Hand Tool Safety no joke - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Hand Tool Safety no joke

 In Arts & Mysteries Blog, Woodworking Blogs

I got a kick out of Mona Oster’s letter to the editor entitled “Saw Safety Ignored” (April PW #175). Thanks for the chuckle, Mona. Mona referenced this shot:

Mona reminds us of yet another important advantage to working wood with hand tools; You’re never going to cut your finger off with one of your hand saws. I appreciated the good natured way she made this point.

While I’m happy to laugh along (and I’ve heard and made these sorts of jokes before), I think it’s important not to underestimate your hand tools’ ability to hurt you. Tools, ANY tools and carelessness simply do not mix well.

Folks often focus on chisel safety and ignore their hand saws. Hand saws are hardened steel with (if you’re lucky) very sharp teeth. Their typical good nature can create a false sense of safety. I was recently ripping a piece of green lumber. It was wet and irregularly shaped and I was supporting it on a single saw horse with my foot upon it. I was using a very coarse rip saw. You know the rest, the work piece slipped and pulled the saw into my leg, putting a runner into one of my favorite stockings.

So let this be a lesson to all of you. Tragedies like this can happen if you aren’t careful with your hand tools.


P.S. I’m adding to Mona’s sentiments here, but this really is a real issue. I could easily cut a finger to the bone with one of my chisels. This could be just as debilitating as loosing a finger or hitting it with a chop saw. Be careful with your tools everybody. We’re in this for the long haul. I’ve never met someone who regretting wearing eye protection. You may not need the bullet proof lenses for normal work. But if you are whacking something with a mallet, hammer, or hatchet, protect yourself.

P.P.S. The story about ripping my stocking is true, of course. No one can make up stuff this bizzarre. As it turns out, I’m wearing those very same stockings in the photo Mona referred to and the tear can be seen. Of course the stocking was on the other leg when I tore it.

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  • Evan

    Hazards in Automobile and combustible liquids

    When working on automobiles and working in a woodshop what are the risks at getting hurt? What are the safety precautions? Well there are high risks when working on the both when it comes to cutting your finger of with a band saw or even frying yourself to death when changing an old car battery lets take a closer look on the stuff and see what really goes down in a wood shop. When working on automobiles you must keep your eyes peeled all the time when it comes to working on the engine “you can get exposure to the chemicals and or burn your hand severely if touching the radiator. Did you know when working on your radiator something can go extremely wrong well when you have a mixture of water and antifreeze at a even mixture in your cooling system it will boil at a total of 225 degrees if the cap is open! Now imagine touching that on your bare hands it would most likely give you a big scar that you are never going to see leave until you are retired. Now that is only one of the many things that can happen when working on an automobile. Did you know one of the cars most dangerous parts when working on is the battery? Well think about it because when you connect those to cables to both sides you are at risk. If you touch both sides with each hand you are done for it would leave you flying and think of how many people have done this not knowing that this could happen in a heart beat. I remember when my brother was working on his truck late at night and the battery was showing I glanced at it and saw the two (negative a positive parts on it). I then asked what if you touch it with both hands I mean the car companies are safe about it right? Well wrong when buying a car battery It is in your own risk now and responsibility to safely insert the battery and make good use of it.

    Another hazard when it comes to automobiles is the fumes. A lot of people need to change the oil, use cleaning products and use paints and what not. It is up to your responsibility to wear a mask and to not breath in the fumes the chemicals is giving or it could lead to severe brain damage or even death. Well those are only a few things that can happen when working on automobiles so lets go to the basic tools and safety. When working on materials such as wood, metal etc, you must take full caution. A lot of people have lost their lives when working on craftsmanship. There are tons of precautions you must take especially when working on the big tools you find in the woodshop. It has been rated that the colt gun box is the most dangerous tool ever. Even though this tool is bizarre it still has to be taken as a hazard if ever seen. The circular saw is also one of the most dangerous tools due to the size. You must check your hands at all time when using this tool and keep then at least 1 foot away when using this tool. This tool is so powerful and quick that it can take your whole wrist and cut it in two horizontally. The circular saw is one of the most dangerous saws in the world and still kills harmless people by the minute. This is an example of the band saw. The band saw is a quick tool with a small blade that runs fast. This tool wouldn’t do as much harm as the circular saw but it can still cut off your finger. When using the band saw make sure your fingers are out of the blades way and you have an empty space to cut. Many of these tools you must keep caution and if you don’t it may result in a serious injury or even death.

    Another type of dangerous tools it’s the pressure roller this tool has got to be one of the most dangerous tools in a shop. If the slightest movement the pressure rolls can catch your finger and soon catch your whole hand and crush it so you would loose a hand. This tool is sort of compared to the meat grinder on how if it catches you there is nothing you can do about it. The pressure roller is made to flatten items in craftsmen ship but it can also flatten your whole hand having to get it amputated. This tool you must take extra caution when using.

    Most of the tools you use in the tool shop can lead to serious injuries to even death so its best at your own caution to keep an eye on what you do and make. Before cutting you should make a plan on where and when to cut because most things you make out of craftsman ship requires planning before the process itself. I have never heard of someone trying to make a stool and just randomly cuts a piece of wood tying to make it like that. If someone where to do that then it will be a crappy piece of ply board with a possibility of haven a fresh coat of blood on it. As soon as you walk into any work place safety is the first rule because a company could not afford to loose any workers who have injured themselves severely and neither would you itself because your life wouldn’t be the same again with loosing a limb. Safety is all around us today and all of us need to use it as workers, and students. So if you use a band saw or if your going to fix a radiator in your car you have to remember every step to do it and how to do it and remember to use safety at a good habit and always remember safety first.

  • Narayan

    Eye protection is a must for me. I make my living with my eyes and can’t trust chance. Also, ear protection, even with handtools. To be fair, I’ve only needed it once–when banging white oak through a doweling plate recently, I had to break out the Peltors. And sanding–I don’t sand very often, but when I do, particularly hand sanding, I always wear some form of dust protection.

    I don’t consider myself a klutz at all, but it’s pretty rare I leave the shop without some form of boo boo. Scratches on the arms or first-layer-of-skin slices on fingers are most common. I’m guessing that by the time I’m 50 I’ll be one giant scar.

  • David Pickett

    I keep track of the injuries I get while doing art/woodworking/carving, and so far am up to about twenty, almost all from (as you might expect) foolish carving-related incidents. The one that was actually most surprising was the one that I got from my bow saw…I was hauling it around along with some unwieldy branches, and more or less completely forgot that there were parts of it that were too sharp to really want to use as a handle. I’ve learned to set the saw down before wrestling tree parts :).

  • Adam Cherubini


    I had one the other day. I was sawing out saw handles with my 12" scroll saw. I tucked the saw under my arm to reposition the handle in the vise and the blade burned the inside of my arm (I was wearing a tee shirt). I should have been wearing the much safer puffy shirt!


  • Adam Cherubini

    What’s really exciting is when I focus on what I’m doing and bang the wall with a saw like this. If you ever needed a reason to make your wall positioned bench wider than 23" this is it. Sawing at a narrow bench ca be a drag.


  • Bruce Jackson

    Gee, Adam, ya think you can put a tail on that saw and plug the other end into a wall just to make your life more exciting?

    I’ve gouged myself a few times just with chisels … fortunately nothing too deep. But it’s enough of a wake-up call reminding me to stay focused, or I’ll no longer count two eyes and 10 fingers.

  • julian

    I remember my father gave himself a terrible cut on top of his right knee while kneeling on a large board he was cutting with a handsaw. He had to drive himself to hospital for stitches, coz he was alone at the time. I myself once cut off a small corner of my index finger and nail with a foot-powered picture-frame mitre cutter, the most painful thing that has ever happened to me. Woodworking often needs a focus that we aren’t encouraged to develop i the rest of our lives.

  • Jonas H. Jensen

    I made the carpenters thumb when I was 12 years old…
    I had found a rusty saw and I wanted to do a good thing at hove so I tried to saw some firewood.
    I still have a nice scar, but luckily it was only the first 1/4 " or so that was sawn through on my finger, but at the age of 12 that felt bad enough.

    I have only found one (very small) good thing about getting hurt.
    It gives some incredible stories that you can tell to your children to encourage them to watch out.
    Take care.

  • Bill

    Yep I was making striking knives or marking knives this weekend over at Dave Barriger’s place and forgot a cardinal rule. After placing the steel in the forge don’t pick it up with your fingers for at least….well you know until it’s cool. Common sense tells us if it’s sharp and it cuts wood it can cut skin. Oh the fingers are all better and knives are almost finished.

  • Adam Cherubini

    Hi John,

    I’ve heard that one too. I use the side of my thumb and have never had a problem. Only saw I ever cut myself with was a japanese flush saw. It’s pretty hard to cut yourself with a hand saw!


  • John Grossbohlin

    I cannot recall the source, it may have been St. Roy, but I understand that there used to be a common affliction in the hand tools only days known as "carpenter’s thumb." The affliction resulted when a saw jumped the kerf, typically while starting a saw against the side of the thumb, and severed the tendon in the thumb. Ever since hearing about that I’ve used a "high thumb" while starting saws.

    See you at Woodworkers Showcase at the end of the month!

  • Bjenk

    Definitely not a joke. We can laugh all day at how much determination it takes to cut off a finger with a crosscut saw but serious damage is always around the corner. Where there are blades of all kinds, there is danger. We are only flesh, blood and bones while our tools are wood and steel.

    Last October, I lost control over a large chisel and the blade went straight into my left index… right to the bone. The Doctor said that if I still did not feel anything at the tip in the next three months, it meant that this would be permanent. Well, March is just around the corner and half of my index can’t feel anything.

    A friend lodged a whole plane iron in his thigh while sharpening it. I know, we are still laughing about that one but when the laughing is done, he has that waxy look in his eyes. He is probably remembering the pain and fear he had to endure, praying that blade missed a nerve.

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