Shop Safety #2: Hand Tools, Dangerous?

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Blog entry by Lee A. Jesberger posted 08-08-2008 01:53 PM 1657 reads 0 times favorited 20 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: Regarding Karson's Kickback Survey Part 2 of Shop Safety series Part 3: Caution, Very Graphic Video »

Hello again everyone;

You guys and gals must be starting to think I like writing. Well I don’t, but does give me something to do when I’m sitting at my computer!

Threefingerspat, which I believe is a Mafia nickname, (lol), made a point about the dangers of hand tools:

“I would like to add one thing to this email string, power tools are not the only way woodworkers can sustain serious injury. Just look at my picture, my injury was made with a 1/2” chisel, no power tools were involved. After a couple of surgeries and lots of physical therapy, I almost have 75% use of my left index finger again. I consider myself quite lucky, but it was my inattention and disregard for established safety practices that caused this injury. Which is what I believe is one of the points you are trying to make, the safety equipment is only as good as the woodworker who uses it”.

A couple of other fellows made a point of the dangers of using hand tools.

Most often, injuries are a result of “lost presence of mind”. That title appeared in a woodworking magazine I believe, about a brick layer who used that term as the cause of his accident in the insurance report he was filling out.

When I first read this I almost died laughing. Really!

Unfortunately, even though our pride tries to convince us otherwise, this is very often the bottom line.

I personally have never had it happen, I’ve just read about it. Yeah right!

I have a set of wood chisels, which after 20 years or so we worked out an agreement. When I drop them, they are to turn themselves over to ensure only the handle hits the ground.( Much easier on the edge, you know).

I soon developed the habit of placing my leg below the falling chisel, (part of the agreement we worked out),
so they wouldn’t hit the concrete floor too hard. Keep in mind, I work on an anti fatigue mat, which covers the area I’m working in, but somehow the chisels fall sideways for a while before following the laws of gravity.
This chisel set was made in Italy, and apparently the laws of gravity are different there.

Well I bought a set of Japanese chisels. They seem to use the same gravitational laws we use here. A straight line drop, with no deviations, I initially thought that was a good thing.

Not having developed that same turn yourself over agreement with them, I still lived up to my part and stuck my leg under the falling chisel. WRONG MOVE!

This chisel actually went right ahead and cut me! And my pants. Fortunately, Japanese chisels really are as sharp as they claim to be, so the cut was very clean.

Little by little I weaned myself off sticking my leg in the path of the falling samurai chisels. I can now proudly proclaim that only my pants are in danger at this point of my training.

While I make fun of that experience, hand tools can be every bit as dangerous as machines. What’s worse is often our “guard” is down, since it is only a hand tool.

I came VERY close to poking my eye out with a screwdriver when I was a teenager. Trying to unscrew a window shutter from it’s hinge, the screwdriver slipped out of the slot in the screw, and with the force and direction I was pushing, ended up hitting the corner of my eye, in that little spot between the eye and the nose. A very unlucky boy getting very lucky.

I’ve also planned off part of a finger nail, with a well tuned block plane, due to poor hand placement. Fortunately that fingernail was too long anyway so no harm done. If I had a choice, I would have left a bit more on, but okay, I could live with it.

I have developed a policy over the years, where I TRY not to carve or chisel towards myself or any of my parts. This is working out pretty well, so far.

You notice those carving jigs I post are alway multi positional. See, I can learn!

I could go on for a number of weeks, writing about the stupid things I have done to myself, but since I’m supposed to be a professional, and would like to keep what little dignity I have, I will stop here.

I’m beginning to think my parents were onto something when they used to tell me, “think BEFORE you act”.

The really sad part is just about the time you learn all the things to watch out for, it’s time to retire.

Go figure!

Anyone else care to confess? It feels good. Really!


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

20 comments so far

View trifern's profile


8135 posts in 3733 days

#1 posted 08-08-2008 02:04 PM

My hands start to bleed just looking at hand tools. Thanks for the post Lee and helping us all be safe.

-- My favorite piece is my last one, my best piece is my next one.

View Eric's profile


875 posts in 3750 days

#2 posted 08-08-2008 02:46 PM

Makes me feel somewhat vindicated for posting a safety video (during woodworking safety week) with some VERY obvious tips for hand tools users!

-- Eric at

View sIKE's profile


1271 posts in 3720 days

#3 posted 08-08-2008 02:49 PM

My biggest injury to date is 7 stitches on the left index finger from an extremely sharp chisel(the doctor thought it was from a scalpel (I had just sharpened it :) )) Took several weeks to heal and I now hold my work differently when cleaning up the bottom of my dadoes with a chisel

-- //FC - Round Rock, TX - "Experience is what you get just after you need it"

View tenontim's profile


2131 posts in 3711 days

#4 posted 08-08-2008 03:59 PM

When I first started using chisels, I would lay out my chisels marking gauge, mallet and a box of bandaids. I knew before I got through, I was going to draw blood in some way or another. Now days I don’t cut myself as much, but the bandaids are always close. After being an aircraft mechanic for 22 years in the Navy, believe me, I’ve seen people do things to themselves with hand tools that you would never think possible. Drilled fingers, screwdrivers up their noses, vicious pinches with pliers and vise grips, even files get in the mix. If the tool is made to alter the shape of wood or metal, it will do the same to flesh.
Thanks for the post, Lee

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6851 posts in 3946 days

#5 posted 08-08-2008 04:42 PM

Hi Trifern;

Yours too huh?

One thing I noticed on job sites, working with “professionals”. They have a habit of placing things like coping saws in their box / tote bag, with the blade side up!

HELLO didn’t your mom teach you anything. Usually when I see this I ask them if they have a drywall saw or scissors on their bag. If they answer yes, I ask them to bring them to me, and be sure to run. Oh, and don’t forget to hold the pointy side up.

If you’ve ever been cut with a coping saw, you know it cuts through skin and bones with such ease it’s ridiculous.

I have cut my finger with one of these while coping a joint, and it requires very little effort to take off an inch or two from a digit.


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

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Lee A. Jesberger

6851 posts in 3946 days

#6 posted 08-08-2008 04:46 PM

Hi Eric; Anytime is a good time to post safety videos.


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

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Lee A. Jesberger

6851 posts in 3946 days

#7 posted 08-08-2008 04:50 PM

Hi sIKE;

I think at one time or another we have all made similar mistakes.


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

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Lee A. Jesberger

6851 posts in 3946 days

#8 posted 08-08-2008 04:50 PM

Hi sIKE;

I think at one time or another we have all made similar mistakes.

-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6851 posts in 3946 days

#9 posted 08-08-2008 04:53 PM


My wife was in the middle of explaining something serious when I read your comment about laying out your tools, including a box of band aids.

I got a rather stern look when I starting laughing.

I’m not scared, I can take her.


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View Chardt's profile


169 posts in 3568 days

#10 posted 08-08-2008 05:16 PM

I’ve nicked myself with my japanese chisels quite a few times. So far, just on my fingers, and not badly…though I do realize that I need to maintain my concentration while using anything with an edge…or a hammer,....or come to think of it, I’ve rapped my knuckles with a framing square, which isn’t as delightfully soft as one might think.

I also most recently honed my fingertips while sharpening a plane blade on a waterstone. I noticed some red spots in the slurry, and realized I had worn away a couple of spots on my finger tips, which didn’t hurt until I cleaned the cuts.

-- When my wife ask's what I have to show for my wood working hobby, I just show her the splinters.

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6851 posts in 3946 days

#11 posted 08-08-2008 05:21 PM

Hi Chardt;

Ever notice how innocent they look when sitting in their boxes? Like they want you to believe “I won’t hurt you little boy”, and then zap, they gotcha.

I just not nice I tell you.


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View Michael Brailsford's profile

Michael Brailsford

248 posts in 3560 days

#12 posted 08-08-2008 05:39 PM

I have a pair of parallel scars on my left calf.

-- Michael A. Brailsford

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6851 posts in 3946 days

#13 posted 08-09-2008 04:25 AM

Hi Michael;

How exactly did you pull that off?


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View Karson's profile


35111 posts in 4367 days

#14 posted 08-09-2008 06:11 AM

Lee: another great post.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware soon moving to Virginia †

View lightweightladylefty's profile


3235 posts in 3679 days

#15 posted 08-09-2008 07:52 AM

I cringe at each post, recalling all my hand tool accidents. I seem to be less apt to get hurt with power tools (possibly because I spend more time praying for protection and accuracy when using power tools). My most common hand tool accident has been with a utility knife, but chisels aren’t far behind. I’ve been blessed that I’ve been able to patch myself without emergency room bills, but the scars are constant reminders of my stupidity.

My most stupid accident (to date) would rival a Three Stooges skit. I had glued and clamped a large assembly. The clamped portion was hanging off the bench. I decided that I wasn’t satisfied with the way the pocket-holed portion was screwed and decided to unscrew it. When I removed the last screw, the weight of the clamps caused the end to drop and the center to flip up and hit me in the mouth. I clamped my mouth shut tight as I cleaned up the fallen mess, expecting to spit out all the teeth later. To my surprise, I didn’t even break a tooth, but I looked like I had been in quite a brawl. It could have been so much worse, but God is so good to take such good care of me even when I can be such an idiot.

Each accident is a reminder to think things through more thoroughly to keep myself more safe.

As a side note: did you hear that recent research indicates that tetanus boosters might only be needed about every 30 years, rather than every 10? As accident-prone woodworkers, we have probably all had plenty of those shots.

-- Jesus is the ONLY reason for ANY season.

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