Woodworking Safety Week: My Story and Others
Every once and awhile, I scoot this tusk tenon from out of its mortise, pull off my eyeglasses and press the tenon to my skull. It’s a simple but important reminder of where this all began for me.
Hmmm, before I begin there, let me back up even more.
Safety on most jobsites and in most workshops is job No. 4 , somewhere after the importance of the Makita girl calendar and somewhere before the obligation to clean out the Binks spray gun.
When I began working wood at age 8, I never had a safety lecture. Perhaps it wasn’t as necessary. We didn’t have electricity on our farm so the chances of me dismembering myself with our family’s ultra-dull Craftsman handsaw were rather slim. I’m sure my dad didn’t lie awake at night thinking about all the damage I’d do to myself with the crap-tacular coping saw in my tool tote. Safety just wasn’t as big a deal when you have only hand tools at your disposal. Sure, you can hurt yourself, but it takes some doing.
When I started at Popular Woodworking in 1996, however, it was like being let loose in a candy store after closing time. There were all the machines that my father and I had dreamed of on the farm. Table saws, drill presses, mortisers (that’s plural! Meaning more than one mortiser!) and disc sanders galore.
During this initial love affair with the unspeakable beauty of three-phase power, fellow employee David Thiel and I were assigned to build a couple Gustav Stickley-style tabourets for the magazine. The tabourets had legs that tapered in width and tapered from the floor to the top. Plus they were joined to their stretchers with friction-fit tusk tenons.
Each table has eight of these little tusks, and because we were building two little tables for the article, I had 16 little tusks to cut, chamfer and fit into their mortises.
This was a job for the utterly awesome Wilton disc sander we hand at the time.
As you probably know, the disc sander is a fairly safe machine , as long as you work on the side of the disc that is spinning down against the table. The other side of the disc should be avoided , or you could lose control of your work.
I was merrily sanding away my little chamfers on these tusks when I casually slid over into the “no work” zone to touch up the inside tapered face of the tusk shown above. I lost control of the tenon and it flew up at me.
I wasn’t wearing safety goggles or glasses.
Instead of skewering my eyeball like some sort of k-bob, the tenon struck my skull at the top of my left eyebrow and below the eye. The instant it happened, I turned off the machine and went to the bathroom (luckily I hadn’t soiled myself). The tenon left two red welts on my face.
Since that moment, I have always worn safety equipment (glasses and hearing protection), and I have strived to keep the guarding on all my machines. Come visit us sometime, you’ll find we have a basket guard and splitter on our table saw. Today I noted that the splitter was broken, and so in honor to “safety week,” I’m going to get it fixed.
And then there’s that tusk tenon. The little table has never been my favorite, but I can’t get rid of it. It’s a painful reminder of one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done, and how I’ve become much smarter ever since.
Still to this day, that is the closest call I’ve had in 28 years. Not bad.
Below are some of the other bloggers who have posted stories on their sites about this week. Some are funny, some are serious and some are sad. All are important. Check them out.
– Jeff Skiver: Safely Dealing With Scared Cats
– The Village Carpenter’s Top 10 Safety List
– Matt’s Basement Workshop on workshop dust
– The Wood Whisperer and Lumberjock’s Safety Challenge (This week was all Marc’s idea, by the way. Kudos, sir.)
– Stu’s Shed’s Safety Posts.
– Al Navas and the Carnation flower injury (good post).
– Keleo’s Workshop kicks off the week with a funny (but also disturbing) clip from MadTV.
– Fine Woodworking has posted some good safety videos on shop communication rules and router safety.
Check back this week for more stories and important information.