Stay Focused and Be Safe

I originally wrote this post for the Time Warp Tool Works blog.

What causes accidents? What’s the biggest cause of accidents in the shop? Dull tools? No. Improper use? No. Not using the guards or proper safety equipment? No.

Ack – complacency! I believe that complacency is the #1 cause of accidents, and it’s easy to be complacent when you’re doing something you’ve already done a hundred times. For you, this might be crosscutting slats. For me, this might be detailing moulding planes. If working on a half-dozen planes, I could perform each of th following steps on the six planes before moving on to the next step:

      1. lay out the grip bevels;
      2. lay out the detail bevels;
      3. cut the grip bevels;
      4. cut the detail bevels;
      5. make the stop cuts;
      6. remove any remaining pencil marks; and
      7. smooth all surfaces.

Doing a half-dozen is not a big task, but if I have twenty parts to process, my mind might start to wander half way through.

Detailing a plane

The curse of the wandering mind! When I’m doing the same thing over and over again, my mind has a tendency to wander and think about other things. Focusing on the task at hand is lessened and the risk of having an accident is thereby increased, whether it be miscutting a part, damaging a tool or injuring myself.

Break the production line. To maintain focus when I am working on a run of planes that inevitably involves doing a lot of repetitive steps on one pair at a time and completing several steps in a row, then swapping that pair for another and repeating the steps. For example, I might:

      1. layout the grip and detail bevels on all planes;
      2. cut the grip and detail bevels, make the stop cuts, remove pencil marks and smooth surfaces of two planes; and
      3. repeat step (ii) on the next pair of planes until all are complete.

That way, I am not doing the same task over and over again without a break. By varying my tasks, I can stay better focused and reduce my likelihood of causing an accident.

June is Stroke Month

The Heart and Stroke Foundation asked if I would share this article on my blog.

Why BC Artists, Craftspeople, and Musicians Should Pay Close Attention to the Warning Signs of Stroke

June is Stroke Month. As you may know, stroke is the leading cause of unemployment disability in Canada and the second leading cause of dementia. It kills more women than breast cancer in Canada, and more men than HIV/AIDS or prostate cancer. For artists, craftspeople, and musicians stroke also holds another risk: even if you survive a stroke, you could be left with a weak and clumsy hand, robbing you of your livelihood.

You may be experiencing a stroke if you suddenly feel weak, especially on one side of the body.

A stroke damages blood vessels in the brain. That damage can affect the senses, ability to move, speech, understanding, behaviour, thought patterns and memory. Often, one side of the body is paralyzed. “If you have a stroke that takes away your communication skills, you’re not running a business,” Dr. Philip Teal, head of the Vancouver General Hospital stroke prevention clinic, recently told the Vancouver Sun. “It’s not just putting words out there. It’s comprehension, organizing your thoughts.”

You may be experiencing a stroke if you suddenly have trouble speaking.

The good news, of course, is that recognizing and responding immediately to the signs of stroke by calling 9-1-1 or your local emergency number can significantly improve survival and recovery. If a person is diagnosed with a stroke caused by a blood clot, doctors can administer a clot-busting drug available only at a hospital, and only within a few crucial hours after symptoms begin.

You may be experiencing a stroke if you suddenly have difficulty focusing visually or seeing altogether.

These stroke symptoms include a sudden loss of speech, sudden paralysis, sudden loss of vision. But according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s 2012 Stroke Report, adults under 50 are the slowest to respond to stroke warning signs.

You may be experiencing a stroke if you suddenly get a very strong headache.

“Canadians need to understand that the clock starts ticking at the first signs of a stroke, and every second of delay leads to more brain cell death and greater risk of death or disability,” says stroke neurologist Dr. Michael Hill, who speaks on behalf of the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Canadian Stroke Network. “Faster action would prevent disability for thousands of Canadians and save lives,” says Dr. Hill.

You may be experiencing a stroke if you suddenly feel dizzy.

It really is important for those that make their living with their hands to understand that a complete recovery is possible—but there is a limited window of time to get the proper treatment.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation has launched a new interactive website to help BC residents learn the five warning signs of stroke which offers interactive features to help you quickly remember the five warning signs. 

Use Tools Properly and Smartly

The table saw is probably one of the most feared tools in the shop.  It has a bad reputation of being a finger-munching machine that likes to kick back.  I believe most accidents are preventable.  At the table saw, using the proper safety equipment such as a splitter or riving knife, featherboard or push block is very important and not only makes the tool safer, but contributes to better quality cuts.

It is even more important to understand what the tool is designed to do, how to use it properly, and what it should sound and feel like in operation.  If unsure about something, ask somebody who has more experience.  Shoot me an e-mail if I can help.

There is an old saying that goes like this: “The woodworker’s mind should be the sharpest tool in the shop.”  I think this is absolutely true.  Never work when tired, distracted or hurried.

In this video, Red Green shows how not to use a table saw.  List the safety violations and mistakes you see in the comments section.  Let’s see how long of a list we can create!

Here are some related table saw safety articles I have written:

  1. Why Not a SawStop?;
  2. Benefits of a Sliding Table Saw; and
  3. Why a Sliding Table Saw with a Scoring Blade?

Take Notice of What You Do

Next time you’re working in the shop, take note of any unsafe things you do.  What risky shortcuts are you taking?  Take note of these and work on resolving them.

Here are a few common less-than-safe shortcuts:

  1. not keeping the workspace clean and orderly;
  2. not taking time to check a tool is set-up properly; and
  3. not securing a workpiece properly.

What shortcuts have you noticed yourself taking, exposing yourself to unnecessary risk?  Are these dangers being caused by laziness?  Lack of knowledge? Something else?

Be Careful of that GENTLY ROUNDED EDGE!

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.