Conversation with Tom McLaughlin

Old House and Barn Expo Preview: Conversation with Tom McLaughlin, host of popular TV show Rough Cut with Fine Woodworking

Visit with the new host of NHPBS’ popular TV show Rough Cut with Fine Woodworking, at the N.H. Preservation Alliance’s Old House & Barn Expo. Tom McLaughlin is a longtime woodworker and teacher and a member of the New Hampshire Furniture Masters. At the Expo, he will be working with hand tools and available for conversation on Saturday, March 24 between 1-5 p.m.

In advance of the Expo, the Preservation Alliance team asked Tom a few questions about his New Hampshire connections, myths about crafts and current trends before the event.

The new season of  Rough Cut with Fine Woodworking  with Tom McLaughlin starts April 7th at 4:30 pm on New Hampshire PBS. Come see him in person at the Expo! Photo: NHPBS

The new season of Rough Cut with Fine Woodworking with Tom McLaughlin starts April 7th at 4:30 pm on New Hampshire PBS. Come see him in person at the Expo! Photo: NHPBS

What’s it like living and working in Canterbury, New Hampshire?

When I first looked at Canterbury as a potential place to live twenty years ago, I had no idea how much creative vitality was hiding behind the old stone walls of these rolling hills...I love living here! There are so many gifted independent creative entrepreneurs in town, it just feels normal to walk out to my workshop behind my home each morning.

My most influential friendship and professional associate in town is two-term NH artist laureate, David Lamb. We have shared so many design challenges and inspirations over the years, and I have benefited so much from being his kindred spirit, furniture making neighbor and friend. David was also instrumental in introducing me to the then newly formed NH Furniture Masters Association when first moving to town in 1997 with my wife Kris and three children under four years of age. Being a member, and former chairman, of the NH Furniture Masters stretched my skill levels and creative borders beyond my wildest imagination.

And Dave Emerson, another long-time woodworker and Canterbury resident, invited me to teach furniture making classes at the Shaker Village in the summer of 1998, which turned out to be the beginning of discovering my love for “passing on the craft.” Three years later we built a new shop behind our house, which turned into hosting woodworking classes, later forming, and led to currently hosting a national PBS woodworking show.

We think the Old House and Barn Expo offers rare connections for old home owners and craft enthusiasts to interact with craftspeople and each other. Why do you think this is important?

Most gifted craftspeople keep a low profile. It only takes a few private commissions to tie up their time and keep them hunkered down in their shops, out of sight and mind of the clients and connections that may be the best fit.

So getting out to craft shows like the Old House and Barn Expo are key to making connections. Not to mention the inspiration and encouragement gained from getting to know other craftspeople who may be in a related or similar craft.

What do you see as positive or negative trends related to the craft, preservation or old building world?

With emergence of the Information Age, the world of fine craft “how to” techniques is as simple as searching YouTube or some other craft related search engine. At the same time, CNC methods and the 3D printing industries are growing rapidly, threatening to marginalize many handcraft and old world techniques.

It is likely the best of the old world crafts and finer hand techniques will increasingly be carried on and proliferated by serious hobbyists, the availability of solid teaching, and information online. This is why I feel committed to sharing and “passing on the craft” in the most effective ways possible.

Lower Old House Stress: Tips at the Old House and Barn Expo

Are you excited about spring but stressed about old house projects?

Whether you're a new owner of a historic house or long-time do-it-yourselfer, you can probably use some advice and encouragement from the N.H. Preservation Alliance's Old House and Barn Expo to help you see past the long to-do repair list and embrace the positive features of the old place.  

Take a deep breath and appreciate what you've got

Old houses were designed frequently with climate and good living in mind.  Does southern exposure make certain rooms extra cozy? Does the floor plan offer separation of space for privacy? Does a porch offer a wonderful extra room? Does an attic or ell offer storage space?  Can you close doors to heat less of the house? Remember old wood windows, moulding and doors are repairable.

Gather information and inspiration

Bring your questions to the Preservation Alliance's Old House and Barn Expo on March 24-25. Visit with experts and enjoy lectures and demonstrations. Gather information on how to get started, big projects or small.  Sign up for a session with an Old House Doctor. Ask a preservation contractors to perform a "walk-though" visit  to help you better understand the history and evolution of your building and determine priorities for your time and money.

Gain perspective on what you've done or need to do

Keep a journal of your progress. Documenting what you've done is good preservation practice. Record the building's condition, highlight features and keep track of treatments. Record paint colors and materials used. Reviewing the journal can offer a boost when you see all that you've accomplished. 

Recognize your interests and limits

Ask a neighbor for help or hire a handyman if storm window installation seems too onerous. Maybe you now have patience for a painting project that seemed impossible a decade ago? Phase work to align with time and budget considerations. 

Use new technology to help manage repair and restoration projects as well as everyday living

You can record measurements or test colors using your own photos and free or low-cost apps.  Programmable thermostats and home management systems with remote features can lower energy costs and stress.

Consider adopting a barn cat

The Pope Memorial SPCA of Concord-Merrimack County will be at the Old House and Barn Expo to inform attendees about barn cat adoption and care.  Preservation Alliance members who are barn cat owners report that their daily routine of barn cat care helps them keep track of barn maintenance issues. The cats also help control rodent population, and are just fun to have around too!

Laugh and keep perspective

Compare preservation and repair "war" stories at the Old House and Barn Expo and with friends over a beer.  Working on a barn project? Join the 52 Barns in 52 Weeks panel discussion at the Expo on March 25 to gain inspiration and gather helpful ideas. Watch a movie like The Money Pit or Mr. Blanding's Dream House, or visit a large historic site to make your challenges seem small.

Send your ideas to

Get practical advice on painting, and any other project -- big or small -- at the Expo.

Get practical advice on painting, and any other project -- big or small -- at the Expo.