I’ve been avoiding writing this blog post for about five months. It hasn’t been an active avoidance, but rather something unconscious about not writing down what happened. I knew I had a bit of a deadline for getting this out and now that Safety Week is upon us, I have to put this all together.
I’m sure some people have noticed that I haven’t blogged much since last Thanksgiving, and that is directly correlated to a reduced amount of time in the shop. What many of you might not know is that the reduced amount of time in the shop is the result of a serious accident I had the Sunday after Thanksgiving. I’m hoping that this post will be a catharsis for me and give you both a warning and possibly a new way to look at things.
First, the Story:
That Sunday I was working on a Christmas gift. I had some long grain miters that I had cut (a long time ago) on the table saw that just weren’t coming together tight enough for my liking. I decided I would kick the fence of my jointer out to 45 degrees and make a light pass to clean up (and hopefully fix) the joint. As I was pushing one piece through the cut, I felt a tug on my left hand and that arm was thrown back across my body. Before sensing anything else, I had enough time to think to myself “Wow, I just had the closest call ever.” Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, as I came to realize upon looking at my left hand and seeing blood oozing out of what used to be the tip of my pinky finger. The details of the next couple of hours aren’t important except to say that the jointer had taken the fingernail and distal phalanx of my left pinky finger. Thankfully (as odd as it may seem to say that at this point) the pad of my finger survived mostly intact, so the hand surgeon was able to fold that up to close the wound, saving some of the finger’s length. Don’t worry – I don’t have any gory pictures to show you; I didn’t even look at it until the stitches had been in for over a week. After a bunch of healing and physical therapy, I’m left with this:
Things really aren’t that bad. In the grand scheme of things, if you were forced to lose part of one of your hands – you would choose to lose the tip of your pinky finger on your off hand. My biggest issues came not from having a shorter pinky, but rather from unlearning the work-arounds I had adapted while I was bandaged up.
Now, the Moral:
It would be easy to simply state “Use push sticks or pads at the jointer.” While this is true, it something we’ve all heard a million times and consciously ignore from time to time. Instead I want to bring your attention to the mindset that put me in this situation. When working with the jointer, I’ve always used push pads when jointing the faces of a board. While some have suggested that might not be necessary, I’ve yet to see anyone suggest it isn’t safe. When jointing the edges of boards, I tend to use just my hands to hold & guide the piece over the tool, which I think is also common practice.
This is where the world got a little gray (before it got really red): If you are working on a 45 degree bevel, are you working on the face or the edge? In my mind, I was working on the edge of a board, which lead to my relaxed workholding, which lead to my accident. I really think that is the lesson to be learned from my ordeal – when you are working out of square, whether it be on curves or non-orthogonal angles, take a moment to think about how that change in orientation could affect the safety of your task.