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Ricky Hatfield shows off his customized birdhouse.


Ricky's other projects have included modifications to his wheelchair


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Home Improvements are ‘For the Birds’ for Hilltop Industries’ Ricky Hatfield

Ricky Hatfield, 47, of Geneseo is taking “Tool Time” to new heights, with some sky-high home improvements for his feathered friends.


“I watch Home Improvement with Tim Allen every night, and it gives me ideas,” Ricky explains. “When Hilltop Industries started selling birdhouses, I decided to customize one. I thought it would look nice.”


Ricky is among approximately 350 people with disabilities employed through Hilltop Industries, the vocational rehabilitation division of The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming. He works 5 days a week at the sheltered workshop on State Street in Mt. Morris, NY, where he assembles components for a variety of customers.


New among the products assembled at Hilltop Industries: bluebird houses, which The Arc sells for $10 each, with profits going back to the agency. Houses are typically sold in a bare-bones state for customers to paint and decorate. But in typical “Tool Time” fashion, Ricky felt the need to equip his bird house with “more power!”


Ricky's modified birdhouse is complete with a front porch of sorts – birds can perch themselves on a small pole that he connected just under the entrance hole. The improvements, which included significant woodcutting and drilling, took Ricky about 2 weeks to complete.


Ricky did all of the handiwork by himself, using standard tools that he borrowed from a neighbor. Because he is in a wheelchair and has limited use of his arms, Ricky's workbench was a small Plexiglas table that attaches to, and wraps around, his chair. “It was a tricky process,” Ricky explains. “I'm good with tools, but I took advantage of the good weather and did a lot of the work outdoors. That way, stuff wouldn't get all over.”


An admirer of Tim Allen for many years, Ricky's tricked-out birdhouse is far from his first custom-built gadget. Others have included picture frames, coat racks, cup holders, and one project that Ricky is never without: a modified joystick to control his wheelchair. The stick, which resembles a classic Pac-Man controller, is an ingenious combination of a standard shaft topped by a golf ball. “The golf ball is easy to grip, which makes it easier to move the chair,” Ricky explains.


Back to the topic of birdhouses, Ricky's next slate of home improvements includes painting his creation blue and mounting it to a post. “After that, I'm going to put it outside my bedroom window where I can always see it,” he says. He is also contemplating working on more birdhouses, with the possibility of donating them to a local hospital.


To purchase a birdhouse of your own to customize, contact Hilltop Industries Sales Manager Ted Montanye at (585) 658-3311 or