Handmade toy labor of love

Clyde Davis

The story begins with an emailed photo, received sometime in April, when my grandson, who lives in Florida, was on a class field trip to Washington, DC.

As his mother was one of the parent chaperones, she sent me a picture of something which Jason had seen in one of the stores on the trip, and wanted to buy. Krystal wanted to know if I could make him one, and I sent her my response, which proved accurate, that it would be a piece of cake.

The desired object was a pine reproduction, non-working of course, of a colonial flintlock pistol. I don’t doubt you have seen them; they are commonly found in the museum shops of historical sites, and run anywhere from $20 to $50 dollars.

I remembered seeing a pattern for one, once, in a project book of colonial toys, but this picture worked fine as a pattern.

I knew there was a reason for the 2-foot long, 4-by-3 inch block of cherry that I had stashed on the workshop shelf, and now, as the pistol lacks only sanding for completion, I can honestly say it has found its niche in life.

My grandson, who is preparing to go back to Florida and is participating in the final sanding, maintains that his gun is better than the one he saw in DC because: It has two barrels as he wanted, it was made by his granddad, he helped make it, and it is made of cherry instead of just pine.

I maintain the reason the gun was a simple project goes back to one of my cardinal beliefs: On the eighth day, God created power tools.

As I was whipping away large chunks of hardwood, I thought about what an act of love those original toys must have been, made by some colonial grandpa or dad or uncle who had, not an electric, but a foot powered bandsaw (Or more likely, just access to one which served the whole village).

I thought about what a precious gift he was giving a child when he did his carving, not with a Foredom, but with a pocket or sheath knife, perhaps spending an entire winter, not just two evenings, creating the toy.

I thought, too, about the fact that any evening work this colonial grandpa did was not enhanced by an electric spotlight in the backyard, but may have been done by candlelight, firelight, oil lamp light.

I know my grandson appreciates the time and planning I put into his reproduction pistol, changing the pattern, sizing it to his hand, and so on. I just wish that, developmentally, he could grasp the difference between our creating this simple project, and the process it would have involved before the invention of the things we take for granted, like Foredoms and power bandsaws.

In this, the age of cell phones, I often call Jason when he is in Florida, and I text him pretty much every day.

One of my usual closing lines is “I love you as much as any granddad could ever love a grandson.”

When I think about that colonial woodworker, spending days, weeks, on a project that is so simplified by power tools, it occurs to me that he, too, may have said the same thing as he handed some colonial boy a much treasured wooden pistol.