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His Normness

By Tom Hintz

Posted - 1-30-2000

OK, I'm not an official card-carrying Norm guy, but I do have a sticker!

   There are few personalities in the woodworking world as well known as Norm Abram of New Yankee Workshop and This Old House fame. Many are able to remain balanced in their perception of Norm and what he does. However, there are those who take exception to Norm or something he does, and afford no middle ground.

   Those who fall on the less-than-supportive side of this decidedly New England-style fence often take exception to Norm's use of brads. With every koosh of his brad nailer, Norm inadvertently stirs the disdain of those who shun mechanical fasteners en masse. Another sticking point for some is Norm's liberal use of biscuit joinery. I use both, so think poorly of me if you must.

   In response to a post I made on a message forum indicating I liked one of Norm's projects, I received a terse email from a fellow woodworker with a less supportive opinion of His Normness. In part the email read, "Norm's a good carpenter that makes so-so woodworking projects. There are lots of better woodworkers out there than Norm will ever be."

   I can agree with the premise there may be better woodworkers in the world than Norm Abram. The world is a big place, making the designation of anyone "the best" at anything a fool's endeavor. However, my opinion is that Norm Abram is the best woodworker I have had the opportunity to watch work, even if just on TV. Therein lies the basis for my perception of His Normness.

   Though I do not strive to emulate everything Norm does, I have learned valuable lessons while watching his TV programs. Norm, and his producers, present a diverse range of projects, using an equally diverse range of power tools. This may not be perfect "something for everyone" programming, but it is very close. There are few New Yankee Workshop episodes that do not contain at least one technique or idea I can use in my shop.

   Some scoff at Norm's seemingly unlimited supply of power tools. I suspect he uses but a small fraction of the tools available to him. I also suspect this range of tools services not only advertiser interests, but also a majority of woodworkers as well. Identifying with the tools Norm uses is a big help in applying how he uses them.

   Watching Norm use such a wide range of tools has provided me with information that helped me make equipment purchase decisions for my own shop. I also have picked up better ways of using my tools by watching Norm apply them to various projects on his shows. Not everything Norm does applies to my shop, or me, but I have picked up techniques that have improved my woodworking.

   As with his selection of tools, I doubt I will match the range of projects Norm builds. I certainly will not be floating down the Mississippi river looking for ancient pine logs. However, many of the objects Norm builds provide ideas I can apply to projects of my own. Seeing how Norm fashions molding has little to do with what he brad nails it to on his show. The important thing is I learn another way to accent pieces I build. I have learned many things by watching Norm that in one way or another improve the work I am able to do in my shop.

   A less obvious result of Norm Abram's obvious popularity is the impact on each of our woodworking shops, including those belonging to non-believers.

   The price we pay for woodworking tools is determined in large part by the volume a company can sell. When a company can sell millions of a product, startup costs and the tooling necessary to produce each unit declines. As costs go down, companies are able to offer lower prices to increase their share of the marketplace. The result is lower street prices for us, the end users.

   Because woodworking is so popular, there is room in the marketplace for several companies to compete with similar products. That puts even more pressure on pricing and again lowers our costs. Such a large market allows manufacturers to offer multiple versions of a tool with price points that fit more budgets. That grows and sustains the marketplace.

   Certainly, Norm Abram is not single-handedly responsible for the popularity of woodworking today, but his impact is not trivial, a fact the long-time sponsors of his shows obviously recognize. Corporate bean counters would not allow these substantial advertising expenditures if their bottom line was not enhanced by the relationship. Remember all those fancy tools in Norm's shop? Tool company representatives, with the blessings of those corporate bean counters, want to get in on the fun--and sales potential.

   Norm Abram may not be the finest woodworker in the world, and he may not do everything in a way that pleases everyone. He does appeal to a very wide audience and seems to have a beneficial impact on woodworking.

   Brad nailer and all, I think Norm Abram is good for woodworking, and good for my shop.

Tom Hintz, Publisher
NewWoodworker.com LLC

UPDATE: Since posting this story in early 2000, the email it has drawn has been dramatic. So is the disparity between the detractors and those who appreciate His Normness - roughly several hundred supporters to each detractor!

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