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  • Nick Schwien

Woodworker Pieces Life Lessons, Cutting Boards Together

The inspection process can take a good amount of time. But to find the right wood to handcraft a cutting board, the time is well worth the process.

That care is what sets products by Ismael Collazo apart. It’s also essential to the building sequence because Collazo never has seen one of his products.

The Brookings man lost his sight nearly 9 ½ years ago due to Type 1 diabetes. That hasn’t kept him from starting Blind Guy Boards, a regular vendor at the Brookings Farmers Market.

“The way I see it is I'm a woodworker that happens to be blind,” he says.

Collazo said he struggled with losing his eyesight, but his wife helped support him. He attended a school for the blind in Sioux Falls. It struck a place in his heart for woodworking, and his first piece was a cutting board for his spouse.

“She was excited, and it looked really cool,” Collazo says. “She still has it.”

In the last 4 ½ years, he estimates he has crafted more than 5,000 cutting boards.

“It was kind of scary, but I've always said that I'm really stubborn when it comes to some things,” says Collazo, who also goes by Izzy. “So, I was stubborn, and I kept on with it and now I’m producing really cool things that people could use on a daily basis.”

The class helped showcase the safety aspects of working with power tools and equipment while blind. Collazo said that’s the No. 1 thing he considers.

His lack of eyesight also has him relying on other senses. Through touch, he can inspect each piece of wood, making sure it is perfect.

The scent emitted when cutting a board tells Collazo the type of wood.

He’s built many cutting boards with maple, cherry, or walnut. But his favorite to work with is unique: purpleheart.

His products range from his bestsellers – the cutting boards – to charcuterie boards, coasters, and lanterns. He can personalize boards with laser engraving. And he can ship across the U.S.

“What a lot of people say is they buy it for the story,” Collazo says. “They don't buy the cutting board just for a cutting board. They like the story behind the cutting board.”

He’s also a role model, serving as a mentor for a boy in Maine who is blind but has an interest in woodworking.

“It takes a lot of perseverance and a lot of believing in yourself and a lot of patience,” Collazo says.

Blind Guy Boards has been a vendor at the Brookings Farmers Market for a few years. He’s grateful for the opportunity to display his handiwork on Saturdays from May through October.

“Being part of the farmer's market gives me a venue where I can showcase my work, and people come and buy the cutting boards and other stuff,” he says.

The market requires people to make or produce their own items for sale. 

“Blind Guy Boards has been an excellent addition to the Brookings Farmers Market,” says Kirsten Gjesdal, executive director of Downtown Brookings. “Izzy has great ideas for the market and really cares about our success. We're very thankful to have him as a part of the organization.”


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