WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Roy Underhill wanted to make sure his saws were ready before teaching his first woodworking class on Friday, so he got there early to sharpen them himself, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.
Showing off a recently-sharpened European rip saw, he encouraged others to — carefully, of course — touch the blade and feel how sharp it was. Then he bragged, with a gleam in his eye, “that’s a hungry saw, that’s ready to rip.”
Underhill — a rock star in the world of woodworking — was a featured speaker at the Woodworking in America show at the Benton Convention Center.
He likens working with old-fashioned tools to “doing old music with the original instruments,” and carries the music analogy a step further when giving general advice about woodworking: “If you’re working and it doesn’t sound like music, then you’re not doing it right.”
The Woodworking in America show is in its seventh year and is at the Benton Convention Center this year, with classes, vendors, and, as the group’s website puts it, “the opportunity to meet woodworking legends in person.” Between conference registrants and marketplace attendees, the event has nearly 1,200 people attending this year.
Underhill has hosted the PBS-series “The Woodwright’s Shop with Roy Underhill” since 1979. He recently finished shooting the 34th season of the show.
“It’s one of the longest-running shows on,” he said, adding with a chuckle. “It goes back to the days of silent television.”
With more than 400 episodes under his belt, he still hasn’t run out of subject matter on the topic of woodworking.
“If it were something less organic and less deep in our culture, I think you would run out,” he said. “It’s a deep well.”
He was glad the Woodworking in America show was being held this year in Winston-Salem, giving enthusiasts a chance to visit Old Salem and MESDA to see the results of what he describes as some of the best woodworking in the world thanks to different cultures converging and a wide variety of available lumber.
In addition to teaching classes at the woodworking event — including one at 11 a.m. today, about combination planes — he is catching up with other woodworking enthusiasts. Sitting in the lobby of the Convention Center eating a quick lunch of yogurt and granola bars, he is frequently interrupted by enthusiastic fans, fellow woodworking experts, and people stopping to ask for advice.
He doesn’t mind the attention.
“It’s enough that it’s really nice,” he said. “It’s never been a bother.”
In addition to his TV show, Underhill, who lives in an old grist mill near Saxapahaw, has written several books, tours occasionally teaching classes, and also teaches classes on traditional woodworking in nearby Pittsboro.
“Teaching people is by far the best way to learn,” he said. “It’s how you get to know what you don’t know.”