Roughing it with Tommy MacDonald

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Tall and brawny, Tommy MacDonald is about the last guy one would expect to be wearing makeup, but now more than halfway through taping the first season of his upcoming Public Television woodworking series, the Canton native is getting used to it.

Tommy MacDonald

Tommy MacDonald, center, chats with Eli Cleveland of the production crew between takes. (Photo courtesy of WGBH Educational Foundation)

While he said it was uncomfortable the first couple of times he had it put on, he now uses the few minutes it takes to apply the makeup before filming begins to clear his mind and “get into the mindset of doing the job,” as he puts it.  MacDonald, host and producer, is putting his game-face on, in both a literal and figurative sense.

After making a name for himself in local woodworking circles for crafting his antique-style custom furniture pieces, MacDonald is taking his talents to a television set near you when Rough Cut – Woodworking with Tommy Mac premieres nationally in October.

“It’s like a dream come true,” MacDonald said. “I set my sights on it so long ago and just to have it bear fruit, it’s been really astonishing. It’s like an out-of-body experience. I see it happening, but I don’t believe it’s me.”

Much of the series, produced by WGBH and distributed by American Public Television, is filmed right here in Canton at MacDonald’s Draper Lane woodworking studio.

The first season includes 13 half-hour-long episodes. Each show will take a field trip to a different Boston area landmark, like the USS Constitution, the Old North Church, or the historic John Adams house in Quincy for design inspiration. Then MacDonald returns to his Canton studio with the information he gathered from the trip and applies it to a smaller, more approachable woodworking project, like a blanket chest, wall cabinet, or flag box.

The flag box episode, which coincides with a field trip to the USS Constitution, is slated to air around Veterans’ Day and will have a special treat for Canton viewers. After MacDonald is finished showing how to build the triangular flag box, he is joined in the studio by five members of the Canton Veterans Honor Guard — Robert DeYeso (Army), Gerald Gallagher (Marines), Frank LaBollita (Army), Edward Lehan (Air Force), and Jack O’Neill (Navy) — who demonstrate how to properly fold an American flag and place it within a flag box. Interestingly, LaBollita was MacDonald’s sixth grade shop teacher.

Air conditioning is going to be installed soon at MacDonald’s woodworking studio, but there was no relief from the heat the afternoon of July 8 when he was taping the segment with the Canton veterans. It was 90 degrees outside that day and maybe twice that inside — or so it felt — but the stuffy and humid conditions inside the studio-turned television set didn’t faze the laid-back, cool, calm and collected MacDonald, or the veterans for that matter.

“It doesn’t bother me,” MacDonald said. “I’ve worked outside my entire life doing construction work. It’s inside, so at least we’re out of the sunlight.”

Executive producer Laurie Donnelly said even the nationally syndicated shows produced by WGBH have local roots, helping to add a personal touch to the program, which is definitely the case for MacDonald’s Rough Cut; Canton is well-represented in this series.

Canton resident Al D’Attanasio appears in three episodes in the upcoming season, playing Home Improvement’s Al Borland to MacDonald’s Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor. D’Attanasio, a longtime woodworker in his own right, facilitates conversation during the studio portion of the show, asking MacDonald questions about the techniques he is using to complete the episode’s project.

Al D’Attanasio has his makeup applied before the taping gets underway. (Courtesy photo)

The two met about six years ago after D’Attanasio retired following more than 30 years as the assistant principal at the Luce school. MacDonald calls his friend his “ultimate sidekick.”

“Having been a woodworker for a long time, to be a part of this is truly exciting,” D’Attanasio said. “It’s a very unique experience. I never thought I’d end up being a part of a TV show.”

In addition to D’Attanasio, Canton resident Mark Libby will also make an appearance on the show this season, as will local guests Steve Brown and Eli Cleveland (who also serves as a production assistant on set).

While only a half-hour show, a considerable amount of time is spent filming each episode. Donnelly said it takes about one full work day to film each project in the workshop and about a half day to film each field trip. Just the flag folding segment itself, which will only take a small portion of the 30 minute show, took more than an hour to finish.

It can take up to a week to edit each individual episode. MacDonald said taping began in May and he is hoping to have it finished by August, so the show is on schedule for its October premiere.

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