Santa's Hickory workshop abuzz Handmade toys make special gifts

November 29, 1992|By Phyllis Brill Staff Writer

Santa Claus just opened his satellite workshop in Harford County this weekend; but from all the noise of buzzing saws and pounding hammers, you'd have thought this toy-making operation had been going on forever.

Visitors to the Wyndemede Tree and Garden Center in Hickory yesterday found the haze so thick it was hard to distinguish Santa's beard from the sawdust he was creating.

But then Santa, also known in these parts as cabinet maker Jim Huffman, of Street, has a deadline to meet.

He hopes to have several dozen handmade wooden toys ready for delivery to Toys for Tots by mid-December.

He'll be in his workshop -- recognizable as the garden center's greenhouse during warmer seasons -- night and day until Christmas, piecing together a doll's canopy bed or a miniature swing or a child's dump truck.

"It's kind of a novelty, I guess," said Mr. Huffman, a rather &L reticent St. Nick who seems undaunted by the challenge he's taken on.

This isn't the first time Mr. Huffman has assumed the role of woodworker.

An independent carpenter by trade, he has nearly 30 years of experience in woodworking, mostly making furniture and cabinets.

But when the recession led to a slowdown in the carpentry business last year, he said, he started using the workshop in his home to make toys.

"I made them for our own kids and our grandkids. And then I just decided to do more," he said. He donated four dozen toys made in his home shop to Toys for Tots last Christmas.

When word about his talent spread, people started asking if they could buy the wooden toys, said Mr. Huffman's wife, Sandy. So this year they moved his equipment to Wyndemede and set up shop.

Mr. Huffman said the profits from toys he sells will be used to buy wood to create more toys to donate. "I'm going to try to alternate making one to sell and making one to give away."

Mr. Huffman, 46, already had long hair and a beard and wore wire-rimmed glasses when he decided to take on the role of Santa. His daughter Colleen, who handles the toy display at the workshop, offered to bleach his hair to whiten it. A colorful work shirt, a pair of suspenders and a red suit completed the picture.

Mrs. Huffman, dressed as Mrs. Claus in a long red, white and green dress, is Santa's chief assistant. She cuts out the wood pieces on a band saw before passing them to her husband, and she stains the wooden toys after they're completed.

The Huffmans' son James and son-in-law Rick double as elves on weekends, working in the assembly line process, too.

Last year Mr. Huffman made from six to eight toys a day, but the process should go faster this year, said Mrs. Huffman, because they are using many of the patterns they created last year.

Santa's toys range from tiny cars to doll-size high chairs. He has made baseball glove holders, trucks, sleds, rocking chairs and rocking horses. His log-hauling truck comes complete with tiny dowels as logs, and his dump trucks have beds that move up and down.

Helping the needy is not just a seasonal interest of the Huffmans. In August, when the Maryland Food Bank announced an unusual shortage of food, the couple took their flatbed truck and canvassed neighborhoods in the county for donations.

Within a week, they had accumulated 1,800 pounds of canned goods that were delivered to the Harford Food Bank.

The family has made the food bank part of this season's effort, too.

A large sign at the front of the workshop solicits donations for the Harford Food Bank and Toys for Tots. Below it are brightly decorated baskets to hold customers donations.

"We'd really like to make this a Christmas to remember," Mrs. Huffman said.


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