Habits for Your Stupid Days

September 30, 2008

What are the habits you need when working in the shop on one of your Stupid Days? These are the habits that will protect you when you have your accident.

You see everyone believes that accidents only occur elsewhere. They think that if they think they are safe that they will avoid an accident. Nothing could be further from the truth. Everyone will have an accident in the shop. The question is: how bad will your accident be?

Woodworking and woodworking with sharp and powerful tools has an inevitability attached to it. The inevitable is that you will have an accident. The question is whether or not you will walk away from it with all your fingers, eyes, and organs. If you do not have habits in place for your stupid days, you are at great risk in the shop.

Woodworkers also believe that if they have always done something one way then nothing can go wrong with the process. It never occurs to folks that they may have just been lucky. But it’s on one of your Stupid Days when you aren’t paying attention and thinking about a thousand other things that you are most at risk. Those are the days when you need to have habits in place to protect you.

Let’s first go through some set-up stuff that will help. First, on the table saw.

On the table saw, make sure that your miter gauge tracks are set parallel with your saw blade. Dead on. Follow your owners manual for the right way to do this for your saw. But make sure they’re parallel. Usually there’s three or four bolts holding the table onto the cabinet base or stand that holds the blade.

Loosen those up and adjust the table. Use a combination square to check the distance to the blade adjusting as needed. You can put a chalk mark on one tooth and check it with the tooth almost disappearing into the front of the table. Then rotate it to the rear of the table and check it again there. [Saw unplugged of course.] The distances should be the same.

Then you want to make sure that your fence is out of parallel with your miter gauge tracks. I set mine out by about 1/64″ to 1/32″ away from the rear of the blade. This way the fence will be closer at the front of the blade and farther away at the rear.

What does this do? This ensures that your cut will be moving away from the blade at the rear of the cut. This is where you get most of your saw accidents. By contacting the blade at the rear of the cut, your wood now has the potential to move up and at you very very quickly. Or it can be thrown across the blade and at you. Nothing good comes from contacting the back half of the blade. That’s why I run my fence a little bit out.

Now some will say what happens when the fence is now on the left side. Well in 30 years, I’ve done that twice so it’s not too hard to adjust for that contingency. Also with the T-square fences it’s a fast adjustment either way. If you do adjust the fence out away from the blade at the rear, you will notice that there also will be no burning of your wood, and less risk of kick-back.

Another simple safeguard is to have a splitter in place. Now regrettably most splitters are poorly designed and if you don’t use your blade guard then you probably don’t have a splitter in place. But the whole point of that splitter is to prevent your wood from touching the back half of the blade. It’s worth having. So if you don’t use your blade guard [shame on ya] and haven’t bought an aftermarket splitter to attach to your table, then you can make one.

If you make your own table inserts, which is easy to do, then you can add a splitter to one of those. All you need to do when you make a new one is to put it in place and raise the blade up to its full height. [Make sure you have a secure hold on the insert with either a pushstick or even your fence, but away from the blade area.]

Great, where does the splitter go? Do this: take the insert out and flip it 180 degrees so the back is at the front and the down side is now up. Now raise the blade back up and through the splitter again. This will cut a slot down the back side of the groove you first cut. In this space you can fit a wooden fin. Glue it in place and there’s your splitter. It obviously doesn’t raise and lower with the blade. But it will provide another small measure of protection for you. Just make sure it’s a hair thinner than your blade kerf so that all your work will pass easily by it.

The splitter will prevent any board from closing up on the back half of the blade in the middle of a cut. It will also keep a board that bows in cutting from contacting the blade. Also if you move your stock away from the fence as you cut, a big no-no, but if it happens then the splitter will help to prevent kick-back.

These are simple things that you can have in place to protect you on the table saw. There are a few others I will discuss in the near future.

Published in: on September 30, 2008 at 8:25 am  Comments (2)  
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Your Stupid Days

September 10, 2008

My apologies for ignoring the blogosphere. I’ve been working and soaking up September’s sunshine. The best time of the year in Oregon.

Let’s continue on about Safety.

Rule #2: Don’t stick your fingers into the blade.

I know that was Rule #1, but there are lots of ways of sticking your fingers into the blade. And the only way you’ll be safe is if you have a SawStop saw and that’s another story. I had a student one time, an orthopedic surgeon no less, and when I walked into the shop that first day of class, he very proudly showed me the compression bandage on his finger. “See, what a great bandage.” Well I had to ask why he was wearing a bandage, and he told me that he had had the table saw on and he was working on it and then he just stuck his finger into the blade. Go figure.

Please do not judge this man. Stuff like this happens all the time. Your brain disengages and you do something stupid. Please, do not think that you are smarter than this physician. This man who spent a good part of his adult life studying the science of healing. His education did him no good because he had a stupid moment. Stupidity plays no favorites here. Stupidity descends upon us all equally like the morning dew descends upon the flower and the cow pie.

Therefore I have developed rules for working in the shop.

1) Do not drink any alcohol and go to work in the shop. I have discovered that the best thing that beer helps me to do is to drink more beer. It is perfectly suited for that job and no other. Not a smart move on my part to drink beer and try to think. A stupid hat comes down on my head and in the midst of drinking beer, [this is how stupid you get], you think the stupid hat looks good on you. And even one beer can make you do stupid things. My worse accident ever in the shop happened after one beer.

2) Develop habits for your stupid days.

Everyone has stupid days. Days when your energy is low, your concentration is worse, or your mood is bad. Everyone has these days. These are days when you should not be anywhere near a moving saw blade. Yet there you are. Working close to several horsepower of spinning danger and you are brain dead. You know these days. You know, usually too far into them, that you are stupid that day. That everything you pick up falls out of your hands or you are constantly knocking things over, losing stuff, not paying attention.

On those days you shouldn’t even be in the shop but there you are anyway. You have to develop habits for these, your stupid days. Because on your smart days you can get away with anything in the shop. You could rip things on the table saw with your elbows holding the work and you’d be fine. But on your stupid days, oh my, on your stupid days, you shouldn’t even be driving a car. You should have stayed home and there you are muttering to yourself about traffic or cursing your luck in choosing a color blind spouse, or lamenting the Cubs blowing another lead [just wait, just wait, it’s ain’t over, till October] Instead of concentrating on the work at hand, you’re thinking about a hundred other things. But we don’t usually know which day is our smart day or our stupid day. Which day will be better. We press on regardless of all the warning signs.

Therefore you must have habits in place. Habits that will protect you on your stupid days.

Published in: on September 11, 2008 at 8:26 am  Comments (2)  
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