Canadian Woodworking

Drawing blood

Blog by Rob Brown
Drawing Blood

If you’re a woodworker or DIYer much of what you do involves cutting materials or putting holes in workpieces.

All of these operations involve, naturally, a sharp cutting edge of some sort. And let’s be honest, if that cutting edge is sharp enough to easily slice through hardwoods like oak, maple or ash, they’re sharp enough to cut through skin and flesh with ease. I know that’s a statement that will likely make many of you wince, but it’s the scary truth.

I’m sure by now you know where this column is going. But don’t worry, it doesn’t get too ugly.

Pumping out drawer boxes

The other day I was assembling 16 drawers as part of a walk-in closet storage system I was making for a client. Work was going swimmingly, which is almost always great. The only downside is that when I’m working on a project that gets repetitive, my mind tends to drift. What am I going to do on the weekend? Will I have enough time to watch my daughter’s cross-country race later this week? What will I have for lunch? These are some of the questions that bounced around in my head while breaking out drawer parts, machining the joints in the 80 parts (16 each of drawer backs, drawer fronts and drawer bottoms and 32 drawer sides), sanding all the parts then tackling assembling all these parts.

The only part of this process that takes a bit of brain power is cutting the fronts and backs to length, as that’s what determines the overall width of the drawer and how well it will fit in the opening. This affects how easily each drawer opens and closes once they’re all installed. The rest is easy, almost mindless.

After assembling what was likely about the 12th drawer I was on auto-pilot and things were moving along nicely. I’d assemble four parts to create the sides, clamp it up, install the backs, add a few more clamps and set it aside to dry. Pins nails would help hold the parts together until clamps brought the joints together for good.

All in an instant

A few of the drawer bottoms didn’t easily fit into the bottom of the rabbet in the sides, so I would press the bottom down, pin it in place and quickly move on. Once, when a bottom wasn’t seating in place as quickly as I wanted it to, I added some extra finger pressure to force the bottom down before pulling the trigger on the pin nailer. In one instant, I pulled the trigger, felt the pin sink into my finger and immediately pulled my hand away to check on the damage.

It didn’t hurt too much, but I knew it was just a matter of luck at this point. The distance between the tip of the nailer and my finger tip was all that mattered. A bit of blood began to pool up on the outside of my thumb, but not in a way that looked too serious, so that comforted me a fair bit.

Priorities

Because it didn’t seem too serious, my thoughts immediately turned to my weekly column. “This would make for a great photo,” I thought, as I reached into my pocket for my phone. Priorities, right?

After taking a photo, I used a piece of paper towel to soak up the blood that was about to drip onto my maple drawers, I checked for bandages. Nope. They’re now on my shopping list. Within a minute I was back assembling the drawer, as the glue was drying and clamps were needed. My thumb stopped bleeding pretty quickly and as I write this two days later there’s just a tiny dot where the pin punctured my skin. It doesn’t hurt at all. I was lucky. The pin only went about 1/8″ into my finger.

What did I learn?

Arguably, I didn’t learn anything. I already knew to not stick my hands too close to an area where I’m firing a pin nail. I already knew that when I’m doing repetitive tasks my mind starts to wander. And I already knew that sometimes pins don’t shoot as straight as I anticipate. I even knew blood will stain maple something fierce.

I guess it’s not so much what I learned, as the fact that this was a lucky reminder that things can go wrong, and quickly, when you’re not paying full attention. It’s also a reminder that woodworking can be dangerous, especially if you’re firing a 1-1/4″ long pin at your finger that’s only 1-1/8″ away from the nailer.

Do you have any close calls to share? Comment below or send me an email. Maybe we can learn from each other, or at least be reminded that things can go wrong quickly when working in the shop.

Drawing Blood

This was about 10 seconds after I got hit by a 23-gauge pin nail. I thought it was best to take a photo before reaching for a paper towel and bandage.

Drawing Blood
Published:
Last modified: October 25, 2023

Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement. Instagram at @RobBrownTeaches

9 Comments

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  2. Been there , done that and it’s not so much the pain of the pin that’s hard to manage. It’s the pain of knowing you did this to yourself through inattention.
    I learned that pin blowouts can be controlled better by placing the tool properly before firing. The pins have a taper on both sides at the tip. If the pin is going to deflect, it will be in the direction of a taper. Placing the gun perpendicular to the drawer bottom in your case would reduce the possibility of a blowout.
    Personal injury aside, the hassle of repairing a blowout is a task I really detest. I will do whatever it takes to reduce the chances of having to deal with one.

  3. Something that was the first lesson I ever learned with power tools. Pay attention. Saw stop or similar isn’t going to stop you from getting hurt. Jammed wood shot into your stomach can still kill you just as much as cutting your hand. Though to be fair if you have your hands near a saw blade for any reason you deserve a scar or two.

  4. Great rule. ..! I to have recognized the need for ‘forced breaks’ from the site as i do believe Stupid Hour is a real thing.
    take care
    Dp

  5. Good day Rob, I’m almost 70 and things start getting fuzzy at that age. My wife has instituted a no powertools order after 4:00 PM; what we laughingly call “stupid hour”. In the last 9 years it seem all my major mishaps occur after 4:00PM so that timing is now religiously respected lest I incur the rath of an annoyed wife. (wink, wink)

  6. Hi Rob, just a month ago I was attaching a stiffening board to the bottom of my log garage door. Instead of clamping it in place, I just held and found out it really hurts when you drive a #8 screw into your finger.

  7. Rob: I was cutting baseboards and was tired. I decided to quit. Right move, right? In my infinite wisdom, I thought that I would make just a few more cuts. In that moment, I turned off the most important safety device I have, my brain. I was tired and my next miter cut was cross handed. You know what happen next. I went to emergency and there was blood.

    I was seen immediately by great staff. I should have lost my hand at the wrist. Instead, there was a cut about 1 inch long and the depth of a saw blade tooth across the top of my wrist. I had not touched anything vital. I was so lucky. I left with several stitches, a very shaken wife and a scar as a reminder.

    Today, when I start to feel tired, i quite immediately. I no long second guess myself. The woodworking gods were looking down on me that day.

  8. Hi Rob. I love reading your news letters. I take away something from each one. I did a similar thing many years ago working in a wood window factory. I was nailing the brickmould to the frame of the window but the brickmould was warped so I had my hand behind the frame and the nailer on the brickmould forcing the two together before pulling the trigger. However, because I was forcing everything together, i inadvertently bumped the trigger a second time and the second nail struck the first one dead on driving the first one all the way through the frame into the palm of my hand. I learned a hard lesson that day about hand placement! Second thing I learned was not to remove the nail. When I saw the doctor, he chewed me out for not leaving the nail in place so he could determine internal damage to my hand… I asked him how I was supposed to bring the 4’x6′ window in with me attached to my hand!

  9. With respect to your situation, I have seen pin nails change direction like that so my fingers don’t go near the area. In fact, I prefer not to use them where that can happen. But I do have something to contribute.
    How many of us remove the safety pin/tab insert from a shop tool switch and change bits, blades or whatever? A short time ago I did this and put wrenches on my table saw arbor to remove the dado stack. I put my hands in the cavity, removed the nut and the outer blade, then one chipper. As I reached in to remove the next chipper, the saw motor started up. The remaining blades began to drag along and I quickly removed my hand. I sustained no physical injury but for the rest of the night I was somewhat depressed considering what could have happened. Never again will I trust those safety locks. The tool is unplugged from now on.

  10. Very true Rob. Repetitive cuts are the most dangerous. I had a lapse of concentration while cutting multiple boards to width on the table saw. After numerous identical cuts I inexplicably ran my left hand under the guard and into the blade. My SawStop prevented serious injury, but it was an embarrassing wake-up call. I shudder to think what a life changing event it would have been if I still had my old Unisaw.
    Great article.

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