ELMIRA - Willard Martin has sanded, sawed and lacquered his way into thousands of living rooms and kitchen tables around the world.
He's a crokinole man, like his father before him.
For nearly a quarter-century, Martin has been hand-making the beloved wooden game boards from a little shop under his garage in Elmira - continuing on a family tradition that began with his father, Manasseh Martin.
"I make a lot of sawdust, " the 68-year-old said.
That's an understatement. Inside his workshop, there's a fine layer of wood dust everywhere, the product of relentless sanding, sawing and drilling. He has more belt sanders and power sanders than you can count, and an industrial supply of sandpaper that ranges from 80-grit to 1,200-grit.
"I've got two of three of pretty near every sander there is, " he said.
That's all needed to refine a crokinole board's plywood playing surface into something as slick as fresh ice. Willard-brand boards have become so famous for their quality that connoisseurs around the world seek out his crokinolegame.ca website.
Some people have spent as much as $300 just shipping a single board to far-flung places like Australia - almost twice the cost of a board itself.
"I'd be hard-pressed to find a country that doesn't have one of our boards, " he said.
Martin, a former tour bus operator, will spend about four hours on each board, sanding and lacquering, then repeating it over and over again until it's perfect.
Martin figures he makes as many as 300 crokinole boards a year, with some help from his brother.
The niche he's built a small business around, crokinole, is that wooden, multi-player game where little discs are flicked across a smooth, round surface.
Believed to have been created in Ontario in the 1870s, it's been called Canada's original board game. Today, crokinole is enjoying something of a comeback, played in clubs and homes everywhere and finding new addicts in the internet age.
There's even a World Crokinole Championship, held every June in Tavistock, with the official boards supplied by Martin himself.
"I know I'm blowing my own horn, but the world knows Willard boards, " Martin said.
Anyone can buy a crokinole board produced at high speed in a factory. But Martin is a one-man, crokinole-board-making master, putting a personal touch on every board he ships from his shop.
He gets dozens of requests every year for custom jobs, from people who want special hardwoods or unique silkscreen designs built into their boards.
"I don't want to get caught up in mass-producing or that kind of thing. I like making each board one at a time. Factories, that's for Taiwan, " he said. "I don't want this to ever feel like a job."
For his ultra-smooth playing surface, he uses Russian and Baltic birch plywood. He hand-picks the wood himself, looking for only the finest samples.
Still, about 20 per cent of the wood he chooses is eventually tossed when knots and other imperfections are found, he said. The backing surfaces are circle-cut by a local mill, but he cuts the playing circles himself.
Using carpenter's glue that he buys by the gallon, he clamps a maple band around the board using his father's special steel ring he calls "the hoop." The whole thing spins on a modified grease drum that keeps everything perfectly centred.
The playing surface is attached to the board's backing with more glue, spread by a mustard bottle and paint roller, and sealed in a custom-made vacuum press that applies 1,400 pounds of pressure.
"It's so solid that within a few seconds you couldn't break it apart with a wrecking bar, " said Martin, who grew up on an Elmira-area farm where a crokinole board was never far away.
He applies the finishing touches - adding the silkscreen markings, screwing in the rubber pegs, trimming the board's edge with a homemade jig - with the skill of a man who's done this literally thousands of times.
"I get a certain amount of satisfaction seeing it unfold, " he said. "I start with raw wood and I turn it into this."
The only part Martin doesn't make himself is the painted wooden discs. He buys them from a secret supplier in Quebec, in giant sacks that hold 5,000 pieces each.
Martin learned the art of crokinole board making from his father Manasseh, a skilled woodworker who did all this without power tools. Being skilled with your hands is a family trait - Martin's grandfather once built a farmhouse in Wallenstein with little more than a hammer and a handsaw.
It's important to him that he continues his father's work, he said.
"There's a lot of heritage in there, " he said. "Everything I learned, I learned from Dad. I do this out of respect for him. And, I enjoy it."