The star of
PBS’ Rough Cut - Woodworking with Tommy Mac says that
creating furniture from scratch is can-do, even for those who think
of themselves as can’t-don’t.
I’m trying to broaden the horizons of what has been shown
on television for woodworking,” says Rough Cut host Tommy
MacDonald, known to his growing legion of fans as Tommy Mac. “I just
want to continue to broaden people’s expectations of themselves when
they go to do some woodworking, so they really can do any of this
The popular PBS how-to program enters its third season this fall,
and Tommy Mac isn’t surprised that the fine art of woodworking has
caught on with old die-hards with calluses as well as curious
newbies with carpal tunnel.
“I really and truly believe that if you really want to dedicate the
time doing this type of work, you’ll be able to do it in some
capacity,” he says.
Those are pretty much fighting words for an old-world New England
guy who normally takes his sweet old time and hones his craft. But
now he’s stepping up for season three, and a whole lot of
woodworking fans are clamoring for more. In order to teach out loud
what’s in his head, MacDonald has to think and work at buzz-saw
speed, yet maintain his usual stamp of quality and slow-good
attention to detail.
“It’s very methodical,” he says of the craft. “It’s kind of like
putting together a jigsaw puzzle. You really need to start in one
spot and end up in another. I bet Type A guys would really get
wrapped up in the whole process, as long as you aren’t agonizing
over all of the small things that you don’t really need to agonize
over. I think the more you do it, the more you realize that the
things that you agonize over in the beginning don’t amount to a hill
of beans six months or a year down the road.”
A life-long resident of Canton, Massachusetts (with a New England
accent not heard on PBS since the days of Zoom), MacDonald
polished his passion for woodworking since middle-school shop class.
“My dad was a civil engineer,” he says. “He couldn’t do woodworking
to save his life, but he had nine kids and we were always paneling
and doing drop ceilings. We were always fixing cars. He could make
miracles out of a couple of nuts and bolts and bubble gum and
elastic. My dad was definitely MacGyver, for sure.
“I had six sisters and two brothers. I was second to last, and I was
fixing all my brothers’ and sisters’ cars, fixing whatever was
broken around the house. I was kind of my dad’s helper. I got to the
point where I ended up doing all the stuff.”
By adulthood, he was a full-fledged carpenter (with a union card),
improving homes all over the area. By the mid-Nineties, he worked on
Boston’s Big Dig, but an on-the-job injury and a shoulder separation
forced him to set his career sights elsewhere. That’s when he found
Since then, MacDonald has had his work showcased at the
Massachusetts Historical Society, The Rhode Island School of Design
Museum, The Concord Museum, and Doric Hall in the Massachusetts
When he was urged to start a video podcast to demonstrate
step-by-step woodworking, he didn’t even own a computer. But he
learned fast, and before long he was on television.
“I’m striking a chord with a lot of people on television because I’m
pretty damn good at what I’m doing, but I’m not the expert,” he
says. “I’m just another guy in the shop trying to figure out a
really good way to make something that I want to build.”
Yet with the TV series, he was able to sand off one finished product
after another, with a huge following doing the same at home.
MacDonald is eternally appreciative for the opportunity to share his
passion with a national audience.
“I’ve had some pretty tough times along the way, so I’m really
grateful just to be here,” he says. “I got into a car accident when
I was twenty-years old, and it really almost killed me, so every day
I wake up and I feel like I’m on borrowed time. For me personally,
it’s just an honor to be a steward of the craft, and I’m doing my
best not to mess it up. I have a really good family that’s not
afraid to knock me down a couple of pegs, if my head gets too big.
I’m just lucky to be here, man, I’m just blessed. Honestly.”
For those about to carve, McDonald says that focus is key, and not
being afraid to goof up. That is a given (even for him).
“The mistakes you make are instantly clear,” he says. “You’re like,
‘Oh, I get it,’ and then you have to try to fix your mistake or pick
up another piece of wood. Overall, the material is pretty
inexpensive, even if you are paying fifteen or twenty bucks a board
foot. The amount of time that goes into these projects is where all
the money is.”
However, once you get into the groove, you’re grooving with the best
“If you have the passion to do it, and you’re willing to
stay on the learning curve, you can achieve anything,” he says.
“What I do is an acquired skill. If you just spend enough time and
have the tools, you can get pretty good at it. It’s like anything. I
don’t cook, but I know that if I stayed in the kitchen long enough,
I would learn how to cook something. If you really, really want to
do it, you can do it.”