TV shows about woodworking leave a lot to be desired

Everyone likes wood. It’s beautiful to look at, feels good to the touch, is relatively affordable, and is easy to work with. It even smells good in many cases.

With all that wood has going for it, it’s no wonder woodworking both as a hobby and vocation is so popular. That’s why I find it so odd that there’s never been a woodworking TV show that doesn’t have significant problems.

Let’s start with “New Yankee Workshop.” This one featured Norm Abram, who was originally on “This Old House” with Bob Vila, the very first home renovation show.

Norm is a nice enough guy and no doubt a master carpenter, but his show always disappointed me for two reasons:

— 1. His large, well lit, heated shop was so big and full of every possible hand and power tool that I was always left with a huge feeling of envy every time I saw the show; and

— 2. Norm always seemed to favor power tools whenever he could use them, even when something simpler would have worked just as well.

I guess if you have a lot of land, money, and skill you can be like Norm, but for a regular guy like me, watching it made me feel like I was just too far down the totem pole to get anything from it.

Then there was “The Woodwright’s Shop” with Roy Underhill. This is like the polar opposite of “New Yankee Workshop.” Where Norm was all about big and modern, Roy was totally old school — no power tools whatsoever and just a small, crowded shop that looked like a converted garage.

While it’s great that Roy can do everything with hand tools — if the Zombie Apocalypse ever comes and we lose power completely he won’t miss a beat — how can you not at this point use a simple electric drill to make a hole?

Power drills are ubiquitous and have been around forever; they’re in no way hi-tech. I find it hard to believe that even the most strict woodworking purist would have a problem with using a simple electric drill to make a hole.

“New Yankee Workshop” and “The Woodwright’s Shop” are the two granddaddies of woodworking shows, but there have been more recent ones.

“American Woodshop” features Scott Phillips. He uses even more power tools than Norm did. Also, he has a habit of yelling really loudly once the tools start running, which is comical at best and annoying more often.

Then there is “Woodsmith Shop” by the editors of “Woodsmith” magazine. These guys assume you have many expensive power tools as well, but do pull out hand tools when appropriate. They always show you where to get the free plans for what they are building, which is a nice touch.

Curiously, they frequently use a woodworking tool you don’t normally think of as a woodworking tool — double-sided tape. Based on the amount of it they use, I should add stock in 3M to my investment portfolio.

A newer woodworking show is “The Garage with Steve Butler.” He’s a New England guy who does basic woodworking with standard hand and power tools that anyone might have.

The problem is some of the things he does are downright dangerous. I’ve contacted him on social media. He says he knows he does this, but sometimes just gets in a hurry. They really should put a disclaimer on this show. Never, ever sacrifice safety to save time. Never.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to come off like I totally dislike all these shows. I love woodworking and the fact that these shows serve to bring it to a large audience is of course a good thing.

My only complaint is they don’t seem to be intended for so-called “normal” guys or gals. What do I mean by that? Well, a normal woodworker:

— Might have only a crowded garage or basement to work in that he or she has to share with other members of the family;

— Would have some basic tools like drills, hand saws, maybe even a table saw, but certainly not every tool that is available no matter the cost like most of these shows imply;

— Would have some basic skills, maybe learned from a shop class or by reading books, but is never going to build some huge fancy whatever like they often show without doing a lot of smaller projects first over many, many years of trial and error.

You might argue that there are folks who have all the tools and the skills and find these shows too simplistic. I’d counter that, if they have that many tools and have that much skill, they shouldn’t be watching these shows anyway. They should be out in the shop building stuff.

One thing the power-tool oriented shows do that is especially annoying is show the host using a power tool to cut some wood, like that in itself is somehow enlightening. The thing is, once the machine is set up to make the cut, you can use the tool to cut one or a hundred boards and they’ll all come out the same.

So it’s not the actual cutting we need to see; pushing a board through a tool is the easy part. It’s how you set up and adjust the tool to make the cut that we need to have explained. The set-up is where the magic happens, yet they never show it.

Mostly it’s a matter of trying the cut over and over on scrap until you get it just right. They probably figure that would be boring and they’d lose viewers. But for anyone who knows anything at all about woodworking, it’s more boring to watch a guy shove a board through a table saw for the thousandth time. So frustrating. All these shows need to do a lot better in this area.

What we really need is a show that assumes the viewer has just average woodworking skills and only owns common tools that any interested woodworker or homeowner would be sure to have. Once you get into big, heavy, expensive tools like planers, jointers, and bandsaws you just about take the normal guys who are still working full-time and raising a family out of it.

Those are all large, expensive tools that take a real commitment to buy, learn how to use safely, and find room for. Maybe the retired guys with a lot of time and, hopefully, money are happy with the current shows, but I’ll bet if there were a show for less fortunate woodworkers a lot more people would be into woodworking.

Of course, these days you can go on YouTube and find someone building anything you can think of, but they might not be doing it correctly or safely. You pays your money and you takes your chances, as they say.

I’ve watched a bunch of these videos and many of them should have the disclaimer “don’t try this at home” flashing in bright red at the bottom. Again, be careful any time you’re working with tools. It’s supposed to be fun and you most certainly want to avoid getting injured.

When there’s a woodworking TV show about a guy who builds a nice Shaker cabinet in his driveway using only basic tools and a couple of saw horses I’ll be really impressed.