Last year, Marc Tschida, owner of Press Puzzles, began selling a limited-edition, 385-piece puzzle depicting the painting Watson and the Shark by John Singleton Copely. The wooden puzzle featured 15 shark-shaped pieces and sold for $95. “I really wanted to sell shark-themed puzzles to pay for a cage-diving trip with great white sharks. It’s an expensive trip,” Tschida explains.

“I’ve suffered from an irrational fear of open bodies of water ever since seeing Jaws when I was way too young,” he adds, laughing. “It’s a fear of being out of your element and not knowing what’s down there. I mean, I know there’s not a great white shark in Lake Michigan, but still. …”

Tschida confronted his fear and achieved his goal last autumn when, off the Mexican island of Guadalupe, he went down in a cage to get a close look and take photographs of great white sharks. The trip, he says, was just what he expected, with sharks on view every day. Still, he admits getting into the shark cage wasn’t easy.

The shark project had another objective, Tschida says.  He hoped it would help him improve his internet marketing skills and develop better packaging systems, as well as launch an online store.

Tschida, who recently left full-time employment as production manager at Cardinal Stage Company, says the shark project was a total success. Not only did he make the trip and begin devoting all his time to Press Puzzles, he recently made a $20,000 investment in a laser cutter.

“It takes 50 minutes for me to cut a mini-puzzle with a scroll saw,” he says. “It takes just three to four minutes with the laser cutter.” Each puzzle still takes a week to 10 days to finish due to sanding, gluing, sealing, and drying. “But the laser allows me to turn out more puzzles,” Tschida says. “And that means I can start selling in retail stores and on my website.”

He hopes to do more special projects in the future to fund what he calls “bucket-list trips.” One in the works is a trip to Florence, Italy, for a professional development workshop with a family that has been doing wood veneer work for generations. To fund the trip, he will offer a wood veneer puzzle of Italy.

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