Clayton Saint of Musgravetown is no stranger to woodworking.
In fact, there are dozens of the 73 year-old’s accreditations and accomplishments displayed in his basement rec room, which adjoins his precious workshop — the place where he’s crafted countless projects.
Saint is a former carpentry instructor at the College of the North Atlantic Clarenville campus, and while he’s seemingly built it all over his decades of woodworking and construction — and taught it too — he recently completed a long awaited and elusive project.
He built his own acoustic guitar.
It’s just another summit he’s reached after retiring from the trade school in 1995 — still building things like chests, trinkets, furniture repairs and other pieces over the years.
The idea of building a guitar excited him because it presented a challenge — it’s something he’s never done before. However, challenges are something Saint knows all too well.
While his experience and love for building goes back decades, Saint told The Packet that one of his biggest struggles — one that is still with him to this day — goes back to when he was only eight years-old.
He was paralyzed with polio in 1953.
His entire right side was affected by the affliction. He still has very little use of his right hand and his right leg is slightly shorter than the left, among other lasting effects, due to the damage caused by polio.
He’s also a diabetic because his pancreas, on his right side, was paralyzed.
“I would have to tie the pencil or pen on to my hand,” Saint recalls.
While he became ambidextrous over time, Saint still does tasks with his right hand despite the difficulty. He calls his experience as a boy after polio a “mild bullying.”
While he couldn’t skate, he learned to hunt and fish left-handed and played baseball as a pitcher or first baseman.
“I don’t know if you call it guts … or too contrary to give in or what. I kept going.”
Becoming a carpenter was natural for Saint despite his disabilities. Members of his family, including his father — a man he very much looked up to — were carpenters. Even after contracting polio, a hammer and few nails were the only play toys he wanted as a child.
After graduating high school and going to trade school, Saint still grasped as best he could to a hammer or handsaw with his bad hand while on the job.
He recalls coming home after a day’s work driving 50 pounds of two and a half inch nails and his right hand would be covered in bruises, blisters and blood.
In recent years, he says he feels better than he has in decades. He credits cannabis sativa oil capsules and special socks called Voxx for making his life a little more comfortable each day.
When asked what he loved most about woodworking, Saint’s answer is instant.
He says he loves working with rare aromatic cedar, lining hope chests with the wood to keep moths away.
Aside from the cedar he says oak is his favourite wood. He spends hours in his workshop every morning.
“I love oak.”
The idea to build a guitar came from Jamie, the youngest of his three daughters. While she originally wanted a blue guitar back when she was in high school, Saint recently finished the shelved project with his own spins — a black, red and gold sunburst design, mother of pearl stickers, intricate decoration and a unique circular pattern around the sound hole courtesy of help from his grandson. It was inspired by musician Johnny Cash.
Completed from a Martin D-42 S kit, Saint explained his process with the care and attention to detail required for a person of his trade. He detailed the steps, from painting the face, rubbing the coats of paint in and spraying the coat, right to the finishing details once completed.
He says the hardest part of the actual woodwork was re-familiarizing himself with the assembly each day.
Ever the perfectionist, he’s pleased with the guitar, but says it’s only about 90 per cent of where he’d want it to be.
Saint unveiled the guitar at his 73rd birthday party on Saturday, Nov. 24 at his home. While building the guitar he told his friend local singer-songwriter recording artist Rhonda Blundon about what he was doing. She said she wanted to be the first to play it and Saint replied he would be honoured.
Sure enough, for an audience of about 30 at the party, Blundon played the first chords on the guitar Saint built.
She’s been playing the guitar since she was only five years-old and she said it sounds perfect.
“I’ve got a lot of guitars myself and it’s just as good as one that’s been manufactured. Honest. It’s excellent,” said Blundon.
Blundon told The Packet when he came to invite her to play, tears welled up in her eyes.
“I played until my fingers kind of came apart from my fingernails,” she laughed.
Now that the guitar is complete, along with a customized strap with his name, Saint is already experimenting with customized picks shaped in figure eights that will make it easier for him to hold.
But he also plans to gift the guitar to Jamie, who lives in Nova Scotia.
And when asked if he plans to make another guitar, Saint is as measured as he is with the rest of his answers — and his work.
He says he will if he can find the right kit.