Waldport resident Gary Herd—known as the Bearded Woodworker to his nearly 9,000 YouTube subscribers—got onto NBC’s goofily good-hearted crafting competition reality show Making It the old-fashioned way: He applied. Twice.
“At the finale of the first season, I went online to nbc.com, because I knew the show was for me,” Herd says. “A couple of weeks later, I got an email from the producers, wanting to see more examples of my artwork and who I was. I sent a few images, got really excited…and that is as far as it went.”
Season two of the show, hosted by Parks and Recreation duo Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman, who’ve never met a crafting pun they didn’t like, aired in late 2019, without Herd.
So he tried again, and this time, he says, he read the fine print, and figured out that the producers wanted a one to two minute video of himself, in all his crafting glory. The only problem there was knowing what to pick—his DIY wooden punching bag stand? A lighthouse-shaped paper towel holder? A bunny hutch? A wind chime? All of the above?
The videos did the trick: A producer called and Herd hung on through several interviews before finally getting word that he was one of eight contestants being offered a coveted spot in the Making It barn, where the contestants compete in challenges ranging from making an interactive toy that reflects their personalities to transforming a closet into a tiny-yet-meaningful nook for a friend or family member.
The show, which airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on NBC, is often compared to the beloved Great British Baking Show for its kindler, gentler approach to an oft-cut-throat genre. On the very first episode of this season, for example, (spoiler alert if you haven’t watched yet; skip ahead to the next paragraph) not only was no one eliminated from the competition, but two new contestants were actually added.
To film it, Herd decamped for Southern California in October, when pandemic uncertainty was surging. Because of that, he didn’t get to socialize much with the other contestants, Poehler, Offerman, or even his longtime hero and the show’s shop master, Jimmy DiResta, whose crew was there to help the contestants execute their visions. Unless the cameras were on, Herd and the other contestants were masked, distanced and face-shielded, plus quarantined before filming and given a rapid COVID-19 test every day for good measure.
Still, just being around other makers after months of lockdown was a joy, he says, like being in a room with a bunch of people who speak your same language, if different dialects. (Among the makers on this year’s season are a former pro-baseball player known for his upcycling and a landscape architect from California who specializes in miniatures.) “I think just hanging out with people, it was pretty emotional,” Herd says. “There were a lot of tears on the first episode or two.”
Herd is also a muralist and has been commissioned to paint several murals up and down the Oregon Coast, including his favorite, a “ginormous octopus,” painted on the side of a building as you leave downtown Reedsport, heading south on 101. Since the show, a few more mural commissions have come in, and he built a prize-wining float for Waldport’s annual Beachcomber Days parade; he also performs in local theater and sings bass with a barbershop quartet. (He demo’d his singing for Poehler, Offerman, and the show’s judges but it was cut for copyright purposes.) Herd and the other contestants also keep in touch, via a text thread that’s especially active during Thursday night episodes.
“Everyone was talented, and everyone was so friendly—no one wanted anyone else to go home,” Herd says. “There were opportunities when I needed help on a project as the clock is ticking on, and I had other makers come and ask if I needed help, like they would help finish painting a little something that needed painting—that happened throughout.”
And about that signature beard, and the kilt Herd can be spotted wearing on set? The latter is a tribute to both his Scottish ancestry and his preference for wearing shorts, even in chilly Oregon Coast winter weather. As for the former, he advises staying away from expensive beard brushes—a hairbrush will do the trick—but notes that he’s working on developing his own line of beard oils and mustache wax, available via a soon-to-be-unveiled website. Until then, catch him on YouTube where his latest Bearded Woodworker project is a perfect replica of the NBC peacock logo.
Listen: Portland Monthly news editor Julia Silverman talks with Gary Herd about filming Making It during COVID and how Oregon inspires his craft.