Eric Hollenbeck Talks Woodworking, Restoration, and His New Show “The Craftsman”
Eric Hollenbeck never saw himself leading a television series. A master craftsman, Hollenbeck was content to continue working at Blue Ox Millworks, his woodworking company in Northern California, but a call about a potential TV spot changed everything. Hollenbeck was originally only supposed to appear in one episode of a Discovery show, but when that didn’t work out, he was approached about potentially doing an entire series devoted to his life’s work.
“If you’re looking for a reality show [with a] protagonist, that kind of thing, we’re smoke,” he recalled telling the network during a recent video interview. “We are out of here, we are so far down the road, you won’t even see our dust.”
Fortunately, that’s not what the network — the Chip and Joanna Gaines-helmed Magnolia Network — had in mind. Instead, “The Craftsman” (airing Tuesday nights) is a relaxed, low-stakes series that follows Hollenbeck and his team (including his wife and daughters) as they work on various restoration projects throughout his beloved hometown of Eureka, California. Each episode tackles a different challenge, from an 1880s trolley to Hollenbook’s childhood movie theater, and offers some life insights along the way.
Apartment Therapy caught up with Hollenbeck ahead of the premiere of “The Craftsman” to chat about the basics of woodworking, the merits of restoration, and sharing his passion with the world. (This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.)
Apartment Therapy: Can you tell us a little bit about how the show came to be?
Eric Hollenbeck: [We told the network] we will do this for two reasons. Number one: to promote craftsmanship amongst the young people, to tell the young people of the United States that being a craftsman is an honorable and noble way to spend the rest of your life and [that] you can make a good living at it, because the education system has not been telling them that. And number two: to show the world this lovely little gem that we live in called Eureka, California in Northern Northern Northern California. San Francisco thinks they’re Northern California. We’re five and a half hours north of them. So there’s two more ‘Northerns’ and evidently, they thought that was a good answer, because then the whole thing started.
AT: What sort of advice would you give to someone, maybe a younger person, looking to get into woodworking?
EH: Know that you’re going to start someplace and you’re going to get better at it, and better and better. If you work with these, your hands, you’re a tradesman, you’re a laborer. If you work with these [hands] and your head, you are a craftsman. If you work with these [hands], your head, and your heart, you’re a master craftsman. You put all of those together and then you’re putting your soul into what you’re doing.
AT: Do you have any beginner projects for people who are looking to get into this?
EH: I would say find something that you’re interested in, and then figure out how to do that. This is the first thing you have to learn and it’ll be the last thing you learn. I have to learn this with every project I do. The more complicated the project, the more I try [to] outthink it… I waste days. At some point you just have to start making sawdust, knowing you’re gonna throw those first boards away. It [doesn’t] make any difference. You’ve got to start. Because at the beginning of a project, you don’t even know the questions to ask. How can you try and figure out the answers when you don’t even know what to ask? You’ve got to start down the road, start building something. You’ll figure it out as you go along because every quest, every problem rises and you solve it, and then the next one rises and you solve it. It’s a stair step.
AT: I know that these days so many people are inclined to just knock things down and build a new or buy a new thing. Why do you think that restoration is so vital?
EH: You just hit the nail on the head on what I’ve been going through in my thought process and my life, about this series and everything else, and who I am and what I’m doing. And I have to tell you, there are times that I feel like one of the World War II monument men. Eureka is this wonderful little town. We have, I’m told, 68 percent of our original structure still standing. We don’t have art galleries like the Louvre or the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But we have our Louvre around us all the time as you walk down the streets. We have our Louvre in our architecture. And I have spent almost a lifetime trying to keep that in the forefront, trying to keep that preserved, doing the very best I could do. And at first that wasn’t very good. [Laughs.] It was something and I’ve gotten better at it, because it’s our cultural heritage. It’s who we are as a people, as a societal group, as Eurekans.
AT: Do you have any favorite memories from filming the series? Does any one moment stand out?
EH: When it clicked for me, what they were asking me to do, it was great. Because then I knew the game plan. I knew the battle of attack. I get it now. Boy, the first couple of weeks were ragged, I’ve gotta tell you. God bless the Magnolia Network. They are coming and finding people that have never [had a] camera in [their] face all the time. And they set up such a great team and made me finally get comfortable and natural with it. When that happens for the girls — and I think it’s gonna happen, I know it’s gonna happen, because I’m watching it; not this minute, but I’m watching this whole process — they are gonna shine and show the world their power too.
“The Craftsman” airs new episodes on Tuesdays at 9/8 central on the Magnolia Network and Discovery+.