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.
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.
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.