Norm Abram Is Back, And Thanks To AI, Now In HD

We’ve said many times that while woodworking is a bit outside our wheelhouse, we have immense respect for those with the skill and patience to turn dead trees into practical objects. Among such artisans, few are better known than the legendary Norm Abram — host of The New Yankee Workshop from 1989 to 2009 on PBS.

So we were pleased when the official YouTube channel for The New Yankee Workshop started uploading full episodes of the classic DIY show a few months back for a whole new generation to enjoy. The online availability of this valuable resource is noteworthy enough, but we were particularly impressed to see the channel start experimenting with AI enhanced versions of the program recently.

Note AI Norm’s somewhat cartoon-like appearance.

Originally broadcast in January of 1992, the “Child’s Wagon” episode of Yankee Workshop was previously only available in standard definition. Further, as it was a relatively low-budget PBS production, it would have been taped rather than filmed — meaning there’s no negative to go back and digitize at a higher resolution. But thanks to modern image enhancement techniques, the original video could be sharpened and scaled up to 1080p with fairly impressive results.

That said, the technology isn’t perfect, and the new HD release isn’t without a few “uncanny valley” moments. It’s particularly noticeable with human faces, but as the camera almost exclusively focuses on the work, this doesn’t come up often. There’s also a tendency for surfaces to look smoother and more uniform than they should, and reflective objects can exhibit some unusual visual artifacts.

Even with these quirks, this version makes for a far more comfortable viewing experience on today’s devices. It’s worth noting that so far only a couple episodes have been enhanced, each with an “AI HD” icon on the thumbnail image to denote them as such. Given the computational demands of this kind of enhancement, we expect it will be used only on a case-by-case basis for now. Still, it’s exciting to see this technology enter the mainstream, especially when its used on such culturally valuable content.

53 thoughts on “Norm Abram Is Back, And Thanks To AI, Now In HD

  1. Every time Norm brought the host of This Old House over to the Workshop for a very special woodworking item that a new job needed, the host would get the “batman’s cave” treatment. And even though the workshop was in fact in the barn itself, and the show’s offices were and probably still are in the famrhouse. I think the whole site is one of the oldest ones in the state.

    1. I had the extreme luck of being invited to visit the workshop. It is actually smaller than it appears,; all the equipment has drop down wheels to allow them to be moved around . One of the impressive things is the dust collection system which you cannot see on the shows
      Meeting Norm was one of the highlights of my life

  2. Always appreciated Norm’s work, I grew up watching This Old House and the New Yankee Workshop. I often lament the loss of lifestyle shows that truly show how to, instead of just dramatising the relationship between the owner and contractor, or repeatedly just upcycling furniture and pallets using chalk paint.

    Whilst there’s now a wealth of online video content that has explicit instructions, they often lack the capacity Norm has to deliver the information. You either get a 3 minute clip showing a pile of parts followed by a completed product, or 4 hours of uncut footage rambling about the 14 other ways they could have done it. Sometimes you get a combination of both, with 4 hours of rambling over multiple cuts so you never see how it was done.

    Rarely do you find a channel of videos that breaks down the how-to, with practical visual instruction, and a little bit of why so well.

    I wish there’d been an electronics equivalent on TV in my formative years.

    1. “Rarely do you find a channel of videos that breaks down the how-to, with practical visual instruction, and a little bit of why so well.”

      “Don’t forget to subscribe and hit the like button…oh, and our sponsor is…plus hit up our patreon for exclusive content.”

      1. That’s because it’s a job.

        Even if it’s not their sole means of support pulling a few hours of work for a 20 minute video’s a job.

        It doesn’t mean the content’s good, mind. But someone else’s time isn’t free.

        1. It’s not a “job” though. A youtube/patreon artist as an occupation and in general is approximately comparable to playing an accordion on a street corner for coins. It’s unsolicited entertainment – basically a modern form of panhandling.

          It’s most insidious because youtube pulls advertising money out of the general public and forces everyone to pay the guy because you’re watching their video. That’s why there’s so many people on there simply copying other videos and farming content. Google doesn’t care. They get paid their 30% either way.

          1. I love NYW and Norm himself was/is something special. I think he almost single-handedly taught a generation of people that you can make your own stuff and that it doesn’t need to be intimidating, even power tools and stuff. He did a whole miniseries about setting up a shop and how and what tools are and what you need to buy bare bones also with easy beginner projects like a simple but sturdy work bench.
            To this day I can recite the intro word for word.
            Fun fact- Norm was awarded a lifetime achievement award from an optho society for his dedication to eye safety and reminding everyone of the Most Important Safety Rule of all. I still hear him every time I pick up a tool or step into the shop- and think of my norm-esque grandfather when I put in my rad 1940’s safety glasses I got from grandpa’s shop after he died.

          2. It is a very lucrative job for many. Making more money on youtube videos than well respected day jobs. They pit just and much work and hours in YouTube projects if not more than a ” real job” which it is.

    2. For home machine shop content, This Old Tony fills this exact roll. Funny, entertaining, and incredibly informative, with well thought out and produced video. I just wish I had the time to spend in my shop that he does!

    1. I had to full-screen it to see what you mean, but they’re definitely there. Might be less noticeable on a phone though. I guess the AI algo doesn’t deal with edges very well, if I saw that on a scope I’d say it had some ringing.

  3. I appreciate this post greatly, showing love for one of the original DIY shows.

    As much as I liked Norm, my favorite since I was a kid was definitely Roy Underhill in The Woodright’s Shop. I’d kill to see all of that online on a dedicated channel! Much more laid back, and as basically an antiquarian hippie naturally since birth, suited me better. Only traditional woodworking with no electricity was and is a beautiful aesthetic.

    I really hope that show gets its own master site the same way at some point. Its even more wonderful, and to my knowledge a lot of it is not even something you can purchase on DVD even if you want to

    1. Some of it is on PBS website, but only going back to something like 2007. There’s tons of stuff going back to the 80’s or something, that only exists on bad VHS copies.

      1. There was a website which had a lot of videos on which sadly went down in the back end of 2022.
        Used to be my breakfast watch and re-watch via a kodi script.

        So was totally stoked to see he’d made it over to youtube, even if youtube is becoming more of a PITA to stream into kodi.

    2. > laid back, and as basically an antiquarian hippie

      The guy got the job at the TV station by going to the interview with an axe in his hand. They were either thoroughly impressed, or too scared to say no to an obvious madman.

          1. Some people might think this is a joke, but it’s not. I loved this show and distinctly remembered an episode where he cut his finger during a project. He didn’t even mention it, but as the episode went on you could see the blood smears on the wood!

          2. I remember that as well, you could see he was a little shaken and I think he did wrap something around the finger, but other than that, he didn’t even skip a beat.

    3. Woodwright shop was on just before or after norm I think. The intro where he’s walking through busy city carrying an axe and ends up at his cabin/shop in the styx is a master level bit of filmmaking.

      1. I used to watch both in the evening at the PBS in my part of the country. As an engineer, I liked seeing the contrast between the hand method and with more modern stuff. I also like the idea of woodworking, but prefer to watch someone else do it. I really hate sanding and painting.

    4. On, I think it was TLC back when that channel started and actually had educational programming was a show called The Furniture Guys. Ed and Joe maybe? A coupe of pretty funny hippie dudes that would say things like “ok go ahead and grab your roach cli… uh… needle nose pliers” and they also referenced Norm’s penchant for power tools from time to time. One time saying something like “Norm uses electric varnish”

      1. Oh my, I remember those guys. They were excellent, actually. To this day I still remember the way they showed me to re-upholster things and used it all to do a new motorcycle seat.

      2. That had to be the late 90s, as I watched it during my second stretch of college. A friend and I would watch them every chance we got.
        Always be nice to your furniture! (I think that was it.)

    5. Not a big Roy Underhill fan. It always felt like he went out of his way to use archaic tools to make pretty simple, crude looking objects that looked like they came from an underdeveloped country. Norm, on the other hand, made things that a home woodworker could make and would want to make without straying into esoteric techniques that would take years to master. He kind of hit the sweet spot between Roy Underhill and David Marks.

  4. HD? Just add a good CRT filter! 😃

    PS: Never heard of that show (I’m from Europe).
    But it looks fascinating. Seems like Norm was some Bob Ross of the wood working/DIY, a very friendly and likeable character. 👍

      1. The Bob Ross of woodworking – that’s a great description. One of my kids grew up taking her daily nap in my lap as Norm built something, it’d put her right out!

    1. Norm Abram was the master carpenter who worked on “This Old House” with Bob Villa. Each season Bob would host episodes covering the restoration of one old house.

      One memorable episode, the show went to a wooden shutter factory in New England. The man who owned it and ran it said he’d bought the factory with everything in it. It was as if it had just closed the day before with all the tools and even partly finished shutters. What made it extra cool is all the power equipment was driven by a water wheel. He was building shutters to order by himself so production was of course quite a bit slower than when the factory was running with a full crew.

      Bob got booted off his own show when he did some TV commercials without asking PBS if they minded.

      1. I always loved the factory visits (probably what led to my love of shows like “How It’s Made”) – the house restoration/renovation was always the focus, but seeing how craftsmen made some of the materials used in those projects, or new building techniques like some of the prefab factory tours, was really cool. I still remember one tour where Steve Thomas (host after Bob) went to factory where they were recreating roofing tiles out of cement … creaky old machines, a lot of hand work, the opposite of high-tech but with great results.

    1. I think in this case it would be the underlying video that retains the copyright (possibly refreshed because this is a new release) – the AI rendering would simply be an enhancement to the video, similar to any sort of remastering or reediting. It wouldn’t be creating content, just retouching existing content.

      1. The argument is more or less sound, though. Pixel-level details in videos taken by modern video equipment are largely “invented” by software, because they’re pushing the limits of cheap sensors to the point of breaking. The same applies on playback, because the upscaling algorithm tries to invent pixels between pixels to smooth it out.

        Astrophysicists looking at telescope imagery have to deal with this all the time, since the stacking algorithms can amplify random noise to look like celestial objects that just aren’t there.

  5. Since these shows aired, I wonder how people who built the things put their own twist on them. For the wagon, I would add drain holes. Too often I’ve left my kid’s metal wagon outside in the rain and this wooden wagon really needs to have draining capabilities. I would also probably use a metal or plastic bottom since plywood or MDF will not survive long getting wet. Same for the yoke.

    1. Au contraire, piston puss! (to quote another famous personality)

      I just moved the old spare big screen into the shop, so I can have Norm and Tamar (3×3 Custom) available for reference, along with my woodworking DVD collection. It sure beats trying to look at the tiny screen!

  6. The article is good news! I’ve been a diehard Norm fan for years. Visiting his website has been a disappointment for several years. However, your article doesn’t report where these new AI videos can be viewed. Thank you.

  7. Nothing really over the top about this AI stuff. AVID non-linear editors have had this DNxHD® tech for at least 15 years, and Adobe Premiere Pro does a fairly good job “uprezing” video as well with its algorithmic resampling. People who see old stuff like this don’t even realize media has been getting “up-bumped” for years, and they probably never told you.

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