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A newspaper article about me.
By Stacy Taus-Bolstad
Staff Writer - Hoosier Times - Bloomington, IN
Mark Hale spends most of his time in his shop, cutting, sanding and polishing the wooden boxes that he loves to make.
But Hale can barely see the beautiful results of his work.
Hale, 45, lost his sight to toxoplasmosis, a disease caused by a protozoan which damages the central nervous system, eyes and viscera Over time, it has scarred his right eye, causing him to lose most of his vision. Hale describes it "Like looking through a dirty aquarium with spots."
Despite the loss of his sight, Hale is able to create extraordinarily wooden boxes. "I always did woodworking as a hobby," said Hale.
"I started doing it for myself about 11 years ago, when my eye disease prevented me from driving."
To help get him started, a vocational rehabilitation program gave him supplies and some materials so he could setup a workshop.
A few years ago, after trying several things and adopting different techniques for doing the work, Hale decided to make boxes.
"I suppose what led up to the boxes was something my neighbor and best friend said to me four years ago," he explained.
"I had been making wooden toys and trucks. But they were too hard to make because of my vision. My neighbor suggested that boxes were probably easier to make and had a mare generic appeal. That's about all I make now."
Hale believes his friend, the late Jim Kammen, steered him in the right direction. "I'm really glad I took his advice," Hale said. "He was right about the boxes."
"The main machine I use is a 12-inch table saw," said Hale. "And I use a lot of sanders. I cut things a little long and sand things to fit. Even when I make mistakes in measuring I can fix them with sanders."
Hale also uses magnifiers, bright lights, special jigs which he created himself and glasses with magnifiers to help him in his work.
RED OAK BOX
4x4 inch square
with blue felt bottom liner.
"The measuring, assembling and sanding are all
done under bright flood lamps," he explained. "But it's slow going."
The finished product is usually a 4X4 polished square with a lift-off lid. Hale typically makes about 50 at a time, investing about 3 hours per box. He can turn out between 50 to 70 boxes in a month.
Though he refuses to reveal the recipe for his finish, he says it's "an oil finish and its been polished silky smooth It brings out the color of the wood. I get more compliments on that finish than anything else. It's really quite remarkable. it's cheap, fast and beautiful."
Hale, who was caught in a natural gas explosion almost 20 years ago in which he received second- and third-degree burns over 60 percent of his body, believes his craft has been more than just a hobby for him.
"I spent two months in the Wishard Burn Unit," said Hale."It took about two years to really recover. And I've had a lot of physical therapy."
"If it hadn't been my for love of woodworking, I wouldn't have much use of my hands now," he said. "It has allowed for more mobility and dexterity."
Because of the time he invests in his boxes, his standards of quality are high. "I am a stickler about the quality of my wood," he explained. He uses woods such as curly maple, curly cherry, curly white oak, red oak, ash walnut and red elm. He uses exotic woods as accents.
Right now, his boxes are available at Elements in Bloomington, Brown County Crafts Gallery in Nashville and Back Home Indiana in the Circle Centre Mall. He also has them at art centers in Pennsylvania and Nebraska. The cost depends on each retail store, but they typically run between $25 to $75.
So far, though, his efforts have not been overly profitable. "I mostly just make enough to buy materials," he explained, "Just enough to break even every year."
Hale does have future plans for his small business. "It more of a dream than a goal. I'd like to have my own retail space ... I enjoy contact with customers, telling them about the boxes."
"That's probably the biggest difference between me and most woodworking business." said Hale. "If they need supplies, they can go to town to get them. Everything I do is by mail. I've found that most everything can be done with a catalog, a credit card and a telephone,"
Hale plans to try a new avenue of advertising in the near future. "I plan to run an ad in the Country Sampler for a simple little box, for direct contact with customers. But it's the biggest guess I've ever made in my life. l have no idea how many boxes to make."
As for the amount of time and effort he invests in his craft over the years, Hale explained, "I just had to invent ways to get the work done. My hands don't work the same as they used to... I've had to adapt over the years. It takes me longer to get the work done."
"I work every day," said Hale. "I put in more hours on this then when I had a regular job."
RR 3 Box 586
Salisbury, IN 47459