Whether the average person is thinking about woodworking as a job or as a pastime, there’s a good chance that they categorize it as a visually intensive activity. With all of the heavy machinery, fine detail work, and attention paid to form and process, being able to see what’s going on with better than average acuity can seem all but entirely essential to the woodworking process. Many people would even be willing to make the argument that woodworking should’t be attempted at all by those with slightly impaired vision, much less by people without sight altogether.
Of course, if someone wanted to make that argument, they’d have to personally take it up with Billy Milburn.
A longtime Charlotte resident, Milburn has been a woodworking hobbyist for many years. He operates out a workshop located in a backyard shed, creating a wide variety of beautifully textured wooden bowls. Making each bowl is a difficult but rewarding process, and the pursuit of the perfect bowl is an endeavor that Milburn was determined to spend many years working on, until a visit to the doctor’s office changed everything.
At the age of 43, Milburn was diagnosed with macular degeneration, a condition that would rapidly rob him of his vision. While it was a harsh blow, he was determined not to let his deteriorating eyesight prevent him from doing what he loved. With the purchase of some specially designed tools, Milburn was soon back in his beloved workshop, teaching himself how to make bowls by touch,.
It has not always been smooth sailing. Milburn reports that a bad encounter with a planing machine nearly broke his thumbs when a misaligned piece of wood shot out backwards. But aside from the occasional mishap, the Billy Milburn’s workshop is operating at full capacity these days, turning out ever more beautiful bowls.