On his 10th birthday, Steve Richardson got an electric saw from his grandfather. Within a week he was in the hospital near his Attleboro, Mass., home, getting stitches on his fingers. "After that," Richardson recalls, "I figured I should stick to two dimensions because if I had to make a table or a chair, I'd be a goner."
Good call. These days hand-crafted jigsaw puzzles made by Richardson's company, Stave Puzzles, have become a hip hobby for such elite clientele as Julie Andrews, Bill Gates and Queen Elizabeth, who has two. "They are the best puzzles," says Barbara Bush, who owns one showing her late dog Millie. "We do them over and over again. It's a wonderful family thing.
The appeal of the painted mahogany puzzles—which cost from $95 for basic models to $14,000 for custom versions—lies in both their artistry and difficulty, says Richardson, 58. Still, he admits, "you gotta be a little nutty to spend that kind of money on this type of entertainment." Not that he's complaining. He began selling puzzles out of a garage in 1969, after losing his computer job. Five years later he started Stave Puzzles, near his Norwich, Vt., home, where he lives with wife Martha, Stave's treasurer. His jigsaws, which have up to 2,000 pieces, keep clients busy for months (though his two grown sons have become adept). The best part? "After they solve them," he says, "they go into a funk because they've climbed the mountain—and then they have to order another puzzle and start over."
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