September 13, 2010

Stitches in a Leg and Other Thoughts on Tool Safety


I just got word that a good friend of mine did a nice slice and dice on his leg with a circular saw. He's a smart guy, conscientious, very experienced with tools, and just generally has a good head on his shoulders, but he was rushing and took a few short cuts. We've all done it. He's all stitched up now and it's not looking like there's going to be any lasting damage, but it's a serious reminder that no matter who you are, how good you think you are, how experienced you are, as soon as you let your guard down you're putting yourself in a whole lot of danger. It's a very fine line between confident (which is good) and cavalier (which is potentially deadly).

I try to maintain a healthy hatred of a few tools; table saws and chainsaws mostly, and to a lesser degree circular saws. Each time I step up to bat with one of these monsters, I try to remind myself what it can do and how quickly it can do it. Thankfully, I've thus far been free of any major injuries, but I've had a few near misses over the years. Here are the details on three of them...

  1. One time, a coworker used my table saw to rip a tiny, thin piece off of a small chunk of Azek. When he made the cut, the waste piece fell into the throat of the saw. He walked away, thinking nothing of it. Then here I come ready to rip down a piece of lumber and I turn the saw on. Now, it's a habit of mine to never have my head lined up with the blade when I fire up a table saw and that little habit is the reason why I still have two eyes. The piece of Azek shot out of the saw and was about 30' behind me before I could even blink. The piece actually brushed the hair on the right side of my head. It was an active job site so the blade guard was off (our thoughts on table saw blade guards is a topic for another post), but the kicker is that my safety glasses were safely perched on top of my head. Completely stupid. Had the piece hit me I would have deserved it. Since then, I haven't once turned on a table saw without safety glasses on. That was my one get out of jail free card in that department. I also went and found the piece of Azek in the bushes and taped it right above the saw switch as a constant reminder.
  2. On another job site I was working with a guy from Vietnam who had spotty English skills. I had to rip down a large piece of plywood and need him to assist with the out-feed. I explained to him that in that scenario, the way I like to do it is that I'm the one driving. He is only there to support the piece, not to pull it through the saw. That's my job. I'm the one on the business end of the blade, so I want to be in complete control of the workpiece, that's just the way I do it. So I explained this to him and got the nod. I explained it to him again and got the nod. I asked him if he understood me and he said yes. You know where this is going, don't you? So I'm almost through with the cut, my hands are nearing the blade and my helper decides that he's going to start pulling the workpiece through the blade. I wasn't ready for this and barely managed to pull my hand away before it got to the blade. I expressed to him using a wide-ranging and very colorful vocabulary what I thought of his actions and got a nod.
  3. Another time I was in the garage and nicked my thumb on the table saw. No idea how I did it. One moment, I was ripping a piece of wood, the next I was looking at a bloody thumb. It was a very small cut (bled like crazy though) so I was lucky. It was just one of those times when I must have spaced out for an instant and that's that.

So anyway, the bottom line here is to just try to constantly remind yourself how dangerous these tools are. And everyone is at risk, from the guy using the saw for the first time, to the 20 year carpenter who uses it every day. Now that we think about it, a cabinetmaker friend of ours just got stitched up as well. He's one of the most talented woodworkers we know and even he isn't immune.

Any of you guys have close calls you want to share? Drop it in the comments, I'm curious to hear some stories.

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Posted by Doug Mahoney at September 13, 2010 10:30 AM
Recent Comments

very good comments!

Myself personally have had a few close calls with a power saw and planner!

The power saw saw due to being tired and in a rush, and the planner actual burned my finger on the belt drive, instead of being cut by the blades

I will never forget another apprentice at Trade school at Holmes glen Safe in Melbourne 1995, I was at the time an older apprentice 22 years and got into an argument with the younger guy 17 years about how he was using a power saw, (it got quite heated our chat about power saw safety)

for some crazy reason he thought it was a good idea to make a cut and then have the saw Gard lean against his leg as the blade was still spinning?

I said mate, if that Gard does not return quick enough you are toast

guess what happened 3 weeks later, the guy (Corey)
was bloody lucky, 33 stitches in his leg, he made 2nd best on the injury photo wall

I never said told you so, but he could see it in my eye's, he recovered well, and wiser from the experience!

I was happy he survived it, he could have bleed out and died quite easy!

Posted by: Derek Pater at September 26, 2010 6:47 AM

As a teenager I did the dumb move of wearing gloves while using a miter saw. The blade grabbed the glove and pulled my hand in. I ended up with a 1/16" kerf in the tip of my thumbnail. My father calmly told me I was lucky and gave a reminder safety speech. Thinking back I was really lucky, and I will have to remember that with my kids.

Posted by: Tom at September 15, 2010 9:30 AM
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