Distractions can be painful

Blog entry by reedwood posted 11-21-2012 06:37 PM 3820 reads 0 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch

After 36 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 hade 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 out over 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 had mentors all thru my life that nudged me in the right direction when needed.

I believe strongly we must pay it forward.

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

-- mark - Grayslake IL.

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6 comments so far

View J's profile


70 posts in 2445 days

posted 11-22-2012 06:16 AM

Hey Mark,

I’m happy to know that you get to keep your thumb. I have cycled through my share of help, and trying to help a guy get his head above water is a noble pursuit. I can empathize with you when your help doesn’t have their head in the right place – it can be hard to keep focused on getting the job done in a timely, workman-like and safe manner.

Safety in general is one of those things that I discuss, and talk about, and shove down the throat of anyone who gets near to one of my sites or projects. Those 18 gage nailers and I have a dislike for each other—I have pulled more than a few brads from flesh than I care to recall. I have lost a lot of fingernails to blunt force and watched my boss from 10+ years back take off three fingers with a Skilsaw while shouting “Hurry up Jay! Faster is better!”

I would also have to say that I think we all make some concessions to safety at some point while doing our jobs, sometimes I will pin the guard back on my cordless saw when cutting shingles for siding, but you won’t catch me standing on the top rung of any ladder anymore. I have a feeling that you might change how you sight in your cuts on that saw.
I relived that feeling of nausea reading your post, and I can’t say what is worse… whether it is one of your guys, or yourself (during the moment where you are asking yourself should I look and see whats missing? or just go to the hospital?)

This is most certainly a post that dredges up deep feelings and quite a few war stories.

Happy Thanksgiving to all the Refurbers!

- J

-- I found the board stretcher... finally!

View reedwood's profile


101 posts in 2942 days

posted 11-23-2012 03:03 PM

Hey J,

War stories are always cool, especially when you still have all your fingers!

Happy Thanksgiving.

PS. – board stretcher….....Ha! I remember those!....... never found it in the tool box though…. must be stored somewhere next to the hammer mold.

-- mark - Grayslake IL.

View J's profile


70 posts in 2445 days

posted 11-25-2012 06:05 AM

Hey Mark,

I keep my board stretcher on the air suspended sky hooks. No one has found it yet—and some have spent hours looking for it. Peace and quiet(from man-drama) along with productivity can be elusive sometimes – and I usually send someone to find the board stretcher after they have cut the long stock intended for balloon walls, sills, and top plates into cripple studs or scrap.

Your portfolio of jobs is very nice. You do fine cabinetry and must also have assembled a great team of people to work with – top shelf work!

-- I found the board stretcher... finally!

View MarkTheFiddler's profile


447 posts in 2471 days

posted 11-27-2012 04:17 AM

Well Mark, I’m glad you still have that thumb!

That’s was a good one to be thankful about. While you’re at it, I’m glad your assistant got the message.

I recently cut some oak triangles for inlay work that were so tight that I had to use a rubber mallet to seat them. I was distracted and I hit my left index finger full force. I’m just glad it was rubber. It reminded me to be more careful – ESPECIALLY around the saws. Double careful when I’m doing a bunch of cuts to length.

So what gets you the most?

Being angry at yourself?
The pain?
The fact that you have to stop work?
The fact that you have to be real gentle with the injury for a while?

As far as getting cut, I’ve done far worse in the Kitchen.
As far as nailing myself. About 8 months ago I learned a bit about 18 guage nails. They go sideways sometimes. Pierced my thumb it did. The only other time to my memory was over 30 years ago when I put a staple through my thumb nail. It made that squeaky noise when we yanked it out.

Anyhow thanks for the warning!


It’s cyber Monday. Skyhooks are 1/2 off at Amazon.com. Board stretchers come free with every order of exactly the right amount of wood over on Ebay.

-- Working on my home for 2 years and counting.

View reedwood's profile


101 posts in 2942 days

posted 11-30-2012 04:49 PM

Ok, you asked for it.

I have to admit the worst accident I ever had was,

I was TEACHING MY APPRENTICE CARPENTER how to use the NEW framing nail gun to build a stud wall on the floor.

I told him to hold the stud against the top plate but MAKE SURE! his hand was back in case the nail came out the side.

Well, when I fired the SEQUENTIAL TRIGGERED gun, it double bounced and shot a nail off the end of the top plate – right thru three fingers that were 6” down – “out of the way”.

I wish you could have seen the look on his face.

BTW – We used a hammer to remove it.

-- mark - Grayslake IL.

View MarkTheFiddler's profile


447 posts in 2471 days

posted 11-30-2012 09:54 PM

Oh man – that one made me cringe. You definately got me there. I’ve seen single fingers nailed and a few finger tips rearranged. I have never seen three fingers nailed together. Don’t think I want to see it either. Whew!

-- Working on my home for 2 years and counting.

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