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PBS plans new woodworking show this fall

There will be a new woodworking host on PBS this fall and he's definitely not the norm.

Thomas McDonald and his reproduction of a bombe secretary, which took 14 months to complete.

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Thomas MacDonald, principal of Thomas J. MacDonald Furniture in Canton, Mass., has signed a contract with WGBH in Boston to host a multisegment woodworking show, featuring how-to projects and visits with other professionals.

"The premise of this show is to spotlight other woodworkers throughout the country and inspire new and experienced woodworkers alike that everyone can do highly complex work," says MacDonald.

All that's left is for the show to find a sponsor.

"We have had discussions with some major companies and are in the final stages of securing that funding," says MacDonald.

"We're moving forward enthusiastically; the program is in development," says Laurie Donnelly, executive producer of lifestyle programming at WGBH. "We're targeting it for the fall of 2010."

MacDonald initiated the idea of hosting a television show about a year ago and approached WGBH with persistence. The television station had an obvious need with Norm Abram's decision to end a 21-season run as host of "The New Yankee Workshop."

"I would never call myself the next Norm. He was in a class of his own, a groundbreaker in sustainable entertainment. I'm just riding on his coattails," says MacDonald.

MacDonald is a former union carpenter who injured his shoulder in 1999 working on Boston's Big Dig infrastructure project. The injury forced him to look at other options and he decided on attending the North Bennet Street School in Boston for a two-year professional woodworking training program. He graduated in 2002 and promptly opened a one-man shop, focusing on high-end early American reproduction furniture.

MacDonald has appeared on several episodes of "Home Again," hosted by Bob Vila, and podcasts as "T.Chisel." MacDonald has shot a pilot episode for the yet-unnamed PBS show.

MacDonald spoke with enthusiasm about bringing cameras to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., and the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, R.I. He also plans to show ongoing work in his shop.

Donnelly says the goal of the program is to make woodworking appeal to people as a fun, accessible hobby. She says MacDonald defies the stigma of a master craftsman being uptight, adding "he's anything but that."

"I think he will attract a very broad audience, both young and old," Donnelly says. "People like him, so he really has the ability to bring somebody into the tent. I also think he offers the unusual combination of somebody who is very accessible - the guy you want to hang out with in the shop - but also this incredible master craftsman."

The show will air nationally on the how-to block of PBS lifestyle programming. It will also be accessible through the Create TV digital-cable channel.

MacDonald says he will continue to make furniture between show seasons.

"Obviously, it's a great opportunity," he says. "For me, coming from the Big Dig and breaking my shoulder and not having anything, to surviving making world-class furniture even when the economy dropped off. My career has really taken off. I think I'm most qualified for the job. I just keep my hopes on it."

This article originally appeared in the May 2010 issue.

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