Canadian Woodworking

It’s not easy watching people hurt themselves

Blog by Rob Brown
Know a Tool’s Limits

We’ve all likely hurt ourselves in the workshop at one time.

If you’re lucky, maybe it was a chisel that caught the edge of your finger or an edge sander that was closer than you thought. If you weren’t so lucky, it was kickback on a table saw or a router catching part of your finger. It’s not pretty either way, and spending time in a workshop has its risks no matter how careful and knowledgeable you are, but hopefully you learned from those situations and can reduce the risk moving forward.

Watching others get injured

About 15 years ago I was at home, when I noticed our 93-year-old neighbour cutting up a medium-sized lilac bush on his lawn. The bush was down, but he was trying to cut it up into pieces. The small branches were no match for his clippers, but the large trunks were at least 3″ in diameter and 6′ long, so some sort of a saw was needed.

He was seated, with one of the trunks resting across his lap, like he was carving a wooden spoon. Instead of using a sharp hand saw and maybe a sawhorse of some sort, my neighbour was using a circular saw to break the trunk down into segments. The moment I noticed what he was up to I rushed over to see if I could stop him from cutting into the lower portion of his right leg.

A bit of context

I liked my neighbour. He was a hobby woodworker and all-around nice guy. I also respected him for what he had accomplished in his life and didn’t want to show him any disrespect, especially out on his front lawn on a warm sunny day while other neighbours walked by.

In a relaxed manner, I quickly asked him what he was up to, just to get him to release the trigger on the saw for a moment. We chatted for a bit, then I asked if he needed any help. Of course, the answer was no thanks. I quickly asked him if he wanted a sharp Japanese hand saw made for pruning, which was actually a lot of fun to use. He declined that offer, too, which I chose to ignore. I told him I’d go across the street and grab it, along with a simple sawhorse that might assist him. I moved quickly, and thankfully didn’t hear the whirr of his circular saw while I was at my shop. I returned with a simple sawhorse and saw and reached for the first piece. I cut the first segment to length, then let him try. Thankfully, this Japanese saw was stronger than the typical Japanese woodworking saw, though sacrificing a hand saw to save a lower leg would have been worth it.

Soon after, I let him do his thing. I made sure to put his circular saw about 10′ away from him, as I knew that out of sight might mean out of mind. I also unplugged it, just to further stack the deck in his right leg’s favour.

Retreat and watch

Back home, I watched out the window as he cut the rest of the trunks to more manageable segments and proceeded to place them out for the waste truck to pick up the following day with the other yard waste.

As a bonus, my Japanese saw lived to see another day. Sadly, I eventually lost it in the woods one day, but that’s another story.

Have you ever had to intervene in a situation before someone hurt themselves? Was the other person thankful or insulted? Hopefully, they knew you just didn’t want them to hurt themselves. If you speak kindly and politely, and they understand you know a lot about using tools and machines, people are usually appreciative of a word of warning.

Know a Tool’s Limits

A circular saw has its time and place, but cutting lengths of wood to length while they rest on your lap isn’t one of them.

Know a Tool’s Limits
Last modified: February 29, 2024

Rob Brown - [email protected]

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


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  2. My first three pieces of furniture sent me to the hospital for stitches,…and I use hand tools!

  3. I do not like Japanese saws at all. But then I am lazy. I prefer a good ole diston handsaw and let gravity do the work and save my wrist and forearm from injury.

    That being said you can’t save everyone. You turn around and your friend has already cut through the airline hose, and into his leg. Four stitches later and a lot of complaint he was home safe…ish. He does this a lot.

    As for myself, sharp axe cutting through some small branches on a log. Went through three inch branch, the log and stopped on the outside of my big toe. Two stitches. Learned that watching Ernie wiesenhimer videos is a good plan.

    But to be fair anyone that works with wood should remember that to work with it we need sharp tools. Power or hand tools pay attention.

  4. Even when you are cutting material with the circular saw that it was designed to cut you can still get hurt. I was cutting some deck boards when the saw kicked back into one of my fingers. I then had to go get my wife to drive me to the hospital where i received 21 stiches and a lecture from the doctor

  5. I cringe many times watching people on YouTube displaying unsafe behavior during presentations of woodworking projects. Using power tools without guards, fingers dangerously close to saw blades, router bits, jointer blades, etc. One slip away from losing some digits.
    Thanks for posting this.

  6. I call this tale “Mixed Emotions”. I had just finished sharpening a couple of my bench chisels. I keep end guards on them for the times this klutz drops them to the concrete floor of my shop. Holding a chisel upright in my left hand I reached past it to pick up its guard from the bench, running one of my fingers across the end of the blade. The sharpened end opened my finger like a scalpel would. After tending to the injury I thought first, How stupid, and then how sharp the chisel was.

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