Ed Sanders figures he's handled, restored or repaired tens of thousands of firearms over his six-decade career, but now it's time to hang up his apron.
"We quit taking new work in September," he said. "Now I'm just about retired."
Sanders, who learned the art of gunsmithing from his father, is one of those special guys who still gets a warm feeling from cold steel. And he loves his customers as much as they love him.
"I've never hated to get up and go to work a day in my life," he said. "Hunters, in general, are great people to deal with. It's been a pleasure."
Sanders' father, George Sanders, practiced gunsmithing for many years.
"His nickname was 'Cap' because he always wore a cap," Sanders said. "So my roots go back over 100 years."
Cap Sanders worked the Rod & Gun Shop, which closed in 1949, after which the business was moved to Bowen Brothers Hardware on Broad Street.
"About that time Mr. Bowen had been talking about leasing us a space in the hardware store," he said. "We went ahead and did that. It was August of 1950."
After high school, Sanders had plans to study engineering in college and struggled over whether to leave his father's business. Ultimately, he decided to stay.
"I got hooked," he laughed. "The rest, as they say, is history."
The family later established Sanders Gun Shop on Ninth Street, next to the old Augusta Police Department. In 1985, Sanders and his wife, Jeannine, moved to their current location off Peach Orchard Road, which will probably be sold.
"We've had lots of great customers and a lot of those customers have become good friends," Jeannine Sanders said, adding that she and her husband celebrated their 55th anniversary last August.
Many of those clients gathered at Pinetucky Gun Club Thursday, where friends and fans threw a semi-surprise retirement party for their favorite gunsmith.
"We had 90 or 100 people out here," said Pinetucky manager Steve Meldrum, a gunsmith himself.
"It was fun. I've known him for some time and all of us consider him a dear friend."
The event included a legislative proclamation in Sanders' honor read by Sen. Ed Tarver and grateful acknowledgements from friends including Sheriffs Charlie Webster and Ronnie Strength, Judges Dudley Bowen and Albert Pickett and former Mayor Larry Sconyers.
Sanders, 75, said he has always enjoyed firearms but never considered himself a great shooter or hunter.
"It's like at the Indianapolis Speedway: you got a driver, and you got a mechanic," he said. "I'm the mechanic. It's what I love."
Over the decades, Sanders also learned the art of working with wood to repair or build custom, checkered gunstocks.
"I love wood," he said. "Never used much else. Take a look at a nice piece of American walnut. Turn it in the light and watch it change. It's almost iridescent -- it's gorgeous."
Although there are schools to teach people about gunsmithing, it is an art best learned through apprenticeships.
"There are still a few of us around, but there used to be a lot more," he said. "Lots of people do it as a hobby, but there just aren't too many who do it like we do anymore. Working with wood and metal is a good life and I've enjoyed every minute of it."
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