Avon woodworker makes unique toys

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AVON — Come spring, Paul Gardiner will spend a lot of time outdoors tending to his lawn care business.

But during the winter he spends many hours in his workshop making toys and other wooden items.

With carpentry skills learned years ago, Gardiner creates unique toys. These are ones you will not find at big-box stores, he said. 

Gardiner hoists an Irish mail car up onto table. You move it by pulling the lever back and forth and you steer with your feet, he said. Across the room, wooden rocking chairs with duck, turtle or horse features and wooden carts with large, red wheels wait for young riders.

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These all sit among the blanket chests, keepsake boxes and bird feeders craftily built with tools purchased while he was working, said his wife, Barbara.

“He works as long as his feet can stand the concrete,” she said of his winter work in the cellar workshop of their home next to the Sandy River.

Gardiner, 69, retired as head custodian and bus driver at Phillips Elementary School in 2007 after nearly 20 years.

From April to October, he’s outside running his own landscaping and lawn care company, Gardiner Lawn Care. He employs three workers and his wife and contracts with the town to maintain parks, cemeteries and the Mt. Blue Water District, he said.

In his spare time, he is a School Administrative District 58 school board director, a sexton of Mile Square Cemetery and has worked on local burials for mortician Scott Adams for 27 years. He also has served on the Avon Planning Board.

Gardiner, a Vietnam veteran, also served on the Phillips Fire Department for 27 years, four of those as fire chief. He was a police officer for three years in Phillips and worked half a dozen years for the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department, he said.

“If I’m not busy, I drive my wife crazy,” he joked.

The couple has been married for 26 years and has lived in Avon for a number of years, he said. They owned the ice cream shop now known as the Country Delight Ice Cream Parlor and Diner. The diner was added by current owner Bruce Thorndike, Gardiner said.

His interest in woodworking started young. Growing up in Phillips, he’d watch carpenters building houses. Some of his tools date back to his high school days. Later, he learned a lot about carpentry from local carpenter Cecil Voter, he said.

He also makes picnic tables — 14 this year — and Adirondack chairs. The woodworking items are all for sale.

“He spends many hours, but it’s a labor of love; he’s not getting rich doing it,” Barbara Gardiner said. “He gives away more than he’s sold.”

Requests for fundraisers and functions at the school are common.

“They are his friends. He likes to be able to do it,” she said.

Materials cost so much now that he needs to get his expenses back, she said.

Realizing the limitations of the local economy, Paul Gardiner soon will have a website offering his creations to a larger market.

But someone else is doing that for him. He’s too busy planning his next project: a wooden buckboard sleigh.

abryant@sunjournal.com

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