No Vision Required: Max Robinson’s Silver Linings

Nearly blind woodworker practices his cuts to ensure he works safely.

Max Robinson was born with cataracts before an effective method of removing them was developed. Attempts to correct the situation left him with very poor vision in one eye and totally blind in the other. “I tend to work in a kind of no-man’s land between the blind and sighted worlds,” said the 72-year-old from Bowling Green, Ky.

A retired physics and electrical engineering professor, Max decided one day to build speakers for his sound system. He enjoyed it so much that he also made a ham radio desk and a storage cabinet. Now he spends much of his time in a fully outfitted woodworking shop. One of his latest creations is a stand for an Intel Reader, a device used by the blind that resembles a large digital camera. “The Intel Reader takes a picture of a page in a book and, after some processing, it reads the page in a computer voice,” said Max. “It can be hand held, but it works much better if placed in a steady holder.”

Max operates a drill press and band saw using a device that he invented using a pair of binoculars sawed in half and a close-up lens adapter purchased from a photography-supply catalog. “This device gives me a view of the work as if I were an inch away but puts my face far enough away to be safe. I’m still learning the band saw—the cuts I make with it are kind of wavy,” he said with a chuckle.

Admittedly Max works more slowly on his projects than a sighted person would, taking his time to set up cuts and rehearsing them before the blade starts spinning. “If something doesn’t feel right, I figure out another way to do it,” he said. “I’ve been able to improve my accuracy over the last couple of years as I take my time and make sure it’s right before making the cut.”

Max notes that there is at least one silver lining to his situation. “A sighted woodworker might be distracted by the sight of a rabbit hopping across his yard,” he said. “If he happens to be pushing a piece of wood through his table saw at the time, that lapse could cost him a finger. The good thing is that the blind aren’t distracted by such things.”

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