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.