Challenge is the key

I’m about to make a project, as a small gift, that has to work perfectly the first time. Trouble is, I don’t know what size it has to be, and I can’t ask. It has to be a surprise.

When my daughter was born 29 years ago, my folks – excellent woodworkers – made her a fantastic walnut cradle. Part of the design was a small “key” consisting of a walnut dowel with a flat walnut handle glued into a slot in the dowel. This fit a matching hole/slot arrangement in the cradle and would keep the cradle from swinging. Once Courtney outgrew the cradle it got passed around the family for lots and lots of babies. Somewhere along the way that walnut key disappeared.

Coming full circle, when Courtney announced we were going to become grandparents I gave her an option: I could find out where her old cradle was currently stored and her baby could use the same one she did, or I could make her a brand new one. Being a lover of all things historic, I’m not surprised she wanted to use the old cradle. We located it and sent it to her.

However, there’s that missing key. I want to make her a new one to surprise her when the baby’s born in December, but I won’t be able to see that cradle before then – it’s way up there in Connecticut, and I’m here in Middleofnowhere W.Va. My wife visited her recently, so I gave her the task of checking out the cradle and getting a description of that keyhole/slot. What she did was to press a piece of paper over the opening to get an impression (a trick I suspect she learned in an earlier, shadier life when she made key molds out of bars of soap to rob banks. Or something.)

So, essentially, I’m making a new key based on nothing more than a paper impression. Well, that’s not so bad, as I’ve accurately re-created things from a lot less.

That key is incredibly simple, so I think the key to success here (nyuk, nyuk, nyuk) is to make more than one, slightly altering things from one to another. If one doesn’t work, another probably will. Or, in a worst-case scenario I can take the one that’s closest and tweak it a bit on the spot for a perfect fit. If successful, the surprise will be complete as that cradle begins a second generation of family use.

And, it opens up future job opportunities for me as a bank robber. Or something.



  • Ken Mertz says:

    So your daughter doesn’t read your blog? Because I’m pretty sure you let the cat out of the bag.

  • Ranger Doug says:

    Funny Ken…very funny! But you’ve got a great point there <]:o}

  • Dan says:

    My first grandchild was born in April and I was going to make a Maple Cradle to be passed around for the next and the next ect. to make the family journey through time. However, my health has slid to the point that I am way past the point of her being able to ever use it herself. By the time I get it finish and shipped from the east coast to the west coast, she’ll be much to big to safely use it. I’m still going to try and finish it for her to use for her dollies and if another grandchild comes along, it will be passed along from there. Good luck with your key.

  • A.J. Hamler says:

    Ken… Yeah, she reads the blog but she does it in batches. It’ll probably be a while before she reads this one.

    Dan… Using a cradle for dollies (or “stuffies,” as Courtney called them when she was little) is an excellent use for the cradle you’re making. The next baby in our extended family didn’t come along until several years after Courtney was born, and that’s exactly how she used it till then — and loved it! So have no worries, your granddaughter will love it, too.

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