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A Washougal woodworker survived a suicide attempt. Now blind, he's spreading hope through words and art

John Furniss picked up the art of fine woodworking at the age of 23.

WASHOUGAL, Wash. — When John Furniss sees a piece of wood, he has a vision of what it will become. 

The fine woodworker creates pieces of art out of the garage in his Washougal home.

To get the perfect piece, he first sharpens his tools and sands off the rough edges. When they are perfect, he gets to work spinning a piece of wood on his lathe.

He uses his fingers as guides and his hands as his eyes. In order to see things from John's point of view, close your eyes.

John Furniss is blind.

His life wasn't always this dark.

Furniss grew up in a small town in Colorado, moved to Wyoming during his teenage years and attended high school. He says those days weren't easy.

"I didn't feel like I fit in very much. I felt like I really struggled to keep my place in the social hierarchy. I always felt like people were better than me, had better things," he said.

Credit: KGW
John Furniss inside his Washougal garage.

At the age of 16, he gave up all hope, but hope didn't give up on him. He survived a suicide attempt that left him permanently blind.

"That morning, I just don't know. I just I had enough. I just reached a point where I didn't want to do it anymore."

That day was April 10, 1998.

It didn't get easier, John fell into a life of drugs and trouble and for seven to eight years, his path wasn't straight.

RELATED: Breaking the Silence: How the construction industry is working to prevent suicide

"Life changes, everything changes eventually. You can affect that change or you can be affected by that change."

He sought drug counseling, but what really pulled him out of the dark was a piece of wood.

While attending a school for the blind in his 20s in Salt Lake City, Utah, John's teacher taught him the art of woodwork.

"I can take this picture that's in my mind, this fully-formed object that's in my mind and make it a real thing. Make it something I can hold and show to people and use. It's almost like regaining my vision in a way."

He now uses his experience to spread a message of hope to students of all ages. A message to never give up.

"My message is look forward, definitely look forward. Be in the present moment, but look forward to what may come," Furniss said. "If you can't do something one way, there's another way it can be done."

His life was spiraling when it was saved by the hands of an artist.

"Being a woodworker and using those pictures in my mind to make real objects. It makes me realize that in someways I had to lose my sight to really gain my vision."

Click here to learn more about John's work and how to purchase it.

Breaking the Silence

This month, newsrooms across the state are highlighting the public health crisis of death by suicide. Our goal of “Breaking the Silence” is to not only put a spotlight on a problem that claimed the lives of more than 800 Oregonians last year, but also examine research into how prevention can and does work and offer our readers, listeners and viewers resources to help if they – or those they know – are in crisis.

More than 40 newsrooms contributed stories when the project first launched in April. This September media outlets are producing new stories in recognition of National Suicide Prevention Month. When possible, we will promote each other’s stories, and all of them can be found on breakingthesilenceor.com

Credit: KGW

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RELATED: Breaking the Silence: How the construction industry is working to prevent suicide

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