Friday, December 21, 2007

Eenie Meenie Mynie Moe…

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.

11 comments:

rab said...

I can relate to your reaction to injury. I can stand looking at anyone's blood but my own. I go running to my wife and hope I get to her before passing out. I'm such a wuss. Good entry. Reminds me that I've got to get one of those fancy overarm things. Love the blog. Thanks to C. Schwartz for putting us on to you.

Mike said...

I took a good chunk of my left index finger off a year ago (with a dado blade), so I can relate. I hope to make it to the end intact, but as I tell my wife, "God gave us ten fingers, but only two eyes." Which is why I always wear safety glasses.

She doesn't think it's funny.

ronsueboe said...

I dinged a thumb in high school, a finger about three years ago; both on a tablesaw. But the real bad injury was t&g router bit that my index finger encountered last New Years Eve. I need a RouterStop (a SawStop would be nice but I don't have 220V; shoot, I don't even have power yet in the shop).

The router damage has been a real crimp mostly due to lack of feeling in half the finger and oddly enough, lack of the finger pad. Turns out that fleshy pad is quite useful for gripping. Less so for typing.

But things are looking up and I have mostly ten full fingers, one is just a bit slimmer than usual. I hope to keep it that way.

Jim said...

My tale of woe involves my left middle finger being snatched back into my router bit in my router table. I had a U shaped slot in the tip. If I held my finger up vertically I could balance a pencil in it! (I didn't, though. Too painful) It all grew back, even the pad and nail and feeling.
The upside was that whilst surfing during recovery (March 04)I came across David Charlesworth's site. I've been on three courses now and am converted to hand tools only. The machines are gone, the noise has gone, the dust has gone and I'm quite satisfied. From every cloud and all that..

Jeff Skiver said...

Jim,

I know what you mean about the hand tools. I never DREAMED I would get into woodworking. And then, once I started, I NEVER dreamed I would have any interest in hand tools. Now I love the hand tools more than anything. No noisy dust collector, no high decibel spinning carbides, no looming fear of amputation...

I also finally took a class with David Charlesworth this year. I was thrilled to finally meet him in person after watching his videos, reading his books, and exchanging a couple of email. By the way, if I popped 16 Xanax tablets in rapid succession, I would still only be 1/8th as calm as David Charlesworth....

Todd said...

A friend of mine lost all four fingers on his left hand to a Powermatic early this year. He has health insurance, I am self-employed and have none. The cost of a Saw Stop is looking very attractive. It is less about the cost of loosing the fingers ($22,000 and lost time at work) and more about the pain and never having them again for the rest of my life.

Jason said...

I got cut by oak one time. I set up a dado on a friends table saw. But he didn't have insert for a dado. I figured it wouldn't be a problem because we were cutting a rabbet around the edge of a large board. But then the stupidity kicked in and I decided to test the cut on a narrow strip of scrap oak laying nearby. well the dado grabbed the end of the oak and using the front of the throat as a fulcrum, flipped the back end of the board (with my hand on it) up in the air. The edge of the scrap was nicely jointed and the corner ripped my thumb open its entire length. It was over a year before I could bend my thumb again. I figured that was a pretty good injury considering I never touched any spinning carbide or steel.

Ethan said...

To quote Charlesworth's Hungarian nemesis, "anoder thou... and anoder thou... and anoder thou..."

When I first got into woodworking, I, too, said I was going to be a "power tool" guy. I never thought I'd get that hand plane bug and start drooling over an Anderson smoother or a C&W Panel Raiser. Heck, I actually take the time to look at moulding planes I wouldn't give a second glance in the antique stores!

Let me just go on the record right now as stating that I don't EVER plan on having an entire shop of Festool machinery...

Chris said...

Every day while driving home from work you likely pass not a few other cars within a few feet of your own at 55 miles an hour. Maybe it's been a long day and you are trying to find car talk on NPR. You fail to pay attention for just a few seconds and turn the wheel just an inch to the left. This will probably never happen. You can see when another car approaches and you pay heed. You understand how your car works and can adjust your actions to the conditions of your environment. You can even predict to some degree the actions of others who occupy the space and time as yourself, and in this way you live to see another day. Such is the power of the human intellect. Seizures aside, if you can see the spinning blade of your table saw and you know what it will do, why would you stick your fingers in there? I understand that this is an oversimplification but my point is this; if you understand how your machines work, their limitations and what happens to wood when you cut it, you need not fear death or dismemberment.
The use of mechanical safety devices is well and good but they often fail for one reason or another. The one safety device that is most reliable and is adaptable to almost any circumstance is the use of properly exercised reason. In fact the more you use it the better it is. In the end it is not the lack of or failure of safety devices that leads to injury, it is the failure to. From an evolutionary standpoint it would be well to consider the wisdom of trying to create a world where it’s not necessary to think. The SawStop is in all respects a fine machine and the argument could be made, that if you ran a production woodworking shop without one it would border on negligence, you responsibility for the safety of those in your employ being a different matter. As for me, I plan to keep my Delta 10in. It serves it’s purpose and I am confident that all of my digits will remain intact.

Chris

Anonymous said...

Do you still bite your nails like that?

Michel Desmarais said...

I am an extremely careful guy around power tools... last wednesday I got distracted and used an angle grinder with a 4 inch wood blade (demolition) to cut a notch in a 6 inch-long piece of 2 x 4.
I should have used a vise to hold the wood, and the removable handle should have been on the grinder so that I would have held it with both hands. Anyway, wrong tool for the job, had it in my right hand while holding the piece of 2x4 in my left.

I'm going in surgery wednesday cause the blade grabbed the wood and traveled to my left hand and thigh. Thigh has 7 stitches, but I almost amputated my thumb, went through two extensor tendons, nerves and cut the metacarpal in two. By some miracle I still have feeling in my thumb and can still close it. I have no insurance and no worker's comp but feel like the luckiest guy around.

I was dumb that one time and it got me. Be careful, never ever take chances. Had I not adjusted the blade guard I would have probably gone right through my thigh and severed the artery and maybe killed myself (the guard made the tool bounce off my thigh after going through my hand)

Sorry for the long post.

PS: I had forgotten my chisel at another site, that was my tool of choice for this simple task.