- Associated Press - Friday, December 26, 2014

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Scads of hacksaws, chisels, shavers, wrenches and screwdrivers dangle from the walls in Andy Borland’s workshop. Bottles of glue teeter on the edge of counters.

The chests and workbenches are discarded relics from Severna Park High School’s old shop class, and a sign looms overhead: Grandpa’s Workshop Broken Toys Fixed Here.

Not cracked iPhones or crashed laptops or frozen e-readers - leave them to the “Geniuses” and “Geek Squads.”

Here, in the sawdust haze, is where real toys go when they need troubleshooting.

But this isn’t just an ordinary repair shop. It’s a sophisticated, assembly-line toy-making factory to give the elves a run for their money.

“This is the inner sanctum,” said Katie Borland, leading guests past the couple’s Severna Park garage this week into her husband’s workshop addition, built a year after they moved into their house.

Borland, a retired teacher and coach, is one of a group of men who meets in his shop every week to make wooden toys from scratch.

This is no casual pastime. Beginning in February, they spend the next 10 months building airplanes, cars, pickup trucks, pencil boxes, tractor-trailers, puzzles, jewelry boxes with ballerina scroll work, fairy magic wands and doll beds.

“I give them January off,” Borland said.

This year, the small group of craftsmen from the Annapolis Woodworkers’ Guild - Don Ames, Paul Dodson, Bill Carbin, Will Hottle, Jim Jordan, Barry Frankel and Borland - was responsible for making 750 toys.

For 20 years, they’ve distributed handmade toys to children at Sarah’s House in Fort Meade during the holidays. Three years ago, they decided to expand their project to include many other charities, such as Cisco Center, Severna Park Assistance Network and various schools’ Backpack Buddies programs.

Bruce Clopein, a volunteer resource manager at Sarah’s House, said it’s interesting to watch children react to simple, old-fashioned wooden toys that don’t have buttons and screens. Sarah’s House is an emergency program that offers temporary housing for homeless families.

Fifty-five of the guild’s toys were given to Sarah’s House children this morning.

“It’s a very tactile gift,” Clopein said. “It’s definitely far different from your typical toys these days, but we’ve found they still enjoy them.”

These playthings showcase the bare essence of wood. No paint. No decals. Many are the unvarnished creations of pine, walnut, maple, ash, oak, cherry and poplar.

These guys aren’t tree snobs. They’ll take whatever scrap of wood they’re donated and turn it into a gift. Hottle, whose brother owns Somerset Door and Column Co. in Pennsylvania, gathers a lot of their supplies.

“I go in and scavenge their cutoff piles,” Hottle said. “We don’t have to buy wood.”

The challenge the guild toy-makers have faced is coming up with ideas and designs that little girls will enjoy. This year they introduced a new one - a fairy magic wand - that a few of their grandchildren helped decorate with ribbon streamers and glitter.

The woodworkers made 92 of them.

They’ve also partnered with quilting guilds to provide refurbished dolls with handmade clothes, mattresses and blankets for the wooden doll beds. Ames’ wife, Beverly Ames, helped make the mini quilts.

“You can take a block of wood and put wheels on it, and a boy’s happy,” Borland said.

He steadied himself on a stool with a cane and picked up a car from the bench. He couldn’t resist the urge to buff invisible bumps and pits with a square of sandpaper.

The cars the men design start with a block, he explained. Before any cutting or sculpting, they laminate them with ash and a strip of walnut for a race car stripe. They drill the holes in either side for the axles and two small ones for exhaust pipes.

Occasionally, there are duds that go straight in the trash. Or happy little accidents that give each toy its character.

“Sometimes you put the tailpipes in the wrong way, and we call them headlights,” Carbin said.

Their regular Monday work sessions last about four hours. But don’t count on these retirees gabbing while they work like they’re in some kind of a sewing circle. As soon as they enter the workshop, it’s noise-canceling headphones for their ears.

The only sound is the churn of drills, the buzz of saws. They’ll catch up on the grandchildren news during lunch, when Katie serves up piping hot soup and a muffin. (It’s the only compensation they’ll take for their labor.)

“Once we get started, we don’t talk,” Dodson said. “We can’t hear anyway.”

___

Information from: The Capital of Annapolis, Md., http://capitalgazette.com

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