Born in 1950, Norm Abram is a master carpenter and TV presenter. He appears in two long-running DIY shows, the New Yankee Workshop and This Old House.
Norm, the son of a Massachusetts carpenter, was a building contractor until 1979. He then joined Bob Vila for the initial season of This Old House on channel WGBH in Boston. Norm stayed on the show when Bob left ten years later to be replaced by Steve Thomas. In 1988, Norm launched his solo show, The New Yankee Workshop on WGBH.
In This Old House, Norm takes a secondary role to Steve. Each series of the show follows the extensive remodelling of a series of houses. Steve’s role is to interview sub-contractors, try his hand at specialist skills like plastering and tiling, and visit nearby places of interest. Norm stays in the background more, helping out with the woodworking and discussing cabinetry with local experts.
By contrast, The New Yankee Workshop is Norm’s chance to shine. The format of the show is generally the same each time. Norm finds a piece of wooden furniture that he would like to make, often in an antique shop. Before filming starts, he creates a prototype. The show then consists of him making a version of the chosen piece of furniture in his incredibly well-equipped workshop.
In some ways, the workshop is the co-star of the show. It is full of every imaginable power tool: routers, bandsaws, lathes, a table saw, etc, etc. Norm has dozens of attachments, blades, jigs, and accessories for these tools, plus a variety of hand tools for those jobs best done manually.
Many viewers, seeing the array of tools, assume that they are the key to Norm’s craftmanship. As mrichich says,
Yeah, I could make great furniture with a quarter of a million dollars worth of professional quality woodworking equipment too.
Like any skilled craftsman, Norm makes woodworking look easy; that’s part of the charm of the series. It seduces viewers into believing that they, too, could build a Georgian style bow-front cabinet on a weekend, given the right tools. This is like saying I could write Tomb Raider, if only I had the right compiler. Norm is always thinking four or five cuts ahead, planning what the piece will look like in an hour’s time. He has hard-earned understanding of his materials: he knows what a given piece of wood will do, which way it will bend, when it will break, and how it will expand in years to come.
At heart, Norm is a woodworking geek. He loves his subject more than he loves his audience. Viewers looking for charisma, emotion, and humour will be disappointed. The pleasure in watching Norm Abram is in seeing good work well done.
Biographical information obtained from the Woodworking Hall of Fame website.