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.
Ken Haygarth says
I used to cut my self putting chisel guards on and off. HaHa I don’t use them now. 😉
Ha, that’s a classic!
Yes. The edges of chisels are very sharp too. I took a wet stop to those edges.
I just finished building a cherry clock and was paring away may dados with a brand new chisel – there were spots of blood all over the place – I realized that I had multiple parallel cuts along my finger where the edge of the chisel had rubbed. 90 degree edges are just as sharp.
This may be harsh…but, throughout the woodworking world, I find those most concerned with everyone else’s safety have no talent or aptitude for doing anything else.
Stefan Hnatek says
My experience as well as in the job as a cook as well as in the workshop with hand tools is that most deep cuts came from using not perfectly sharp knives or tools. The sharper the knife the less power you need for the cut the easier to guide your cut.
Without wanting to sound droll about this topic, I have to ask…
…how do you get blood out of wood, particularly oak =:0)
Polly Becton says
One risk of injury not often mentioned is attempting to work on unsupported or poorly supported workpieces. It’s difficult to control the motions of an unsupported piece in midair or sitting loose on a bench top. Just as bad as an axe, in my view.
Fred Ippolito says
“Work” (of any sort) and blood go hand in hand. Safe handling of any implement is common sense mixed with proper instruction. There are probably more accidents in the kitchen, than the wood shop. It’s nice when you,or any other video presenters, mention safe handling methods, but need not be the focus. I watch your videos to learn the skills of woodworking; safety is my responsibility. I think you do a fine job of integrating safety comments in your videos. It is the responsibility of the person using a tool to get proper instruction, to start slowly and to accept injuries. Otherwise, I believe, one should just be an observer, not a participant. OR, find a safe hobby, like reading a book. But, “watch out for those paper cuts !”
Fred Ippolito, San Diego, CA
Ian M. Stewart says
Never yet had a cut from reading my Kindle, although long sessions can lead to a bad back . . .
Anyhow, Mitchell, if your wood has been badly stained, and nothing else will remove the stains, then the remaining recourse is oxalic acid. I bought some many years ago at the pharmacist – they called it the chemists back in those days – in a dry white powder form to mix with water. It’s good for bringing back the original colour although it can leave the wood a lot paler than it used to be. I’m not sure if this will work on oak stained black with iron though, and this will be a component of blood stains in oak.
Be as careful with acid as you are with sharp tools.
Aren’t those safety warnings intended to save the presenter from being sued by those who’s reaction to being injured as the result of stupid actions is to sue someone, anyone, rather than taking responsibility for their own actions.
Philip, Birchs Bay, Tasmania
Don Peregoy says
My serious injures have come from a momentary lack of concentration. You see if I hade been doing something dangerous I would have been more careful.
The main thing is it’s not – If something goes wrong – Its – When something goes wrong.
I heartily agree with your comments on cofidence, but there’s another factor involved and that’s awareness. I often have to make repetitive cuts for cutting boards. I limit this kind of work to relatively short periods of time (half hour at a stretch) so I can maintain awareness. If I catch my attention wandering at all i quit for a while. One time I didn’t quit and blood did flow when I detached my thumbnail. Lesson learned.
Steve Tripp says
A sharp tool is dangerous, a dull one ever more so. This also applies to minds, but that’s a different conversation.
Well, as part of your project planning, set aside hidden spot for the bloodstains to go.
I have nicked and cut myself any number of times in the workshop. Most of the time I only notice when I start to bleed on the workpiece (which is the most distressing part)
I once read a comment I always remember “no one has ever accidentally sawn off their fingers with hand tools”
David Nighswander says
I can’t recall ever walking into the shop with the idea of injuring myself. It happens despite my efforts to avoid it. If I’m showing how I do a task I try to point out the proper way to use the tools and equipment involved.
Just because I point out the way I do the project it doesn’t mean that my method is the best or that it will be followed. There are always going to be what I call TSDAA’s. The name comes from a timer on a spot welder that stayed down for 2 seconds and then retracted. Though I knew better I reached in to verify the ram was tightened correctly. When the ram retracted my hand was inside the welder.
God was watching so my hand fit exactly into the space left between the ram and the frame right down to the joint spacing in my fingers.
Whenever I’m teaching someone I mention Two Second Dumb A** Attacks.
Henry Fiacco says
I remember reading interviews of woodworkers that had injured themselves and there seemed to be two common themes. The first was that they were rushing. The second was that just before hurting themselves they had a sense of “this isn’t right.”
I can easily relate to both of the above when I managed to get up close and personal with a jointer (back in my power to days), or on those occasions after I’ve managed to drag a saw over my finger. Thankfully all my hand tools are equipped with a sawstop feature…. As soon as I cut myself, I stop.
I’m cutting myself on a regular base. Mostly because I’m careless.
My rabbet plane for example is bothering my every time I’m using it.
But most of those accidents are harmless.
But at the beginning of this year I cut myself with a chisel and end up in the ER.
The finger was sewed and I can move it again. But I can’t explain how it happened until today.
But two results from this injury.
1) I know absolutely sure that my tools are sharp. As I’m a woodworking beginner I doubted it a while.
2) And I built a small first aid cabinet for the shop, so that I’ve got some dressing at hand if it will happen again.
Mike Baggett says
Not sure who said this but it is well said none the less.
“Most of the mistakes and accidents I see are because the person is thinking about what they are going to do next.”
John C says
The worst injury I have ever experienced in my shop came from trying to catch a newly sharpened chisel as it rolled off the bench. Guess which end I caught. A trip to the ER and several stitches later, I remembered what a friend had told me once. In the chef school run by the US Army (yes, they have one) the first lesson they teach is how to let something fall to the floor with out trying to catch it. The second lesson is how to sharpen knives so they will cleanly cut atoms.
Mike Ballinger says
Ouch! I’ve caught a knife falling off a kitchen bench with my foot before, wasn’t fun. I always had tools falling off the benches I was working on until my latest bench which has a tool well in the middle. Nothing rolls off now, I find it a very handy feature in a bench.
Steve Tripp says
Blood does not always mean a mistake with a tool. There are far too many ways to draw blood in a workshop to lay blame only on the tools. And blood does not just mean lack of skill or concentration. Blood sacrifice to the wood gods is a regular part of any major project.
Dave Pryor says
Good to have you back in full flow, Richard and Helen,
Echoing Henry’s comments above, don’t you just know when you are going to cut yourself!.
Time seems to slow down, and you are powerless to stop, like when I nicked a finger the other day replacing a glazing panel in the greenhouse.
And doesn’t a little blood go a long way!!
Let’s be safe out there.
Blood, Sweat, and Tears, part of any proper job
All the time – oak planed square has a wickedly sharp edge – many of my custom pieces have a bloody fingerprint – part of the uniqueness 🙂
My mantra since starting in woodworking, whether framing houses or in the shop building cabinets and furniture, has always been this: “When it slips (the cutting edge) where is it going to go?” Inevitably something is going to slip at some point whether it’s the workpiece or the tool, my aim safety-wise is to ensure that no part of my body is in the path of the cutting edge (or pounding surface if it’s a hammer). Still have all my body parts right where they belong. that’s not to say I don’t knick a finger now and again, but I’ve yet to remove one or smash one.
Most accidents occur when any of the following states apply:
These lead to the following:
Mind not on task.
Eyes not on task
Line of fire.
Loss of grip/trip.
If you look back on your own accidents, the above usually apply. it does for mine!
I have watched too many Roy Underhill videos – and he was always cutting himself – I just thought that was the way all hand tool woodworkers made furniture – and so I do the same 😉