Shop hazards: dropping clamps, swearing and being safer…in that order

Author: Rob Brown
Published: November 5, 2021
Choices
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I went to my workshop the other day, and because I was only applying a finish to a few pieces of furniture, I just put on my sneakers. I bet you know where this is going already. Before I started to finish anything, I wanted to clean up the shop so clutter wouldn’t get in my way.

One of the first things I picked up were a pair of 32″ F-clamps sitting on my bench. As I walked over to my clamp rack, I grabbed another clamp and brought it with me. Two hands and three clamps. This approach usually works, but this time it didn’t. I lost focus, and when switching one of the long F-clamps to my other hand, I dropped it. The pointy end of the bar made a beeline for my second toe on my left foot, as if it knew I opted to let my steel toe footwear rest for the day. The pain was pretty fierce, and a few choice words were muttered. I was pretty sure my toe was broken, as that poor little guy took the entire weight of a medium-sized clamp falling from about 10″. I can’t imagine the PSI that was generated directly on top of my toe.

Choices
These three pairs of footwear were sitting patiently in my shop, waiting to be used. With 2:1 odds you’d have thought I’d chose correctly, but I didn’t. The option to quickly slip on a pair of sneakers was too strong. Maybe I should banish them from the shop.

Choices

The Pointy End
This is the end of the F-clamp I dropped on my toe.

The Pointy End

I immediately thought of my steel toe boots, sitting there in the corner, relaxing. I bet they were glad they didn’t have to take that impact, even though they would have accomplished it with ease.

Safety is something we all take for granted, at least once in a while. It’s impossible to be “safe” every single minute, whether we’re in the shop, walking down the road or making a meal. Accidents happen. But I think I’ll be reaching for my steel toes for a while, even if I’m just doing light work in the shop.

Luckily, I didn’t break my toe. I limped around for a while, and the pain lessened. The toe is bruised, and it actually doesn’t look that bad. I know I was lucky, though.

I’m sure I’ll eventually reach for these same sneakers again when I’m only working on light stuff around the shop, but what are the chances an F-clamp will strike twice? Pretty unlikely, I’d guess. But having said that, I will definitely be wearing my steel toe boots for a long while. Even if I’m not working with long, thick slabs of hardwood, the tools we woodworkers use on a regular basis can sure hurt if they get dropped on your toes.

Speaking of accidents, I’ve only ever had a couple, and neither caused any long-term problems. Both were on the table saw, with a dado stack. In hindsight, I was using the saw either a bit too aggressively or slightly incorrectly. In both cases the workpiece was grabbed and thrown, and the tip of a single finger was cut open. I lost about half of the nail on that finger both times, and now have an ever-so-slight visual reminder of those two accidents to keep me honest.

It only takes a split second for an accident to happen, and the results can be catastrophic, so please be careful in the shop. Wear the appropriate PPE, understand how to, and how not to, use the machines and tools you own, and don’t rush when working.

Have you ever been injured in your workshop? Did you do something you shouldn’t have to cause the injury? Let me know what you learned from your accident, either in the comments section below or by sending me an email.

Work safe, everyone.


Rob Brown - [email protected]

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

4 Comments

  1. I went over to the barn, which includes my workshop to turn off some lights. I was wearing flip-flops because our barn sits on a cement pad and I was only going to quickly turn off the lights. Well, I had to pass the open door to my shop and there was that thing, ready to be unclaimed, and I wanted to just pop in and do that. Unfortunately I brushed up against a wrought iron fence decoration sitting on my bench waiting to be fixed. It fell about 2 feet and hit the end of my toe. It landed Just at the nail and cuticle. Yikes, possibly the most pain I have ever felt(and I cut the tip of my finger off on the miter saw) A long tedious trip to the emerg, a tetanus booster and I was given a great reminder without any severe consequences.

  2. Table saw – ripping narrow pieces – luckily I never stand behind the piece being cut off. You guessed it at the end of the cut the narrow piece was propelled back and stuck in the wall. Would have made a nice hole in my stomach if I had been behind the cut off.

  3. about a month ago I was on the jointer putting a straight edge on one side of live edge board
    I had just moved the fence to use a less moved portion of the blades. Wouldn’t u know it I jammed my middle finger in the now exposed blade. A chunk was taken out and is slowly healing and it looks like it may look normal in the future. This was not the first time I have left a piece of my fingers in the jointer but definitely the worst. A table saw many years ago cut into my left index finger and the doctors in Belleville finished the job so that I have no tip left on that finger

  4. Get Back to basics You Guys, Safety first , Keep your shop Clean and safe Tools stored in a proper manner There are do` es and do nots running a table saw and the other elec saws Do not try what you do not know about, I started schooling at 11 years old taught in the proper manner never had a injury but I knew about many Do not take chances

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