providing you a great view of the stepstool from the floor with a concussion to boot.

Finally, I don’t think they have quite decided what level of woodworker they are addressing. I like to call this “The Star Wars Effect.” It was a great story, but they tried to make it appeal to all audiences, thus pissing off the real adult science fiction fans and making it too scary and complex for kids. I wish they would pick their market and stick to it. I don’t know how Norm Abrams managed it, but he found the middle. I hope Tommy Mac will be able to pick up where Norm left off.    

I know I have been rather bi-polar in this review, but overall, I really am happy to see this show.  Most importantly, it demonstrates that woodworking is not dying in America.

Anyone else see the show?


About yaakov

Husband, Abba, Furniture Maker, Turner, Bookseller, and all around working stiff.
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4 Responses to Review – Rough Cut Woodworking with Tommy Mac

  1. Pat says:

    I agree – he does some really nice things but the “GUYS” thing drives me NUTS (possibly since
    I’m not a guy – he should understand that not only guys watch this show!). Also, all the “OK’s” are
    SOOOOO ANNOYING!!! At first I thought the “OK’s, YOU KNOWS, ALRIGHTS” were just
    because he was nervous about the new show – but they have gotten WORSE, rather than better!!!!
    Worse to the point that watching the show is too annoying for words. He is adorable, but just can
    NOT bear to listen to him!!!

  2. Leviticus says:

    I just cancelled my TiVo season pass for this show after watching 5 minutes of an episode. I’ll never say the words ‘you know’, ‘ok’, or ‘alright’ again.

    Was very excited to see another woodworking show, but that was like watching a hummingbird fly around a woodworking shop.

    I’d rather be in my shop.

  3. Silvia evron says:

    I am 66 years old, retired cabinet maker. I watch the show on pbs and every time I get annoyed as hell. He is so annoying the way he talks. I wish they will get somebody else to host it.

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