Distractions can be painful

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Blog entry by NoLongerHere posted 03-25-2011 06:08 PM 1846 reads 0 times favorited 24 comments Add to Favorites Watch

After 40 years of woodworking and some major remodeling,

I can be proud of my lack of injuries more severe than a nasty oak splinter under the finger nail or pinning my finger to a door jam with a 18 ga. nail gun. I have always strived to be safe and totally focused on what I’m wearing, where my hands are and using repetitive safety methods on every power tool.

I show my hands all the time to my guys as an example. See? No scars, ten fingers, safety first.

We all watched out for each other and had an enormous respect for what these power tools can do.

The other day, my apprentice, Randy and I were working on a cabinet in the shop.
It was one of those days where we just couldn’t get in a groove and be productive; two steps forward, one step back. He was in a pissy mood and wasn’t helping at all. I would have sent him home but he didn’t have a ride until the end of the day.

Plus, I was cutting 4×8 sheets on the table saw and, even though I can manage them by myself, two guys are much faster and it’s definitely easier on my lower back. So, we took a break and tried to regroup.

My expectations are not that high for Randy and he usually does a good job. He’s a good soul with a bad past.

I accept these “projects” because I believe it is my duty as a master carpenter and a human being. I have helped about a dozen young men to get them to see their full potential. I find they respond with gratitude and truly want to be a better person and a professional. I’ve had mentors all through my life that nudged me in the right direction when needed.

I believe we should pay it forward.

It was lunch time on a Friday; the weather was nice out. It seemed like a good time to go to our favorite hot dog stand, Sammie’s and I’d buy lunch.

I figured he would be in a better mood and maybe we could come back and salvage what was left of the day.

We came back and finished cutting all the cabinets parts on the table saw and moved on to making face frame stock and cutting them to length on the Makita sliding miter box. Finally, we were making good progress.

Now, I don’t know how you like to do it but I like to site the blade to line up the mark on a miter saw. This involves rotating the guard up and holding it there with my thumb while I line up the cut.

The Makita guard is hard to hold with one hand compared to my 12” delta miter saw so, for multiple cuts I use a mini bungi chord to hold the guard in the up position.

I know, I know. Bad, very bad! but Hey, see all the fingers? Besides, I put it back down when I’m done with it.

Meanwhile, I gave Randy a list of easy things to do in no particular order but he just wasn’t there. I was trying not to get irritated but he was such a distraction I could tell it was effecting my work.

He was trying badly to look busy while doing the smoker’s shuffle and looking for an excuse to go outside.

Just as I finished cutting one of the face frames on the miter box, he knocks over a can of screws all over the floor behind me and starts yelling and cussing. I was in the process of clearing the fence and all of a sudden,


My thumb just tips the 12”, 80 tooth carbide saw blade as it was coming to a stop. Blood everywhere.

I don’t know what was worse, losing half of my thumb nail or the overwhelming feeling of nausea that swept through my body knowing, I almost lost the whole thumb.

Randy was beside himself.

I think he knew he was partially responsible, but I don’t blame him. It was my own fault. After bandaging my thumb and cleaning up all the blood, we decided to take the rest of the day off and have a beer or two.

It certainly was a wake up call for both of us. Randy is a much better shop mate now.

And I humbly admit, no matter how “injury free” my lifetime of using woodworking machinery has been, no matter how safe I’ve been up to that moment …

I can still lose a thumb in the blink of an eye.


One month later, almost healed. That was close.

24 comments so far

View Chris P.'s profile

Chris P.

79 posts in 3117 days

#1 posted 03-25-2011 06:14 PM

I think about this all the time – it keeps me scared as hell, which I think is somewhat healthy in terms of staying in one piece. Glad your injury was a relatively minor one!

View GaryD's profile


623 posts in 3822 days

#2 posted 03-25-2011 06:20 PM

Glad you didnt lose the thumb. I guess the good Lord wanted you both to have a message. Glad your ok.

-- Gary, Little River,SC I've Learned that the Lord didn't do it all in one day and neither can I

View Phred's profile


53 posts in 4173 days

#3 posted 03-25-2011 06:20 PM

Had a similar accident.. Kissed the table saw blade (with the same thumb!) while pulling some stock away, luckily the saw was shutting off, and I just kissed it..

Scared the * out of me.. whole new respect now. Am I glad I did it? No. Am I glad it happened? Yes. Now I have a whole new respect for the tools without a major injury…

Had my Dad help me out in the shop a few weeks ago.. he put down the push blocks to joint a small board on the 8” Jointer.. wow. scared the crap out of me.. I Stopped him.. told him the push blocks were not an option!

Safety first… I don’t feel like picking up my Baby girl with no fingers.

-- But honey.. this new power tool will pay for itself when we re-do the kitchen!

View GaryL's profile


1099 posts in 3283 days

#4 posted 03-25-2011 06:22 PM

So glad it was not worse! It sure makes you think on how important it is to stay focused on the task at hand, especially with power tools. As you said “in a blink of an eye” or faster.

-- Gary; Marysville, MI...Involve your children in your projects as much as possible, the return is priceless.

View Bertha's profile


13567 posts in 3145 days

#5 posted 03-25-2011 06:26 PM

I’m happy you’re OK, my friend. I’m sorry that happened to you. Insert SawStop propaganda below this line. _

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View rrdesigns's profile


532 posts in 3638 days

#6 posted 03-25-2011 06:37 PM

“Not if, but when”. Glad you’re okay. I had my close call routing curves. Thankfully my fingers are all still here too. I always use a hold down jig now. And my new SawStop just arrived and is awaiting my pickup.

-- Beth, Oklahoma, Rambling Road Designs

View wilterbeast's profile


44 posts in 3101 days

#7 posted 03-25-2011 07:47 PM

I had an accedent with a table saw involving kickback. Its scary, it hurt. And i didnt clean up the blood. It was a good reminder for along time. Long enough for me to change my habits! Lol

View lilredweldingrod's profile


2496 posts in 3559 days

#8 posted 03-25-2011 08:18 PM

I did a similar thing back in 1980 with the bandsaw. Just caught the left thumb tip and the blade sucked it in up to the cuticle right down the outside edge of the nail. The worst part was the drilling of the nail to be able to put in 8 stitches.
I was watching four guys on overtime standing around and arguing over how to cut a little piece of aluminum in a 14 inch bandsaw. My anger got the best of me that day. I think I would have fired 2 of them if the girls in the office had not gone home earlier. lol
My hat is off to you for the success with these young people. And I must admit I would not have gone as easy on the helper as you.
I love hearing about the mandatory safety meetings! I used this same principle for all my years in business and am very proud of the fact that I am the only one in the L.A. area, in the business of welding and repairing gasoline tankers, that never had a man killed on my watch. I had a couple of men that thought the safety meetings were nap time. At the conclusion of the meeting they went home with their final pay check.
Safety is only cared about by the crew if it is important to the boss. This is the most important job any supervisor or owner has.

View BigTiny's profile


1676 posts in 3340 days

#9 posted 03-25-2011 08:59 PM

I have a long scar and about a square inch of my left thumb that has much reduced feeling due to a similar little “love tap” by a table saw. I too had the blade guard up to see better to trim a thin piece of cedar. Six stitches later I had a greater appreciation of guards and their proper uses.

On the safety issue, I drove ambulance for a couple of years in a small town in Ontario, Canada. One day we got called out for a hunting accident. A guy and his son were duck hunting and upon reaching shore in their canoe, the father reached out for their shotguns, gripped one by the muzzle, and pulled it towards himself. The shotgun discharged, hitting him right in the armpit.
We returned to the scene after delivering him to the emergency room to see if we could assist the Provincial Police in their investigation, a mandatory thing when a firearm is involved up here.

Well, the son was explaining the whole thing to the police. He said “I don’t really know what wqent wrong. All dad did was…” and he reached out and demonstrated.

You guessed what came next, didn’t you? Yep! Father and son both now have the nickname “Lefty”.

Some people just don’t learn! Safety rules are there for a reason!

-- The nicer the nice, the higher the price!

View BritBoxmaker's profile


4611 posts in 3488 days

#10 posted 03-25-2011 09:49 PM

I think the nausea is the worst. Caught the blade once (in 40 years) I have a little (1/4”) piece of scar tissue on the index finger of my right hand. Hey, saw blade, respect. I take full responsibility. Life is not safe and there’s no guard on that!

-- Martyn -- Boxologist, Pattern Juggler and Candyman of the visually challenging.

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4552 days

#11 posted 03-25-2011 11:27 PM

Mark – Sorry to hear of you injury but thanks for sharing your story with the rest of us.

I have been working in remodeling since ‘97 and have only had a couple of minor incidents.

Every story of an accident I see is an eye opener and strengthens my resolve to be vigilant when working with power tools.

Take care!

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View NoLongerHere's profile


893 posts in 3128 days

#12 posted 03-25-2011 11:31 PM

I love talkin about scars. Good stuff.

phred, I hear ya. I watch my guys like a hawk and it drives them crazy but it keeps them on their toes. Shoulda been watching myself that day.

WB, There are still blood spots all over the floor to greet me and my workers as a reminder. Looks pretty nasty.

Rand, As far as dry boring safety meetings go, It’s all in the delivery and timing. Short (5 min.) and sweet is best. Break out a bag of snickers, Mix it in with other things like awarding an employee with a new hand tool for a job well done. Hand out new pencils, time cards, and tape measures.

I used to be a real hard ass thinking that was the only way to get respect until one day, after yelling at a knucklehead for scratching a cherry cabinet door, as I walked away, he muttered…jerk. I never yelled again.
And remember if you fire everyone, you’ll be all by yourself. Much better to teach them with kindness to be just like you. Sounds like you have a lot to offer.

Big Tiny, You big prankster you! That sounds like an Ambulance driver’s urban fairytale!
2 Leftys…....Too funny.

Thanks for reading my story everyone. It was fun.

Love to all

View nobuckle's profile


1120 posts in 3213 days

#13 posted 03-26-2011 12:05 AM

I have yet to sustain anything other than some splinters and the occasional scrape or cut, thankfully. I am always conscious of the fact that I could loose a digit at any moment. I appraoch power tools the same way I approached glass when I was a glazer. I would tell myself, “the moment you stop respecting it, it kills you”. I had heard terrible stories of guys who treated sheets of glass as though they were plywood. The results were disasterous. I respect the machines I work with. Thus far this has served me well.

-- Doug - Make an effort to live by the slogan "We try harder"

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 4274 days

#14 posted 03-26-2011 12:08 AM

Wow, I am glad this was not any worse that it was. You certainly had a close call. Post like this will help build a focus on safety that is badly needed since we all get complacent, at times, when you run our tools.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View woodworkerscott's profile


361 posts in 3266 days

#15 posted 03-26-2011 04:52 AM

It can happen to anyone. Just gotta be real careful. I have seen guards be dangerous as well, so it boils down to good judgment.

-- " 'woodworker''s a good word, an honest word." - Sam Maloof

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