Carving a new life: Disabled veteran uses his hobby as a way to give back
Dennis Schall Jr. of Saylorsburg carves wooden objects and donates part of the proceeds to Valor Clinic. DANIELLE DERRICKSON/TIMES NEWS
A CNC saw carves into wood. DANIELLE DERRICKSON/TIMES NEWS
A close-up shot of Schall’s CNC saw.
DANIELLE DERRICKSON/TIMES NEWS
DANIELLE DERRICKSON/TIMES NEWS
A wolf carving made by Schall. DANIELLE DERRICKSON/TIMES NEWS
Schall drills into a piece of wood. DANIELLE DERRICKSON/TIMES NEWS
Dennis Schall Jr. lives in a home shrouded by trees.
It feels secluded, even if the only buffer between his home and the real world is a few feet of gravel driveway. Still, the house is almost hidden, and Schall likes it that way.
Kids’ toys are scattered on the front and side lawns. On this particular Friday afternoon, one of Schall’s dogs, a mix named Asia, stands at her owner’s side, while the other, a German shepherd named Cooper, barks behind the fence separating him from Schall. Wood for his carving business line the walls of his garage.
Without the help of his family and a local nonprofit, Schall noted, he would have a very different life.
“I’m one of the fortunate ones,” Schall, a disabled Army veteran, said.
Schall was medically discharged from the service in 2004. He sustained multiple injuries over his years in the military. “I was pretty much broken,” Schall said. Among his injuries were a dislocated shoulder, a broken elbow and four herniated discs.
But the Army determined that those injuries didn’t affect Schall’s ability to function. It gave him a 0% rating, meaning he wouldn’t receive disability benefits. He was in pain — physically and mentally — but refused to use medication to alleviate it.
“It was a spiral depression,” Schall said.
“For 15 years, I was part of something. I was making a difference. I had friends, people that understood, somebody always watching my back,” he said. “Then I went out to the civilian world, and nothing like that exists.”
It wasn’t easy for Schall to adjust. “I struggled,” he recalled. He lived in a mobile home. His father, Dennis Schall Sr., paid for his electricity and lot rent.
“If it wasn’t for my dad, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Schall said. “I’d probably be 6 feet under.”
About a decade after he had been discharged, Schall found Valor Clinic, a nonprofit that shelters and assists veterans in accessing benefits. The organization helped Schall file paperwork with Veterans Affairs, which rated him at 100% disability. After he started receiving entitlements, Schall bought his home in Saylorsburg.
A year after moving into his home, Schall started a business. He called it “Struck By Lightning Woodcrafts.” The name was quite literal: Schall would sell intricately designed wood pieces that had been burned by thousands of volts of electricity.
But Schall said those pieces were low in demand, and business was slow. So, earlier this year, he shifted his focus to another woodcraft: carving.
Schall has always had an aptitude for making things. As a child, Schall recalled, his father bought him build-your-own radio kits and kid-friendly science experiments. When he joined the Army at 17, Schall originally enlisted as an airplane mechanic.
Schall kept the old business’s name for his new carving venture but upgraded his setup. He exchanged his electric cables for a computer loaded with carving software and hooked up to a CNC saw. His carving designs are kept on the computer, which tells the saw what to etch. Some carvings take a few hours to create, others take days.
Schall has carved animals, signs and even the Code of the U.S. Fighting Force. He considers carving not only a hobby, but a means of giving back, as he donates 10% of his monthly proceeds to Valor Clinic.
Schall’s health is still an uphill battle. Just last spring, he had a stroke, which left him with short-term memory loss. And despite having machinery and computer experience, he said his carvings still go through “a lot of trial and error.”
But that doesn’t stop Schall from spending hours in the basement, focused on wood, his computer and his saw.
“This is something that I enjoy, so I’m going to pass on what I enjoy to other people,” Schall said, “and I’m going to help the veterans who gave everything and have nothing.”