Red Deer’s wooden toymaker David Paul could use a few elves this time of year.
The 58-year-old has progressive multiple sclerosis, yet becomes a one-man sawing, sanding, drilling operation, as he readies toy trucks, planes, trains, doll cradles, and rocking horses for Christmas craft markets.
Toymaking, he points out, is not a business for him, but a weekend labour of love.
Paul can only work in his wood shop for half days on Saturday and Sunday because of fatigue, and because he has a desk job at a local service station during the work week. But he’s in a mentally good place whenever he’s among saws, routers and drills.
“Honestly, it’s a joy for me. I go into the shop, and work and all my stress falls away,” said Paul, who leans on a cane to walk because of his degenerative central nervous system disease.
More importantly, “It’s something I can still do,” he added.
The Calgary native, who grew up in Donalda, began carving about 17 years ago, around the time he was diagnosed with MS, and discovered his days as a weekend Country and Western dance instructor were over.
He didn’t see it as a form of escapism, or therapy — he simply needed another focus for his spare time.
Paul appreciates being able to do what other dedicated woodcarver can do. Since he’s unsteady on his feet, he takes an elevator down from his back deck to his ground-level backyard wood shop, and then sits while he carves and sands upon lowered work surfaces.
“Teaching dancing kind of boosted my ego and this does, too … it’s a bit of a feather in my cap.”
He takes on challenging projects, including special commissions. Among his imaginative creations, which are often clear-stained by Paul’s housemate, Wendy Anderson, are rocking motorcycles that kids can ride, painted locomotives, doll and kids’ furniture and 1920s Ford trucks.
He sells these to recover material costs. Since a pair of rocking horses can take Paul a month of weekends to finish, and a couple of smallish race cars take a whole weekend, he knows no one will pay him for all of his time. “It’s just a hobby. I don’t want to turn this into a job.”
The reward, said Paul, is imagining the look on children’s faces when they unwrap his toys on Christmas morning.
He’s already seen delight in the eyes of their parents and grandparents. The wooden toys “remind them of their own childhood,” added the toymaker, who’s heard customers say “they want to buy something that lasts.”
While Paul has finished doing Christmas markets this year, he can be reached at email@example.com.