A woodworking shop is full of hazards and we are constantly reminded of that. Magazines and TV shows warn that woodworking itself is inherently dangerous. Power tool manuals have pages of warnings about electrical hazards, sharp edges, and noise and dust created. Many hand tools come with labels or packaging cautioning us to always wear safety glasses – even my bar clamps which could possibly squirt glue at my eyes? And even wood dust is a carcinogen. And of course, we all know that sharp blades, bits, cutters, etc are dangerous. And we respect that.
When working in the shop, we have to be conscious of all these things at all times, or else we risk injury or worse. When working with sharp edges and power tools, I am always focused and never complacent. That is the only way to work, in my mind. At all times, I am fully aware of all the aforementioned hazards.
At the first wood show I attended, I watched a router seminar by Mark Eaton of Freud Canada. I remember him saying that most router accidents happen when the router is off and the bit is stopped. It’s due to complacency, or respect, as he explained. A router bit spinning at 30,000 RPM – that’s dangerous! Keep your hands well away from that! But a stopped router bit? That’s not dangerous? Is it? Um, yeah.
Don’t get complacent. A sharp tool can cut you, whether it’s moving or not. But while focusing on all the hazards we are constantly being reminded of, I sometimes forget about the most mundane hazards. These are the lesser hazards – the big, blunt, unpowered things.
Last week, I was changing the blade in my sliding table saw. The power was off and I had the sliding table pushed all the way back to allow access to the blade. To easily change the blade, I need to raise the blade to nearly its full height and open a hinged cover to get the wrench on the arbor nut. I know that the blade is sharp and so I am careful moving around it. I also know that when I am loosening the arbor nut, it is possible that it could suddenly come free and I could knock my knuckles on the table or scoring blade flange. Or my hands could slip on the wrench and hit the main blade. None of that happened though. But, as I was walking around the table saw, I walked into the protruding support for the sliding table.
It’s not like it’s not normally there. It’s always been there and always will be there. I just was paying so much attention to all the other hazards I forgot about that darn protrusion. The table is about at my waist level, and the support is a bit lower. You do the math. The collision was enough to put me on my knees for a half-minute and leave a bruise. Not fun.
Today, I was working at my bench. I had the workpiece securely clamped in my vise and was paring down to a line using a chisel. My chisels are sharp enough for to slice my finger without me noticing and I am fully conscious of that.
To maintain control, I use my right hand on the handle to push the tool forwards and my left hand on the blade (behind the edge) to resist. For safety, I always keep both hands on the chisel and behind the cutting edge. That way, if I slip, the cutting edge can’t possibly cut me. And when I did slip, it didn’t cut me. But what did happen was that I pinched the webbing of my left hand between the bolster of the chisel and the vise. Right now, it just looks and feels like a nasty pinch. I’ll have to wait to see if it gets any worse.
Work hard. Be safe. Have fun.