Router Injury Sparks Reflection on Safety
I think we all know (at least subconsciously) that woodworking is an inherently dangerous activity. We use tools that are made to cut things that are a lot harder than skin, muscle, tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels. They can even cut bone (see my collegue Justin Fink’s story on the linked page). And no matter how cautious you are, no matter how diligently you practice safe techniques, you can’t remove all of the danger from it.
I was reminded of that truth on a recent Saturday afternoon in my shop. Here’s what happened. I was making a fence for my new drill press, and rounding over the edges of the plywood parts. Holding the trim router in my right hand and the workpiece in my left, I was moving smoothly through the various parts without a hiccup. And then I did it. While holding the router off the workpiece, I turned it up slightly, so that the bit was pointing toward the left, rather than straight down. At the same time I was moving my left hand (I honestly can’t remember why), and my middle finger went directly into the bit. So, I calmly said “F&$K. S@*t.” (Really, it was calmly.) And then I looked at my finger and realized I had a bit of good fortune. Because so little bit was exposed and because of the guide bearing, I was spared serious injury. It bled and I lost some skin, but I didn’t need stitches and didn’t go to the hospital. Two weeks later, it has almost completely healed. But that probably sounds like I’m whistling past the graveyard and haven’t learned anything, which is misleading. I did learn something. I am always conscious of the risks involved with the tools I use and every time I use them I first think through how to perform the task as safely as possible. And, yet, I still messed up. I wasn’t doing something obviously wrong (like cross-cutting with the workpiece against the rip fence). In the blink of an eye I did two things at once (tilting the router, moving my left hand) that resulted in an injury. I don’t know why. It just happened. I wasn’t thinking of beautiful women or college football. I was concentrating on the task at hand. And it still happened. I wasn’t tired. And it still happened. That’s what I’ve learned. No matter how careful you are, it can still happen. From here on out I’ll keep that in mind every time I go into the shop.
I’ll be more humble in the shop, keeping in mind that as a human being I’m bound to do something inexplicably stupid from time to time. I think that will help me be a better and less bloody furniture maker.
Addition (5/27/2011): Given the number of comments this post has generated (thanks for the good thoughts, folks), I think I should clarify a few points. First, I was using my trim router, a PC310. Like all trim routers, it is small. I can’t hold it with two hands. One wraps fully around it. Second, the work piece was on a stable work surface and my left hand was to the left of my body, well away from the action. But I was holding the workpiece with my hand. Third, and most important, I do in fact recognize that I did something wrong. I stuck my finger into a router bit. That was stupid. The point I was trying to make is that even when you think you are being cautious and using good technique (and I would argue that even when you actually are being cautious) you can still do something stupid. I apologize for any confusion.
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