Area toymakers stay busy

By Tony E. Windsor

Like a local version of Santa's North Pole workshop, a group of toymakers are busy making toys for area young people. A small group of about 10 skilled craftsmen gather at a woodworking shop located in the Heritage Shores community in Bridgeville, and dedicate their time and talents to building an assortment of wood-based toys for kids.

This year the group, known as the Heritage Shores Woodworking Guild, has crafted almost 300 wooden toys. The toys have been donated to local churches, including Union Methodist Church in Bridgeville and Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Seaford. Also, this year toys have been donated to the Toys for Tots organization.

Bob Gay, who retired from a career in the food and confectionary industry in Baltimore, moved to Heritage Shores seven years ago with a longtime interest in woodworking. About five years ago Heritage Shores introduced a woodworking shop to the community and Gay was one of the first to step up and take advantage of the opportunity.

"My grandfather was a Master cabinet maker and I always had a passion for woodworking," he said. "As a young boy I loved working with wood. The local grocery stores would sell cheese in wooden boxes and I would run from store to store to collect the old boxes and build things out of them. Unfortunately, the stores couldn't sell cheese fast enough to keep me in wooden boxes."

Woodworking took a back seat to family and a career, but the closer Gay got to retirement he began to re-energize his love for woodworking. By the time he retired he was back full swing into crafting wood. The opportunity to engage his love for woodworking through the Heritage Shore woodworking shop was a perfect fit.

Today Gay is one of the safety instructors at the Heritage Shores woodworking shop; a position that is extremely important to the operation. "Anyone who wants to do work in the woodworking shop must take a safety course and be certified by an instructor," he said. Gay went on to say that if more than six months go by without being active in the shop, the individual must re-take the course and be certified again.

"There is some very sophisticated equipment in this shop and it can be dangerous if not handled properly," he said. "We have a router that is turning 30,000 rpm and if you are not careful it can cause some real damage."

Gay lauds his comrades in the Woodworking Guild as being extremely skilled and producing "some very impressive pieces." The group gathers each Wednesday from 8 a.m. to noon to meet the demand for toys. Each member of the Guild has a specific role to play in the production of the toys from raw wood to painted, finished pieces.

Because the operation can become costly given the needs for supplies including wood, paint and other production items, the Guild has been taking their finished products to exhibit at area craft shows. "We have been very successful in selling our pieces and it helps offset the costs of our work. It has also allowed this year to be able to give the area Toys for Tots organization a $500 check along with the toys." He is also quick to express appreciation to some local businesses that have sold supplies to the group at a discount and even donated some items to the group.

In an age when children's toys are largely electronic, and in some cases, lifelike, one might assume that a simple wooden toy would not be as readily accepted by a child. This is far from fact. Gay said children love the toys made by the Guild and the group takes extra pains to make the toys as interactive as possible. "We put little eyeballs on the toy cars and trucks that make the headlight and taillights move as the vehicles roll," he said. "We even make tugboats that have been built using specially treated wood that allows them to float in the bathtub. The children really get a kick out of these toys."

Though cars, trucks and boats are certainly mainstays for the Woodworking Guild that is not all they do in the way of toys. They have built grasshoppers that walk behind a child as he or she pulls them on a cord and have built miniature carousels with wooden horses; a very much in demand piece.

Another special item crafted at the Heritage Shores wood shop is doll cribs and beds for the popular "American Girl" series. Gay said the American Girl doll cribs and beds have been made in cherry, mahogany and black walnut wood and follow official American Girl guidelines. "They are hand rubbed finished and are really nice pieces. We even have someone who will personalize the cribs with the little girl's name and special designs. These have sold well at craft shows," he said.

Gay said the Heritage Shores Woodworkers Guild took the idea of crafting toys for charity from a local group, the Mason Dixon Woodworkers," based in Delmar, which has been doing this type of charity craft work for over 30 years.

Gay said thus far unlike that group of craftsmen, the Heritage Shores Guild has chosen not to become a federally recognized 501c3 non-profit. "We have grown in our toy building, but we are careful not to grow too large," he said. "We are just a group of guys who love to get together and have fun and help people. I will tell you this is very rewarding for all of us."

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