The next installment in my episode by episode, wise cracking review of the greatest television show ever…
Back to our “schnitzelbank”. Having made a bench from part of an oak tree, Roy turns the other half of the log into the other half of the shaving horse. If you didn’t know a shaving horse was also called a “schnitzelbank” you probably also didn’t know a froe is also called a “thrower”, the process of twisting to split the wood is called “throwing”. At least I’m reasonably sure that’s what Roy is saying, I played it back several times to be sure he was saying “throw” and I am satisfied that we are indeed learning yet another bit of old time woodworking wisdom. More is sure to come.
His episode two bench plank has a significant twist, (Roy says that, like us, wood gets warped from stress… man, he has noooooo idea!) so each part has to be customized accordingly. Modern woodworkers with their obsession for perfectly flat and square stock to the gazillionth of an inch will watch in horror as he cancels out the massive twists by simply rotating the similarly twisted mating parts in the opposite direction. Once again, Roy at his best! This isn’t about beauty, it’s about function. The shaving-horse was intended to be a work-horse and a sixteenth century chair bodger could give a crap about how it looked, as long as it got the job some and the coins in his pocket. The natural twists of the riven wood are dealt with by orientation or light coaxing with a hatchet. It’s fascinating to watch so much being accomplished with such a crude tool, without lopping off any fingers. I do notice that his nails are clipped (or perhaps chopped?) short.
Another new tool makes its first appearance in episode three, the framing square. I’ve never seen a woodworker use a framing square as often as Roy. Today a framing square is seen as a carpenter’s tool, while the cabinet maker uses the combination square. Not so in the past, and certainly not in Roy’s shop. Of course he also does a lot just by eye alone. No doubt he possesses as skilled a pair of eyeballs as anyone of his craft, but eyeball accuracy comes from confidence as much as from practice. Underhill had confidence seeping from his armpits and staining his shirt, even at this early stage of his PBS career, and I think that’s a big part of the success he will achieve as the years go on.
Another thing I notice about the younger Roy Underhill is that he puts his tools away when he’s done with them. Later seasons are full of digging through the pile on the bench looking for that buried pencil, or chisel, or hand plane… or blanket chest. He loses everything in his tool tray, and it’s something that has actually endeared us to him. But after watching him in 1979 I see that it is, like many bad habits, one developed over time and with age.
But that’s a future Roy. Today 1979 Roy chops away, explaining the purpose of every chamfer and notch as the shaving horse continues to take shape. “A lot of what makes things look good is the elimination of excess material that performs no function”. Removing all that excess material is sweaty work and he’s already soaked through. “That’s not the only dumb head that’s losing weight right now.” Yes, even a sweaty Roy is still a funny Roy.
“Having the right tools definitely makes the job easier.” Roy has a lot of tools, including some enormous augers, the 2 ¼” he whips out at this point is a house wright’s auger for post and beam construction, something he uses regularly when the cameras aren’t rolling at Colonial Williamsburg. But on the show he also uses a lot of these T-handle augers, especially when he wants a straight hole, taking advantage of the length of the bit to sight the angle. He says they’re “not hard to find at all.” Perhaps not in 1979, but times have changed since 1979 and I believe that’s mostly his fault. No, not the gas crisis or the emergence of hair bands. I blame Roy for the spike in antique tool prices. What used to be seen as old and antiquated is now vintage and collectable. Woodwrights in training have been snatching up the world’s supply of good T-handle augers for the last 30 years!
As the bits spill from his hole and onto the shaving horse bench (that doesn’t sound right…) he tells us how we “want to have half moon (shaped chips) coming up on each side…That means both of your cutting lips are working equally”. I can’t help but chuckle as I imagine his mustache full of shavings as he uses his lips to shape the hard oak. I bet if anyone had a mustache that could do the job, it’s Roy!
With a hole bored in each end of his mortise it’s back to the hand ax to “proceed in the most expeditious manner”. Only Roy would say an ax is the “most expeditious” way to cut a mortise! As he chops out the waste he misses the mark a bit, and it’s nice to see that he’s indeed human, which was in doubt after watching his perfectly placed chops up to this point. Then he cuts himself, and since machines don’t bleed, our suspicions of a “robot Roy” are entirely dismissed. “That’s a nice clean gash. No problem, no problem… we’re going to see little spots of red everywhere… it’s kind of my trademark”. He spends the next few minutes working along while periodically sucking his wound. “The red oak is getting redder”. This is the first time we see Roy’s blood all over the shop, and it won’t be the last. Another of the things that have so endeared us to him over the years.
“I hope (by now) you’ve got a shaving horse and not a bloody finger.” Yes indeed, Roy… yes indeed.
I’m going through the entire 30+ year run of The Woodwright Shop to create the ultimate guide tot he series. It’ll be as fun to read as his show is to watch, so don’t miss a single one! Check out the archive at Stumpynubs.
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