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Blind master machinist

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Cast Iron
Mar 14, 2005
"I like to be on my own. So night time's a good time. You can turn the lights out, close the door and everybody thinks I'm in bed. And I'll be working here," he chuckles
it may sound ironic but that comment realy brought it home to me how increadible his story is, when i imagined turning off the lights in my own shop! :eek:

William B

Mar 5, 2006
Texas Panhandle
To buy something else my wife said to sell something first. Well I had a nearly pristine SB 10k lathe that I put up. An older man said that he had quit machineing when he had some health problems, but wanted to get back into it. Well him and a buddy came out. He came over to the lathe and started going through checking it out. Turns out he was blind and made guns. But wanted a lathe again to do small stuff on.

Made my piddly issues seem small.


Super Moderator
Dec 15, 2000
Just in case that link ever stops working, here's the text from the article. The original contained one photo as well


Mechanic with a feel for his work


Friday June 22 2001

Doug Clarkson runs the tips of his gnarled, but sensitive, fingers over the vernier dial on the lathe in his Bendigo workshop, counting quietly to himself as he does so: 'One, two, three, four ...'

Doug Clarkson runs the tips of his gnarled, but sensitive, fingers over the vernier dial on the lathe in his Bendigo workshop, counting quietly to himself as he does so: "One, two, three, four ..."
The dark glasses he wears hide his concentration as he counts out thousandths of an inch to minutely trim a piece of metal he has clamped in his industrial-size lathe.

Clarkson doesn't select the measurement he wants using the normal vernier scale - a small, rotating wheel affair marked with tiny numbers and lines - he feels his with his fingers.

You see, Doug Clarkson is no ordinary mechanical engineer. He is blind. He can't even see the huge flatbed lathe he's working on. Yet he turns out work as fine as any you will see.

A 1910 International motor buggy owned by Kyneton bus lines operator Ivan Smith is just one example of his work. When Smith took it to Clarkson more than 20 years ago, it was, Smith concedes, "a couple of wheelbarrows full of bits. And that's not an exaggeration".

For Clarkson, who's particular specialty is old cars, it meant a total rebuild - it's one of four rebuilds he's done for Smith - and the result is one magnificent old jigger.

Clarkson, 67, an amiable fellow who laughs a lot, lost his sight in a burning accident at Bendigo, in Central Victoria, when he was only four years old.

He tells how he later served his apprenticeship with his father, "who was a very good engineer", and how, after his father took ill, he "finished up working at the ordnance factory" in Bendigo as a fitter.

The factory started him on three months' trial. "I don't think they expected me to stay there. I don't think they expected I could do it and ... well, I was there for 38 years," he chuckles.

That he followed in his father's footsteps and, for more than 40 years, has had a large, well-equipped workshop behind his Bendigo home is hardly surprising. "I've had a workshop since I was 10 of some sort or another," he says. The first one was in his bedroom.

Fitted to his lathes and other equipment he's got a vernier dial with indentations and raised sections, a sort of mechanical braille if you like. He simply runs his finger over the ridges and slots, quietly counting out the measurement as he goes. He has a similar system on his hand-held micrometer.

"Thousandths of an inch (marked by one zero line on an ordinary dial) are too fine for me to pick up with my fingers so what I've done, I've got five zero lines (to equal five-thousandth of an inch)."

He counts them out. "One, two, three, four five." Then he demonstrates how it works. "By lining up that one, then that one, then that one, then that one . . . Each time it gives me one-thou increments.

"In fact, I can go half that. If I line that up half way (he demonstrates), I can come down to half a thou. Easy. Not a problem."

His first vernier he designed and had made in the tool room at the ordnance factory. The others he made himself. "I'll see if I can show you," he says. He walks briskly across to his milling machine, but it seems that how he does some things puzzles even him. As he says, after trying to show what he does: "How I did that is pretty hard to explain."

His only safety device is a big red button down near his foot on his biggest lathe. All he has to do is hit that with his leg and it switches the machine off.

He knows exactly where everything is in his workshop - "there's a system to it" - and woe betide anyone who moves anything.

Above one bench he's got rows of little metal drawers full of bolts of various sizes and knows which bolts are where. But it seems that even if they did get mixed up, it wouldn't really matter.

"I can identify most of them, at any rate, with my fingers most of the time," he says. "What size it is and what thread it is."

Clarkson's penchant for older cars dates back to a 1928 Swift, his first car. "I bought that as a wreck, and it was part of my training, I suppose, to rebuild it. Modern cars don't interest me at all. The older they are the more of a challenge they are."

And Ivan Smith's old motor buggy was certainly in the challenge category. "I didn't even know what one looked like. We went to Albury to look at one and went to Adelaide to look at another one before I knew what I had to make out of the rubbish," he chuckles.

He spent a day feeling his way around the Adelaide motor buggy and spoke to the owner about "how it worked and how he drove it", all the while fixing the image in his mind.

He did return a couple of times to get measurements, but as he says, "not actually to refresh my mind". He had memorised everything else on his first visit.

He borrowed some parts, though, and these he copied and made in his workshop because so much of Smith's motor buggy was missing.

Its centre-mounted twin-cylinder engine was no problem. "I knew what should be inside there. It's all basic engineering as far as I'm concerned."

The motor buggy took him 13 years "on and off". As he says, he doesn't do his own welding - "I have a friend who does that" - nor any panel beating and admits he's a lousy painter.

"But I do most of my own electrical work," he says and walks across to demonstrate his talking multimeter.

"The first one I had made, but I got this one from Tandy. They brought them out as a bit of a gimmick I think, but it's a pretty handy little jigger as far as I'm concerned."

He "wouldn't know" if he's the world's only blind mechanic. But one thing he does know for sure. "I think I'm probably the only one in the world who takes on these sorts of silly jobs," he laughs.

Clarkson often works at night so he's not interrupted. "It's a good time to work. It's dangerous working in the workshop with anybody around, especially using machines.

"I like to be on my own. So night time's a good time. You can turn the lights out, close the door and everybody thinks I'm in bed. And I'll be working here," he chuckles.

Douglas Norman Clarkson was born in Bendigo on July 23, 1934. His father was a mechanic and an aircraft engineer.

When Clarkson was four, he was playing with five other children in his uncle's carpentry workshop in Bendigo, a fire started and one of the children picked up a can of methylated spirits, possibly thinking it was water, and threw it on the fire.

Clarkson was seriously burnt in the explosion and required plastic surgery. His injuries also cost him his eyesight.

He went to the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind from the age of five until he was 15. He was later apprenticed to his father, who by then was running an engineering workshop at Carisbrook, in Central Victoria.


Feb 4, 2006
That's incredible and absolutely inspirational.
Makes my recent trip to hospital for some waterworks repairs pale into the insignificant.



Cast Iron
Jun 15, 2008
there are just some things I can't imagine being able to do.

did he ever DRIVE that buggy he built???!!


Apr 1, 2008
Thats great, truly a dedicated person. Especially since i know guys who can't get parts right with perfect eyesight.

It makes you think and wonder how we often nit pick about the minute imperfections in our parts. And he can't even see his. Thats incredible that he can feel out his parts, talk about being truly one with your machine

Btw. Jeff Healey played guitar for the Jeff Healey band blind

So it shows how much dedication that anyone can have even with the inability to see.


Feb 17, 2005
Norman, OK
There was a guy out here that was legally blind and a machinist. I actually bought some of his stuff from a sale. It amazed me he could get it done. From the stories I heard, he was pretty good.


Mar 26, 2008
Saskatchewan, Canada
There is a blind mechanic in the town I live in. It is truely amazing to watch him touch a bolt or nut and then grab the right wrench. I have perfect sight and could look at that nut 200 times and couldn't tell you what size it is. I get close but that's it.