I have 60 years of woodworking in front of me. 66 years if I buy into all that crap Jiminy Cricket was always sellin’. So each time I look down at my fingers I cannot help but think (and even occasionally say out loud), “Boys, the odds are at least one of you is not going to get to make the entire long journey to the crematorium.”
Within the first few months of my brief 3 ½ years of woodworking, I managed to touch a spinning saw blade twice. That’s it…I’ve used up all the luck I had going into this thing. Somehow I once touched the inside of the blade (sort of close to the arbor nut) on a spinning blade that was raised pretty high. I felt cold steel, and I soiled myself, but there was no harm. Where I touched the blade, it was just a flat, smooth piece of rotating steel. It’s as if I was using my finger to check the run-out on the blade. I truly do not remember how it happened, and there is a slight chance this is just a cloudy memory of a dream.
However, the other “touch” was certainly real, because I still have pictures of the results. (see below) Somehow I managed to jam my thumb into the side of a spinning saw blade…right in the gullet area behind the carbide teeth. The spinning gullets ground off the end of my thumb, just as if I had stuck it into a spinning disk sander. A half inch closer to the front of the saw and I would now have only one sample of the opposable thumb necessary to separate me from lesser beings.
When the Great Gullet Grind occurred, I didn’t know right away that I wasn’t too badly hurt. All I knew is I had touched steel and I was bleeding. I grabbed my thumb with the “good” hand and screamed out my wife’s name as I zoomed up the stairs, from my basement shop. (When injuries occur I use the adrenaline to garner just enough strength to scream like a school girl and make it to my wife’s location, and then I lose all ability to function from there.) I actually made it to the kitchen sink, and I was looking at the ground tip of my thumb as Gail (my lovely wife) moved in to take care of me. No stitches required…just gauze, tape, and telling the story to everyone who asked.
The tip grew back, and there is no visible sign of the injury other than a nice Excalibur Saw Guard and Merlin Splitter that are attached to my Unisaw. This injury happened early enough in my woodworking that I now believe it was serendipitous, because it made me a bona-fide Safety Freak. I personally try to approach every single power tool action with the thought, “If I suffered a seizure and completely blacked out during this operation, would I be safe?” (Just so my insurance agent doesn’t read that and use it as an excuse to charge us more for auto insurance, I want to go on record as stating it’s hypothetical. I’ve never suffered seizures with the exception of one time when I was flipping channels and caught sight of a particularly special pair of pants Earl Anthony was wearing as he bowled in the 1975 Milwaukee Open on ESPN Classic).
Here’s where I’m headed with this. On Thursday, Gail came home from work telling me about stitches she had to remove from a guy’s pinky. When she asked how the injury occurred, the gentleman replied, “Cut it on a Table Saw.” Gail then asked, “Have you put a SawStop on your Christmas list?” Gail says the guy paused, trying to figure out how his friendly nurse would know what a SawStop is, then said this classic line. “Oh no, those SawStops are too expensive. Besides this pinky aint as bad as this one.” And he held up the opposite hand which was missing one half of a finger.
Gail then told the nine and a half fingered fellow about my near miss and the subsequent purchase of my “fancy overarm saw guard” which led to the second great statement of the Doctor’s Office Visit, “Oh I took my guards off a long time ago.”
When Gail relayed this story to me last night, I told her, “Honey, that part about Stumpy Wheeler in my first Popular Woodworking Feature is not all that uncommon in the woodworking community.” I’m doing all I can to stay safe, and I still don’t think all my piggies will resist getting separated from the pack.
So, if anyone close to West Michigan wants to make a really great offer on a 5 hp Unisaw with only about two hours of motor time on it (I don’t actually cut a lot of lumber)… my piggies and I may be ready to move up to a Sawstop.