Getting Back on the Pony

April 21, 2008

When you have your accident in the shop, it will be an important day for you. Notice I say when and not if. Accidents happen of course. This is a given in the shop. Your accident will occur. It may be with a hand tool, maybe a power tool. But one day you will do something unintended. It will be an important day for a variety of reasons. Of course how badly you may or may not get hurt will be the first issue. But I think that learning from this moment is another equally important issue.

Now stupidity follows certain people around the shop like a faithful dog. They do such stupid things in the shop you wonder how they manage to get to work without harming themselves. They’re constantly cutting themselves or dropping things or forgetting to tighten the blade in the saw. I had an apprentice once who could not keep a sanding disc on a dual action sander to save his life. I was constantly ducking these 5″ discs as they came flying by.

There are other folks who are plenty aware and cautious and just have an off day. I had a friend once come over to use my table saw one time. He was a good carpenter. He used to build houses from the ground up, from the foundation to the trim work and cabinets. The whole job. Well he was using my saw one day trimming the edges of some plywood and wing wang the piece went flying and hit the floor behind the saw and bounced up into the sheetrock in the wall about 12′ away. Where I kept it as a momento, a reminder, a holy cow moment.

You see, if you’re lucky enough to miss getting hit by your mistake, the very next thing you need to do, after your heart rate comes down, is to figure out what just happened. It’s the most important thing to do next. Because you’re right there. You have all the evidence. You need to understand what happened [because it’s usually you that causes the incident]. You need to understand what happened so that you can prevent it the next time. That’s the key. Learning from your mistakes.

The common reaction is to breathe a sigh of relief and leave the shop. But you’ve just lived through a really bad 3 seconds of your life as you pause before looking to see if you’re bleeding. You figure if you just dodged a bullet that it’s time for a beer or a lottery ticket. You figure that if the saw just tried to bite you that it’s better to walk away scared and live to fight another day. But you’re quite wrong. It is the perfect time to walk back through everything that happened to figure out what occurred, why it occurred, and how to prevent it from happening again.

Things happen quickly in the shop. One minute you’re running something through the saw, the next it’s a missile and it’s stuck in the back wall of the shop. Quivering. Figure out why. Figure out how to be smarter next time. If something bad happens in the shop, and you’re not headed for the emergency room, don’t leave for the day. Don’t close the door and walk away. Get right back on that pony and figure out what just happened. So it will be the last time it happens.

Published in: on April 21, 2008 at 9:37 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Excellent advice! Thanks!

    Yet, for a dumb as dirt newbie we need more help. What if we can’t figure out what went wrong? What if we don’t even have a clue about the typical “bad practices?”

    I subscribe to dozens of woodworking blogs and forums. Many warn about safety often enough, but I have yet to find a good, concise, list of practices to avoid. Yes, there’s the generic advice that says avoid pinching the workpiece into the spinning blade. That’s too generic, and newcomers won’t have either the practice or analytical experience that helps them recognize the condition *before* it happens.

    Writing that list (along with illustrations) would be a really good contribution. I’m envisioning something like “Hazardous practices with table saws” as a starter. They seem to be the source of most injuries. Show us the setups that should never ever be attempted, the ones that are guaranteed to kick a piece back into the operator’s gut, or across the street into the neighbor’s yard. Then show us the next more dangerous, the ones that throw the workpiece away from the operator. Show the setups that might work with careful setup and good procedure. Then show us all the safe procedures (i.e. moving the workpiece through with good push / holding tools).

    If there’s something “out there” like this, I haven’t found it yet. I think it would be an excellent compendium for a good teacher to build, a resource that might save some injuries, pain, and suffering.

    Now, I’ve got some drywall patching to do. …

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