November 2017
Homeplace & Community

In the Maker’s Hands

Perry Phillips is a maker. He made most of his tools and this horse he works on.

 

Perry Phillips puts a piece of himself into whatever he touches.

Terry Phillips is a man who works with his hands. Talented, passionate and blessed with boundless energy and vitality, Perry is a maker, a man who creates, builds and does good things.

Perry says he "leads a quiet life and attends to his own interests." A devoted family man, he has been married to Teresa for 44 years. They have three sons and nine grandchildren.

He is a spiritual man. He has preached for the past 46 years, the last 11 at Central Church of Christ in Monroeville. He has chosen to follow the words of the Greatest Maker to, "Go, make ..."

Perry grew up in New Site on a 50-acre dirt farm that sat on land which had previously been a Native American village. His father was one-quarter Native American, so he was taught to love and respect nature. His father always wanted his children to learn to do things for themselves, to be self-sufficient and independent.

"We didn’t have a whole lot, but we took care of what we had," he remembered.

Perry has a deep fascination for any kind of wood. He takes pieces of wood and fashions not only the practical but also the unique and whimsical. For example, he works with walnut to make clinging crosses. When placed in the hands of a Parkinson’s patient or someone in a comatose state, the small crosses seem to soothe and comfort.

He makes various trinkets for Teresa, who works at Farmers Cooperative Market in Frisco City. She proudly shows her jewelry, scarf holders, necklaces and even a dainty pill bottle.

He also makes many homemade musical instruments such as flutes (recorders), wooden musical spoons, Trossinger harps and Greek lyres, made from the antlers of the African antelope and the shell of the red-eared slider turtle. He recently made a kalimba, a thumb piano. To amplify the sound, he fashioned three different gourd resonators. When the kalimba is played inside the different gourds, the tonal quality changes.

 

These are only a small portion of the products made by Perry Phillips. He displays them at Farmers Cooperative Market in Frisco City. He often speaks to groups about his many unusual projects.

"When he gets a piece of wood in his hands," Teresa said, "I never know what will come out because he sees so many things."

Perry has a passion for learning new things. After studying the atlatl, an Aztec word that means "water," he built one. Thirty-thousand years before the bow and arrow were introduced, every ancient culture had some form of atlatl. The early Native Americans used the atlatl to kill the wooly mammoth. He makes these for slinging a 6- or 7-foot flexible dart that looks more like an arrow than a spear. Some atlatls can throw a dart 200 feet or farther.

Japanese craftsmanship intrigues Perry. After reading about tamo nets that are used to dip fish, he made his own. He also made a Tanago rod, a small rod Japanese hold in their hands to catch bitterlings, tiny fish that live in creeks or smaller bodies of water. In competitions, the Tanago fisherman who catches the smallest fish is the winner. He has also fashioned his own case for the rod.

He makes hobo handlines that owners can place in their pockets and take with them. He sells many of these to hikers and survivalists.

Perry prefers to use hand tools such as files, carving knives and a bow saw like the kind used before electricity. He has made many of his own tools. He does have some electrical tools such as a drill press for mounting bands, an angle grinder for removing rough shapes and a sander to knock off the rough edges.

"I treasure my hand tools," Perry said. "I like the old-timey ways of doing things."

Among Perry Phillips’ creations are, left to right, a salt dish made with American wild cherry and Perry’s Sweet Midget sling and hobo handline made from walnut.

 

In 2011, he read an article about using hand tools to make slingshots. Intrigued, he tried a natural fork slingshot first, but found himself drawn to smaller, more accurate pickle forks. (The name "pickle fork" comes from a part from a universal joint in a car.) He came up with his own design that he called "Sweet Midget" that was immediately welcomed by a niche market of avid enthusiasts looking for something unique. He sent his master to Peter Hogan, owner of Milbro Pro Shot in England. Hogan cast the design in brass, aluminum and bronze, and sent Perry enough of the metal slingshots for all of his family to have one.

Perry has gained a worldwide reputation as PawPaw Sailor, the designer of the Sweet Midget Pickle Fork Slingshot. The name, "PawPaw Sailor," came from his grandchildren. After watching "Popeye, the Sailor" cartoons, they began to call Perry "PawPaw Sailor." Amused, he used the name to promote his handiwork on social media.

Perry’s slings are very popular around the world. He chooses now to make a sling, post it and wait for customers to respond. His prices range from $25-$175, and he has sold some items in six seconds. His Facebook group, "Pawpaw Sailor Crafts," promotes his products worldwide. He also makes instructional YouTube videos, teaching others to make and shoot his pickle fork slings.

For his slings, he prefers exotic woods such as Ebony, the hardest and most expensive; Bocote, a highly figured wood from Mexico; Redheart, with appealing watermelon-colored red grain; and Purple Heart, from the rainforests of Brazil.

"Most of the woods I use are tropical woods," he said. "These have high-density, high-oil content and interlinked fibers, making them very strong because the fibers run both laterally and longitudinally."

Teresa and Perry Phillips have been married for 44 years. Teresa works at Farmers Cooperative Market in Frisco City, and Perry preaches at Central Church of Christ in Monroeville.

 
   

Perry explained that the best material for a slingshot band is natural latex rubber because it has better recovery. He prefers a type of latex used by physical therapists. He buys the latex in sheets and cuts it to the sizes he needs. When he first started, he would use old shoe leather for the pouch of the sling. He now buys kangaroo hide from a dealer who glues two pieces together to prevent stretching or wearing out easily.

In 2011, big corporations made most slingshots. Today, customers want custom-made products, tailored to their individual needs and preferences. For example, most shooters want to hold the sling in the same way every time.

"I make my design so the grip ensures the slingshot can be held uniformly in your hand every time," Perry explained. "When you close your hand around it, it will cradle the round palm of your hand and won’t turn or twist. It will be in the same place every time."

Slingshot field shoots are held throughout Alabama. One group of enthusiasts lives in and around Monroe County. The members set up targets, walk along a timber road and shoot. Competition is not as important as having a good time in the great outdoors. Many churches and youth organizations participate in this kind of shooting. There are also world-class shooters in Alabama, who compete online through videos.

Perry believes anybody can make a slingshot. He has no patents, because he wants to share what he does.

"The world today is too consumed by greed," he explained. "Everybody seems to want fame and fortune. I think that’s a shame."

Perry said his woodworking hobbies are a way to relieve stress.

"I do what I like to do," he explained. "When it ceases to be fun, I will quit."

Perry Phillips is a maker, who puts a piece of himself in whatever he touches. He creates with his hands and finds fulfillment in the fruits of his labor. In this maker’s hand, the world becomes a much more interesting place.

 

Carolyn Drinkard is a freelance writer from Thomasville. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..