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Missing a woodworking legend

I learned the other day that Roy Doty passed away a couple years ago. I hadn’t known, but I’ll sure miss him. He gave me my first introduction to woodworking – before I could even read.

In 1954, cartoonist Roy Doty started a monthly feature for Popular Science magazine. There were no true woodworking magazines at the time, but Popular Science and similar publications regularly featured woodworking and how-to projects. The difference about Roy’s feature was that there was no writing at all, just pictures. The feature, “Wordless Workshop,” ran for three and a half decades in the magazine, and then many more years in Family Handyman.

Whenever I visited my grandparents in the late ’50s, I’d voraciously go through Grandpap’s collection of Popular Science. (He never threw them out.) The big reason was Roy’s feature, which I could actually “read.” No words; just right for someone whose age was in single digits.

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Each cartoon started the same. The main character is going about his business (always smoking a pipe), and then something goes amiss. It could be anything from a tangled extension cord, to a balky cabinet door, to flowerpots falling over. More often than not the mishap happened to his wife, who pleaded with him to do something. He’d look at the problem, puff that pipe and then, in a staple of every single cartoon, suddenly have an idea complete with a light bulb popping to life.

He’d then, in a matter of just a few panels, show his solution – sometimes with a detailed sketch – and put the solution to work. The last panel was always a joyful celebration of the result. Month after month, year after year, every cartoon went the same way and yet never got old. I “read” that feature for a few years before learning to read, and then stayed with it afterward, always fascinated by the process Roy illustrated. I think it was in those early days that I fell in love with woodworking.

“Wordless Workshop” changed with the times: Projects often featured electronic gadgets and shop projects to make them more enjoyable. He eventually stopped smoking when the pipe disappeared. In later years the main character’s wife more and more frequently was the one who came up with the solution and implemented it herself, much to her husband’s delight.

Not sure why or how I missed the fact that Roy Doty passed away in 2015 at the age of 93, but when I found out earlier this week I thought a lot about “Wordless Workshop” and the formative effect Roy had on me at a very early age. Every woodworker or anyone who works with their hands – including one who discovered him when only six years old – owes Roy Doty a debt of thanks and reverence.

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