The spinning drill bit bites into soft pine an inch from Ed Beherns' left index finger, finding its mark safely over and over.
His skill in creating wooden toys would be remarkable for anyone, but Beherns accomplishes his work without seeing what he's doing. The 80-year-old craftsman is blind.There is no hint that he can't see his work in the finished wooden tractor-trailer trucks, the small railroad steam engines, the pickup trucks, wheelbarrows and wooden animals he builds in his basement shop.
"I know just about where everything is - unless somebody moves it," said Beherns, who moves gracefully through the narrow and twisted passages in his workshop where the musty smell of cedar and the spicy aroma of freshly worked pine fill the air.
He says he finds joy building toys, children's rocking chairs, tables and doll cradles. He sells his work, but only for enough to cover his expenses.
And he looks ahead to new challenges.
In his mind lives the blueprint for a working steam threshing machine - a scale model of the one his brother, Harry, used to own. It will be 18 inches long and an alcohol burner will make the steam.
The thresher will be metal and Beherns will use the metal-working skills he developed during a 31-year career at a Kankakee factory.
He started working with wood 10 years ago, shortly after he began losing his sight to glaucoma. A blind craftsman from Champaign visited him and suggested he try building bird houses.
Now Beherns has a long waiting list of people who want his custom-built bird houses to give as holiday gifts.
His interest in toys originated a bit earlier, when he was growing up on a farm in Illinois.
"When I was a kid - you know there wasn't too much money in those days - I used to make my own toys," he said. "I made trucks - a whole construction outfit. Even a crane. And I made a Caterpillar tractor and put an alarm clock (mechanism) in it to drive the thing."
His blindness makes him an even better toymaker, because now he feels the contours and tests the smoothness of finished surfaces with hands made extra sensitive by his lack of sight.
"Before," he says, "I'd only look at the pieces."