Chris Fisher – the Blind Woodturner – turning in the face of adversity

For Chris, turning requires relying on senses other than sight

Chris Fisher lives with his wife Nicola and Guide Dog, Bamber, in Derbyshire and is currently the UK’s first – and only – completely blind, accredited, professional woodturner. Having been diagnosed with Toxoplasmosis – a parasitic infection – at the age of 38, within four weeks, Chris had lost his sight completely.

Using the senses

It’s a life-changing shock that most of us can’t imagine and, as a result, Chris had to spend time relearning life skills before he came to discover, then proceed to take up woodturning. Incredibly, Chris is completely self-taught and prior to trying his hand at turning once he’d lost his sight, had no experience whatsoever. How exactly, then, did Chris come to find woodturning and go on to master the skills, without the aid of sight?

It all began with a turned wooden stake, which Chris wanted to use as a Hallowe’en prop. He watched various YouTube videos and tutorials on the subject, totalling over 600 hours, before feeling ready to face the lathe. And the rest, as they say, is history.

From this point, it became clear that Chris had a natural aptitude for the craft, despite his blindness, and instead of relying on being able to see the turning process, he found his other senses came to the fore, such as hearing, smell, and even taste.

While it may take Chris longer to complete a piece, due to having to continuously stop the lathe, feel the piece, make judgments and adjustments, his skill is undeniable. Chris went on to become the first blind woodturner to be accepted on to the RPT (Register of Professional Turners) – a fantastic and unprecedented achievement. He’s also a member of the AWGB (Association of Woodturners of Great Britain).


Chris Fisher and his guide dog, Bamber

Challenging perceptions

Completing his first commission in 2014, Chris has worked on a huge variety of projects from then to now, including one for St John’s Church in Ashbourne. Here, he turned a 4ft tall candle stand for Easter to celebrate their 150th anniversary. Since then, his beautifully crafted items have been selling faster than he ever imagined. In addition to turning items, Chris also set up a YouTube channel as an outlet for sharing his woodturning experiences and challenging the perceptions of what people with disabilities can achieve. He now has over 8,000 subscribers and as a result of increased awareness, has gone on to become a popular motivational speaker.

Realising the positive benefits of woodturning and the importance of having a creative outlet, Chris felt driven to pass on and share his knowledge base, along with quiet determination, to autistic schoolchildren, other blind and visually impaired students, as well as mentoring a young woodturner with cerebral palsy. Chris’ goal is to inspire others by demonstrating that anything is possible, and to show the world that having a disability isn’t the end; it’s just a new beginning.


Spalted and textured platter

A life-changing partnership

Chris was matched with his German Shepherd guide dog, Bamber, in 2017, as he explains: “I had a support worker for eight years prior to Bamber, but he had to leave for full-time work. I always knew that having a guide dog was an option, and it’s certainly a life-changing partnership. Bamber’s now six-years-old and he not only helps me navigate the local area, but accompanies me when I demonstrate at exhibitions and shows all over the UK. He’s loved by thousands of people all around the country.” Bamber was part of Guide Dogs’ Name a Puppy scheme, sponsored by Sainsbury’s in Bamber Bridge near Preston. And from there came a strange coincidence, as Chris tells us: “They named him Bamber, an old English word for tree trunk; they had no idea he’d be matched with the Blind Woodturner!”

Chris explains that before this point, he’d endured four or five years of crippling anxiety and depression: “Bamber’s played an important part in my positive mental health and having your guide dog there works on so many different levels. He’s always by my side.”


Sculptural turning on stand

Men’s Sheds patron

As well as being a professional woodturner, Chris is now Patron of the UK Men’s Sheds Association, a charity that raises awareness of thousands of workshops, sheds and garages all over the country. Chris comments how “it was a huge honour” to receive this accolade, and the importance of these groups for people facing loneliness and isolation: “They give people a place to go where they can make things and be creative, whether it be through metalwork, woodcarving and more.”

Keep on turning

As part of his day-to-day life, Chris travels around the UK giving woodturning demonstrations and sharing his story at various events such as the recently-held North of England Woodworking & Power Tool Show in Harrogate. In addition to passing on skills and inspiring others by telling his incredible story, Chris also has a burgeoning TV career and is the woodturning artisan for the BBC1 show Money For Nothing.


Various examples of Chris’ turned work

Hearing Chris’ story and being given an insight into the struggles he’s faced and managed to overcome – before discovering woodturning and after – his passion, determination and drive are nothing short of awe-inspiring. But if Chris had the choice, would he want to have his sight back? His answer will understandably come as a shock to many, but it’s a no, as he explains: “I’ve become comfortable with being blind; it’s who I am now. In the past few years, I’ve realised I can have a concept or design in my head and make it become a reality. I certainly can’t be complacent when I’m at the lathe – it demands all my attention – but that’s great, because every ounce of concentration goes into whatever it is I’m turning.”

Chris’ aim is to continue being a woodturner for as long as he can, and comments that: “I feel there’s a lot more to come from me; I’m just scratching the surface.” In terms of what this entails, we’ll have to wait and see, but looking ahead, more demonstrations and talks are planned for 2023 and beyond, so if you’d like to see Chris in action, be sure to check the website for details.

Finally, when talking to people about the challenges and hardships he’s battled, Chris’ advice, and words we all need to hear every now and then, is that “whenever you feel like giving up, keep on turning.”