Chris Fisher lost his sight to a rare virus 10 years ago. As a skilled engineer and automotive body repair specialist, Chris had always worked with his hands but had never done any woodturning before going blind. It took four years, but Chris found his way to woodturning and is now a highly regarded maker and demonstrator with a growing following as he travels the country to share his story.
Recently married to Nicola and now with guide dog Bamber very much part of the family, Chris – trading as The Blind Woodturner – is an inspiration not only to newcomers to woodturning, but to a wider audience of people facing difficult life challenges.
Chris recently committed to a tour of all the Axminster stores, starting in Warrington on January 26th.
How did you start in woodturning?
Quite by chance, my keen interest in the horror movie genre led to an introduction to woodturning. I wanted very much to make a decorative vampire stake – but how could I get the authentic result I wanted? Woodturning seemed to be the only way.
I treated it very seriously and listened to over 600 hours of woodturning demonstrations on Youtube until gradually, I began to sense that this was something I could do.
I had the hand skills and could visualise how I could go about it. And then I made my first trip to an Axminster store – in Warrington. I was given so much support, help and guidance from everyone there – it gave me the confidence to get my first lathe and chisels and make a start.
Which was your first lathe?
My first lathe was the Axminster Hobby 1218VS (now the Axminster Craft AC305WL) – competitively priced but with enough functionality and ease of use. It ticked all the boxes at the time and I still have this machine which is now set up to drill out pen blanks.
Which lathe did you move to ?
I upgraded to the Axminster Trade 1416VS (now the Axminster Trade AT350WL) when I realised that my woodturning was progressing and I needed more capacity plus a motor that could run most of the day. I absolutely love this machine – it’s small enough to travel with us wherever we go but capable of holding a 14 inch bowl. And it has a remote control which is so handy for me.
What sort of turning projects interest you ?
I’ll tackle anything really – whether a bowl, platter or candlestick and I’ll usually try to introduce textures and colours. It takes me longer of course than a sighted turner but I’ll attempt anything and the lathe is such a joy to use. It complements my turning style and skill level very well so I find commissions are rewarding experiences and great fun.
In recent years you’ve become a much sought-after demonstrator. How do you find this experience?
The demonstrations are important to me for a couple of reasons. Mainly, it gives me the chance to showcase my skills and my attitude to life, living with a severe disability. I want to inspire as many people as I can through those demonstrations. Even though they may be seasoned turners, I hope I can change their attitudes just a little bit and encourage them to dig deep and overcome any personal challenges. Woodturning is great therapy.
What is the future for Chris Fisher, the Blind Woodturner?
The slogan on my T-shirt says ‘Keep on Turning’ which is a literal reference to woodturning but also is a metaphor for never giving up; keep attacking life, be creative and expressive and enjoy every minute of your existence.
The future is looking very positive, concentrating of course on the woodturning. The support we get from Axminster Tools & Machinery is helping us carry on with demonstrations but has also created opportunities for motivational public speaking from which I derive a huge sense of satisfaction.
When I share my story, hopefully it inspires people in the audience to try new things, to step out of their comfort zone and not give up on their own aspirations.
Personally, I feel there is a lot more to come from me and that I’m just scratching the surface.
Living with total sight loss
At its very worst, in the earlier years, the total loss of my sight was very debilitating with recurring muscle spasms, hallucinations and nausea. Or if I went out, I could have a panic attack and have to be taken home. But with time and counselling from the RNIB, slowly you start to build your confidence. I would never want to go back to those days again. Over the years, woodturning has helped me find purpose and fulfilment in my day-to-day life.
Partners in every sense
I was married in September and Nicola is an integral part of what I do and who I am. I’ve got the easy job in many ways. She’ll tell me I’ve got a commission and off I’ll go the workshop. But Nicola will spend hours and hours every week doing my social media, booking and driving me for demonstrations, taking me to buy materials and accessories and ordering items online. I wouldn’t be where I am today without her full and complete devotion.