Monday, July 26, 2010

a Rough Cut--- Woodworking story

Thursday- July 22, 2010: I left the Island but the call came Tuesday evening.

I knew I was in trouble when I asked what I needed to wear and the answer was a tu-tu, one like Magilla’s.

I’m the lesser half of a caregiver team so a few of my responsibilities had to be addressed before I could take off. With that done, I was good to go. As I told David Pruett of the Folding Rule blog, you have to be very nibble when “the call comes”.

But what phone call and from where……….????

That next morning Wednesday July 21st, I cleared up my phone calls, e-mails, did a quick visit, jumped ahead to a glue-up that could stand for a while, and at 6:30 pm went flying out to purchase some nice T-shirts. I was told to get a few different colors. Knowing darker colors suits me best, that’s what I went for. A Furnitology-T was not in the mix.

While all this motion and thinking was going on, a photo essay came to mind so extra batteries were needed. Since I live on an island, I needed ferry reservations so I took care of that.

I was set to go.

As I tidied up to leave Thursday morning, the phone rang. It was one of the young guns of woodworking who I will always make time for Justin DiPalma. We’ve traveled a few times to Boston together and he’s on the WoodExpo planning group:

“Hey……what’s up!!! Typical Justin….. “Nothing”

After a few laughs, you coax out what he has cook’in. He’s all excited about having met a guy who has access to backroom area’s where furniture sits; waiting to be re-visited. As part of the approval process, he needed to present his work, which not surprising, was received well. Justin is self taught, very talented, and quietly going about finding his place in woodworking. He knows the importance of the inspirational access he’s worked to put himself in. Justin won’t say that, but you can hear the excitement in his voice.

Now between hearing about Justin and his backroom coup and being already excited about my adventure, I’m was ready to fly Peter Pan style to my destination.

I loaded up my van and headed to the ferry terminal. Oddly enough my ride had me thinking of Rick Water’s of the Saw Dust Chronicles, his Fall challenge is coming up and he had the honor of riding the rear wheel well on our trip to a SAFM meeting in Connecticut. Without a complaint I might add.

The van loads onto the ferry with the other commerce, funny that I was headed to Boston (oops) and I’m riding with an empty Downes and Reader truck who had just dropped off 8000 bd ft of white oak in Calverton, Long Island. Woodworking on an island is different than working wood on mainland USA. Moving materials is expensive and we have no selection of hardwood, so you learn to travel off Island to select your own hardwood or for economic reasons you move to veneer and get to be good friends with Mike, the UPS driver.

My ferry ride was thoughtful as I tossed around the idea of an essay on the navigational hazards
of woodworking on Long Island. But settled on a more generic woodworking topic that wonders where this current generation of woodworker is going. The laptop got a workout for a while but Thursday (July 22, 2010), the Northeast weather was a 10.5 so I leaned on the port rail
and took in a cool summer breeze as we fetched the waterfront entrance of New London, Connecticut.

I know now why I’m a bad blogger; with this photo, my photo essay ends. But my trip to New England isn’t even half over. After exiting the ferry and getting on I95, I was all business as I headed to Tommy MacDonald’s shop. Others can do it, but I find my focus is such that, taking another photo on this trip never entered my mind.

Sorry………but its verbiage from here.

The call I received late Tuesday evening was from Tommy MacDonald and he asked me to be on his next episode of Rough Cut Woodworking with Tommy Mac to be shot Friday morning July 23rd. The episode has to do with a desk Tommy has had his eye on for a while in the John Adams house and the veneer work involved.

So I was on my way………….wouldn’t you be too.

I’ve been at woodworking long enough that I only need to hear a furniture topic, put it into a time line and I’m golden. In this particular case I could have taken a bellflower back to Fra Giovanni and stringing to wall paper prints by Lucienne Day.

I reached Tommy’s shop after a slight mistake of thinking I was in Canton when really in Sharon, Mass, but as I learned from Justin on earlier trips, if you don’t stop moving, you’re never lost……….he was right again.

Eli greeted me at the door and it was like we saw each other just yesterday, Eli is another young gun who is quietly making his way with a twist. A cool twist I might add. His woodworking/furniture design story in 30 years should be a great one. It’s leaning toward that special side already. He’s the main thrust of the 2011 WoodExpo having played a more pivotal roll in 2010. He’s also plays a very important roll in Tommy’s TV production.

On entering the shop we had a bunch of laughs, but I’m aware I’m hindering preparation so I take off with my blue spiral note/sketch pad to Pete’s Place in Canton for a couple unsweetened ice tea’s and stir the noggin a bit for tomorrows (Friday-July23rd) shoot. I saw the veneer work was a V match and it reminded me of Giuseppe Maggiolini and since the episode would star the desk in the John Adams house, the Kings Desk of Louis XVI by Riesener came to mind, I was in Pete’s Place but really in my own furniture fun. I took notes so I had reminders.

I left Pete’s and went back to the shop hung out for just a while longer, then split to get some rest. Plus prepping was still underway and I didn’t want to interfere.

Friday morning came fast and before long, I was back in Tommy’s shop and was greeted with a huge smile from Al. Tommy and Al have a very special friendship and their banter is fun to be around. As the WGBH production crew began to show up, I remembered Laurie and Anne from last years WoodExpo, Dave Masher from way back in the T-Mac journey and met Dino the cameraman. That was the slowest the day would be……….OH I almost forgot, I went to make-up too.

From 8am to 7pm it was non-stop as Laurie would say…”ACTION”. Tommy is really disciplined about shooting each sequence of shots. I noticed Tommy and Laurie communicate in a unique fashion, much of it is in tonal expression. Dino is amazing at remembering the last shot, the hand positions and out from the back room where Anne watches and types dialog, will question terminology and remembers that a term used at 10am is the same term used at 5pm. Steve Brown from NBSS is the technical advisor and Laurie will check machine set-up and safety until it is exhausted and she is happy. In between all this production talk, Eli is either at stand still or 100 mph. Laurie is the producer of the show and reminds me of an Interior Designer. She has the ability to visualize the sequence of construction in her head and the savy to present it to the client or viewer in this case. It was powerful as I watched the show be shot. Laurie sets the pace, Tommy works to get it for her, Anne keeps Tommy on topic, Dino moves between close-up, wide and numerous angles and it works. You can feel the wavering emotions of the room.

Sorry there are no pictures, but I was working.

As for my job, I never got the chance to mention Fra Giovanni, but he didn’t fit. On returning to my motel Friday evening, I was exhausted. I feel asleep for about 2 hours, then couldn’t sleep as I rehashed what I said, what I should have said, questioned if my performance provided material, and did I do what was needed. During shooting, Tommy told me to relax, think of it as a podcast, but that’s easy to say and hard to do.

I left real early Saturday morning to catch the ferry back home. I didn’t get to see Tommy and Eli before I left, they had an 8am production meeting……they shoot again Monday July 26th.

As I think about my day in the life of Rough Cut Woodworking with Tommy Mac, I’m so glad I took the time to peel back the many layers of a very talented, big hearted guy. Tommy MacDonald had a vision very early on that only a small number of internet woodworkers understood. I’m very appreciative to witness it come to fruition. And now to be a part of its early history is a wonderful feeling.

Thanks for the book Eli and Thanks again Tommy!!!!


Ronaldo said...

Hey Neil

nice story!
so are you posting us a link to a
photo of the said table?


Neil....a Furnitologist said...

Rondo.......not sure I'm following?? We did a box with a herringbone veneered top. FUN!!!

Ronaldo said...

Oh I just wanted to see the table you visited, could not find anything about the furniture at the Adams house on google (but noticed a table with herring bone and other veneering in the teaser of Tommy's show, is it the same?).

a herringbone sunburst is also quite nice and challenging :)

Al Navas said...


THAT is so cool! I look forward to the new show every day!!!

Neil....a Furnitologist said... cha!!!!

It was a desk at the Adams house, I went over a year ago and believe its history is french. A section of the desk shows a herring bone pattern and that was the technique used on the top.

Hey Rondo as you mentioned the starburst, that's the idea, bring in the beginner and spark a thought for the more experienced woodworker. Just as you did here.

All aspects of building are shot, but man its gonna move in a 1/2 hour.


PS: we got the first draft complete on the WoodExpo - Call for Entries, we have to pull off the international skype visit we talk about.

Neil....a Furnitologist said...

Hey was alot of fun. Tommy's way of showing his loyalty trait and a special way to say thank you. As always when I'm in his company, its different and special.

By the way....did you notice the fellow who put up the Krenov case in the Design thread of the 207. He was amazed at the feedback.

He didn't extend the discussion as long as you're abilities enable but he still put in a good effort.

Al thanks for commenting I appreciate it....I'll make sure you get a personal e-mail on the WoodExpo when all hashed out. We are a bit behind but I now see why Eli can't always respond in a timely fashion. We'll be OK though.

Thanks again Al......Neil

Earl Kelly said...


A great writeup. I enjoyed every minute of it.


Rockler said...

Congrats, Neil - what fun! Can't wait to see it!

Rockler Woodworking and Hardware
Create with Confidence

Vic Hubbard said...

Neil, Congratulation for the exposure. It's nice to see some of the great energy and help you are always willing to give to those of us that would receive it, paid back! Good on Tommy!! I bet you were beaming the whole time. I need to contact my local PBS and make sure they're gonna carry Tommy's show.

The Apprentice and The Journeyman said...


Thanks for sharing!

There's a feeling that we may look back on this moment in a few years and realize the specialness of what is happening. (perhaps you realize that now.)There seems to be a sense of optimism with a new energy taking place. (something that starts as a ripple and eventually becomes a wave.)
The time is right for it to happen. Like Eli said..."Keep moving and you won't get lost."

Mike said...


Great write-up on your trip to Tommy's shop. It is really cool that you will be in the show. In my book you are right up there with those other guys on the show. You bring a lot to the woodworking table that is not offered anywhere else. I have learned so much from your blog videos. In fact I am just putting the finish on an eight foot long conference table that I veneered. Yup, I watched your lingerie chest series a few more times and went to town with the veneer. It came out great. I will send a few pictures when it is done.

It was great to catch up with you at the Home Show. Any progress in the 3D CNC, I thought the base was the standout feature of the lamp.
Can not wait to see you on Rough Cut!


Medford, MA

David Pruett said...

Neil -

Wow . . . where does the time go! July went screaming past me and it is already August. Somehow this very enjoyable episode of Furnitology Productions slipped past my attention. What a delightful read this morning! I was smiling from ear to ear from the begining to the end. All my favorite stuff was crammed into each paragraph: a trip to Boston, a ferry ride, sitting next to an empty Downs & Reader truck, a pinch of nautical fair, meeting up with Tommy, Al, Eli, Steve and the WGBH crew. And then of course "the prep". How fun it would have been to sit and listen to the woodworking & furniture history as you made notes. Of course, I love veneer work so that would have been a bonus. Thanks for taking us along!

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