There’s rarely anything fun about a woodworking injury, and yet when I make videos about using hand tools I don’t feel the need to put up a big disclaimer about keeping safe. I don’t feel irresponsible for a lack of this but it is certainly a subject worth writing about. Injuries from hand tools tend to be cleaner than those from spinning blades but they can also go deep and cause a lot of bleeding or worse.
I was inspired to write this post as a response to a comment on the Housing Rant Video. My chisel work caused Andy a few shudders and I realised that the matter of safety when using hand tools isn’t something I should overlook.
In my workshop I bleed on a weekly if not daily basis. I put out a question a while back on our Facebook page and learnt that I was by no means alone in this. For me these are minor cuts caused mainly when whittling aimlessly (i.e pissing about), opening packages with inappropriate tools, or the odd incantation which back fires. All of my serious injuries in woodworking have actually come from the material itself, such as a squashed and fractured thumb.
Rarely if ever do I cut myself whilst in the swing of making something, and this is good, because when I’m making my tools are moving quickly and often with considerable force. Those injuries would be nasty ones.
The point with hand tool woodworking is to keep the hand without tool out of the line of fire of the hand with tool. The key to working safely at pace is confidence. If you are confident that you won’t mess up your joint then you only need to keep your fingers clear of the marked lines. When you’re getting to grips with a new tool, technique or skill assume that you will miss your target at least few times and keep fingers well back.
My memories of being trained include precautions such as putting my hand behind my back while sawing.
Some pieces that I’m about to cut a dovetail in to could already have hours and hours of work put in to them, so I need to have confidence that I’m not going to get it wrong. A mistake in my workshop at this point would cost me my bread and butter, so I’m going to be focused and treat the work as precious as myself. With experience comes instinct; it’s the same with anything in life, so please don’t fear for my hands. But as we well know accidents do happen and until you’ve gained a thorough confidence take things slow and steady and always be aware of where every finger is and where the sharp edges are heading.
When I pick up my axe I always spend a moment considering how if these were still used extensively in furniture making then hand tool work would be noted for being far more dangerous than with machines.