Eyewitness: Injury

Scary stories about careless acts and bad consequences. June 28, 2005

In better understanding safety in the shop and how to prevent careless operations, please share with me one you have witnessed that did or did not result in a severe accident.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From Contributor W:
Awesome topic. I worked at a shop and had this know it all, hot tempered mug who would repeatedly cut tiny pieces of metal on a port-a-band with his fingers holding the stock right up next to the blade. Has everybody used a Port-a-band? He was warned constantly by the only person able to contend with his volatile personality about the danger he was placing his fingers in.

Sure enough, white trimming a piece of KV 255 standard, (and talking to someone in the other direction) old Mr.port-a-band's blade jumped onto his fingertip and taught him a quick lesson about blades, blood, tissue, emergency room, pain killers, missed work, workman's comp. paperwork, ridicule, etc.. He is still a hot-headed know it all, now with a nubby index finger.

From Contributor M:
This thread sounds kind of like a train wreck, its horrible, but you can't look away. I would like to tell those who havent been cut by a saw blade to beware. Although a saw makes a neat and tidy kerf in a piece of wood, your flesh looks like "hamburger" after any contact with one. Table saws are where 75% of work is done and a lot of accidents happen there.

Naturally, do not feed your flesh into the blade, but the outfeed side of the blade is equally dangerous. Never put your flesh in line with the blade on the outfeed side of the cut. If a kickback occurs and your hand is in line with the blade on the outfeed side of the cut, in less than a second your hand will come back right into the blade. A lot of guys get cut like that.

Another good safety rule: Keep your blade height to the minimum that you need for the material you are sawing. That way if you do have blade contact, your injury will be less severe. A lot of guys get cut by removing those little pieces of off sawn wood that rattle next to the blade.

Leave them to be pushed away by the next cut. I still have all my fingers but I have some rather nasty scars. Every time I have been cut except one (the one where my left hand was in line with the saw blade on the out feed side of the cut during a kickback) a warning came into my thoughts that I chose to ignore. Listen to that little voice in your head! Look at your hands and imagine what it would be like if they werent the same any more.

From Contributor H:
Some of us are harder to train than others. I have had my fingers sewen together several times from sticking them where they don't belong. Worst one was a coasting problem. Bander was off but the cutters were still turning. I still have them all, well most of them.

From Contributor G:
I wish more people would use hand tools for certain jobs, (cabinet scrapers, block planes, japanesse dove tail saws, etc.). This helps prevent these careless accidents especially if your mind wonders a lot.

From Contributor E:
I used to work in a large millwork shop and I saw quite a few accidents over the years. Once a guy was jointing some 8/4 rough stock on a 15" jointer with gloves on and using his thumb to push the board across the blades. Needless to say he lost the end of his thumb to the first knuckle.

The second guy was using a shaper to make a 3" tall round crown moulding on a pattern board with NO GUARD whatsoever. The blade spinning was like a huge fan. Lost the tip of his left index finger.

Another guy caught his middle finger in a 15 Ton veneer press. Like a grape, and another put his finger in a door frame press to hold the parts steady and reached over to the hydraulic valve and proceeded to close the clamp down on his own finger.

One guy was cutting plastic laminate on a table saw which caught under the fence and broke creating a knife edge which slit the underside of his arm from wrist to the elbow about 1/2" deep. Lots of blood.

Another guy was using a panel saw all day and near the end of the day he was tired and while looking to the left reached over to pick up the thin scraps which were left on the right side of the blade to throw them in the trash bin and left three fingers on the table. Zing.

One other guy was using a 3hp router with a large straight bit that was not fully set into the collet. After taking a too-deep bite, the bit broke and ricoched off his eyebrow leaving him a 2" slit and a bone chip.

I never forget those accidents and still have all my fingers because of them.

From Contributor B:
I've had a few accidents over the past 30 years and EVERY SINGLE ONE of them was preventable. Besides the usual shop safety stuff, here are some notes:

1. Dull tools. Several stitches resulting from a dull chisel/hand saw slipping off the work and into my flesh.
2. Working tired. Lots of small accidents, close calls. Coupled with late in the day, no lights, in a hurry, job site saw balanced on a box, resulted in a thumb split right up the middle like a flatworm.
3. Off balance. I won't let anyone in my shop until I teach them how to stand in front of a machine. Crossed legs, leaning too far over the blade are accidents waiting to happen.
4. Leaving stuff on ladders, etc. Ever been bonked by a 13 oz hammer falling from 8 feet?
5. Kickbacks. The office window used to be glass - now it's plexiglass. Once was running two boards of different thickness through the planer, one kicked back and shot straight into my groin.

From Contributor D:
I myself have not been seriously hurt in the last 25+ years in this line of work. But every time I was it was because I was tired and working late to get the job done.

Needless to say, a nailed finger here, a chisel cut there. The same goes for the guys in the shop. At the first sign of errors due to fatigue we quit. No client, well most don't, wants any of us to injure ourselves or our employees.

From Contributor F:
I remember a good story! About 23 years ago while I was an apprentice furniture maker, the boss sent me down to a big millwork shop in town to have some 20" wide glued up panels planed down in the millworks 24" planer. It was one of those situations where someone from the company runs the machine and you tail off. Well, that day I got paired up with a mean spirited old millworker who looked me over with obvious disapproval. Well, as he started feeding the panels through the machine to me I noticed they were getting some serious snipe, so I stopped him and asked if there was anything he could do about it. He sneered at me and pointed to a two and a half inch wide gap between the steel out feed table of the machine and the out feed bench. "Reach in there and get your fingers under the panels as they come out and pull up on them" he growled at me.

So he goes back to the infeed side of the planer and sends another one through but it looked like it was going to fast for me to grab, so I stopped him again. Well, that really made him mad!!

He told me to get out of the way and he shoved another panel into the planer and then came running around to the outfeed end to grab and pull up on the panel. Guess what happened next? The old grouch got both of his hands trapped between the out feed bench and the 1.25" thick panel that was being driven into his fingers by a 10 horse power industrial planer. He starts yelling and I run to the front of the planer to shut it off but it looks like something from outer space to me.

None of the familiar knobs or switches I had become used to in my 8 years as a cabinet maker in small to medium shops. This was a huge place and he is yelling and cussing at me to turn it off as I go running to find someone to help. Anyway, he got a week or two off from work to mend his fingers and I got the satisfaction of knowing I didn't let him bully me into doing something stupid.

From Contributor K:
Scary stuff for sure. I had been a millworker for about 10 years and was working in a high end residential shop in Chicago. There were a few old timers who had skills that were very solid.

One in particular was only 3 months away from retiring. The project he was working on required a piece of poplar, 3/4" x 1-1/2" x 12" to be laminated on one face and then have a stopped dado placed in the laminated face.

He chose to do it on a table saw with a dado set. Climb cut style, 1/2" deep in one pass. I was working at my bench when I suddenly heard him cussing a blue streak. Looking up from my work, I saw that he was holding one of his hands with a couple of guys standing near him watching.

I grabbed a handful of rags, ran to him and saw that he had dadoed off four fingers to the palm. He was bleeding out heavily, pale as a ghost and going into shock. I got him to hold a couple rags to it while I fixed a tourniquet to his forearm as I asked someone to get a vehicle ready, since I didn't think we'd have time to wait for an ambulance. The bleeding had slowed from the tourniquet and on the way down the stairs with him I asked someone to have a look for any remaining parts that might have a chance of being reattached.

Needless to say, the 3/4" wide dado left nothing but hamburger in the sawdust trap. We got him to the ER in plenty of time, but he lost all four fingers to the palm. It was something I'll never forget.

From Contributor C:
Sure, anybody can injure themselves with a machine or power tool. The talented few can hurt themselves with unpowered edge tools. But drawing serious blood with only your bare hands and the wood itself can happen as well.

I was dry fitting a floating tenon into a mortise routed into the end grain of a leg for a desk. The opposite end of the leg curved out into a little toe - picture a shapely stiletto heel on a woman's shoe. The tenon fit awful tight, so tight, in fact, that I couldn't pull it back out. I tried putting the leg in the vice on my bench and pulling the tenon out with a pair of pliers. Wouldn't budge.

Figuring I could get some leverage if I switched the arrangement, I put the tenon in the vise and tried to work the leg off of it. With a lot of Wellington, it moved a millimeter at a time. I squatted, grunted, pulled up on the leg and pulled it off of the tenon with what must have been about a hundred pounds of force - directly into my forehead, which was gashed open by that lovely little toe.

At that precise moment, the owner of the little barn that served as my studio back then walked through the door. He looked at the blood streaming from my head and went ashen. Seeing his face and realizing how much worse it looked than it was, I burst into hysterical laughter, which confused him even more.

Finally, we were both standing in a puddle of blood laughing our butts off. Nevertheless, 40 mm down to the right or left and I would have put out an eye. Lesson learned and taught to my kids and all helpers: when applying force with or without a tool, always think through what would happen if the resistance disappeared suddenly. (Knowing the lesson didn't stop me from removing my thumbnail with the end of a piece of metal conduit while feeding wire last year).

From Contributor R:
I have a couple, one my own and two that were in a factory that I worked in. I worked in a factory for 15 years that utilized a lot of automated equipment. We extruded ceramic.

Anyway, my brother worked there too. He was working at the extruder which uses a horizontal bandsaw. This bandsaw uses a smooth blade (unfired ceramic is like pottery clay) and cycles vertically and travels along to match the velocity of the extruder. You had to continuously monitor the product to look for damage which required you to step up about 14" onto a 14"x14" platform. The platform is next to this cycling bandsaw. And you have to maneuver around some equipment to get to it anyway.

Well, one day, tripped as he stepped up onto the platform. He instinctively threw his hand out to catch himself before falling into the wetsaw. Then it cycled down. The blade didn't get him, but the guards did. They only had a 3/16" clearance between them and the airbearing that supported the ceramic.

I was in a meeting when I saw him walking real fast by the office window with a rag wrapped around his hand. By the time I got up front, they were driving him to the ER. I came in right behind him and the ER took him straight back. When they unwrapped his hand, the ER nurse passed out flat on her face. When I saw his hand, I knew he was going to loose it from the palm/knuckles up. It pushed all of tissue from his knuckles back to the wrist and his index and middle fingers were sticking out beyond his wrist.

He lacked about 2 tendons from severing it completely. Amazingly, and by the grace of god, he kept his fingers and regained 95% of the use back. The company threatened to fire him. But it turned out that other plants with the same system had the exact same accidents. To this day, they have refused to place safety curtains around that wetsaw!

In another area of the plant, we had a saw that had 6 blades stacked to cut 1/2" wafers from reject material. It looked like a gang rip saw crossed with a chopsaw. Anyway, it vibrated the cut parts out for the operator to pick up and stack. It would index the log and chop, index and chop etc. One operator thought that was too slow and would reach behind the guard to get the cut parts until one night, her timing was a little off. She came through the door screaming with a nice spurting stream of blood. She tried to sue the company over that one! I know this has been a long post, but I have one more that is my personal experience.

Two years ago, I was stricken with Ramsey Hunt Syndrome. It's like Bells Palsey but will never go away. It effected my right side of my face. I lost all muscle control on that side, including the ability to blink. The doctors plugged the tear ducts in my right eye so that I wouldn't lose it due to drying out. So, on top of having severe facial pain, paralysis and migraines...I have blurred vision in my right eye. And that nerve controls your inner ear too. So, sometimes I look like a drunkard. Anyway, I'm not the type of person to just give up and quit, I kept working. I was working the shop by myself up until this point.

One day, not real long after this hit me, I was ripping a board on the saw. I "thought" my right hand was on the left side of the blade. I was trying to get caught up on work that I hadn't gotten done due to being sick. Thank god my brother was in the shop that day helping me out. I remember him SCREAMING at me to stop. I froze. Looked down and realized that I was about one inch from cutting my right hand off. I'm right eye dominant and because I could no longer see well and my depth perception is shot, the blade wasn't where I perceived it to be. Scared the hell out of me. In the end, I hired someone to help me in the shop.

From Contributor L:
Recognize and learn from near-miss incidents. Example: While cutting moulding on a mitre saw (right hand on the saw, left hand supporting the work piece), I realized that the moulding had to be moved towards the blade. The blade was spinning at top speed - and as I pushed the moulding towards the blade, it slipped. The result could have been much worse if my hand would have run into the blade. Make sure the blade is at a complete stop before adjusting the work piece.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor X:

In my twenty-some years of shop work, I cut myself with dull chisels, kerfed a fingertip, jointed a thumb tip, fell off a ladder, and had some other accidents I don't remember, but each time, my brain told me beforehand that something was about to go wrong. You think "what if this slips?" and sure enough, it does a second later. Pay attention! If you think something is unsafe, stop! You can not afford time off work.

My worst cut was trying to joint a tapered line. I opened the guard to see the pencil line and buzzed my thumb off a 1/2 inch! It didn't hurt a bit until I looked at it.

If you do cut yourself by accident, soak it in peroxide every day, add a blob of neosporin, and change the bandage (twice a day if necessary). You will be surprised how much will grow back quickly if you keep it clean. My thumb is hardly noticeable - most of it regenerated.

Comment from contributor O:
About a year ago, while pushing a 1 1/2 X 10 X 6 piece of alder through my Bosch 4000, it kicked back. Almost lost the middle finger on my left hand, dislocated and cut all the others. Never touched the blade. Kickbacks are nasty.

Comment from contributor J:
I'm 28 and I have been into woodworking as long as I can remember. In 1996, I was doing a Laura Ashley store for my shop. We needed 2x2 styrofoam for crates, so I jumped on the 14" Powermatic. With the blade up 3 inches, I ran a few - no guard, no pushstick. They weren't running too well, and I was thinking I didn't like this... The next peice ran beautifully, and then at the very end, the sheet grabbed my hand, and the blade took my middle finger off at the middle knuckle. That was it - barely a Bandaid cut on one other finger, but it hit the middle perfect. Doc said they could put it back on, but it wouldn't bend, so I did what all woodworkers would do - said "take it off - I've got many years of cutting to do and I don't need any stiff fingers." It's been many years and it doesn't bother me. I don't even notice it. My friends love when I do the missing finger trick.