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Workshop injuries

Blog by Rob Brown
woodworking injuries

I think I’ve gotten more splinters over the past six months than I have working wood in the previous 10 years.

The pace really picked up when I was using Baltic birch to build a kitchen last January. A decent pair of gloves went a long way to protecting my hands, but I still had the odd splinter once in a while. These types of workshop injuries aren’t so bad, as there’s no long-term damage.

The other day I was at the lumberyard, searching through some maple planks, when I stuck myself with a pair of strong (and large) shards of hardwood. I used to carefully pull them out and get on with things, but at this stage I just laugh. Don’t get me wrong; it still hurts. I just laugh at the fact that I got yet another splinter. My first reaction now is to reach for my phone and take a photo. One of the splinters I got at the lumberyard was likely the largest I’ve ever had. Thankfully it came out easily, as it was straight-grained hardwood, and there was a pretty substantial “handle” to grasp.

Small, but painful

About a week ago I was handling some metal and got what must be the smallest splinter I’ve ever received. Then again, considering it was metal, it might not be called a splinter. A shaving, maybe? It was on the pad of my index finger and I couldn’t even see it. It was very easy to feel, however, every time I grasped something.

If given the choice I would take a long hardwood splinter over a metal shaving any day.

More serious injuries

I’ve only had two trips to the hospital in my woodworking career. Thankfully, neither of the injuries were too serious. Both times they happened on the table saw and only a single finger got hurt.

The first time was about 25 years ago, in college. I was making a stopped rabbet and had to plunge the workpiece down over the blade to start the cut. As you can imagine, the blade caught the workpiece and tossed it upwards. I didn’t know it hit my finger until about 10 seconds later when I noticed a few drops of blood on the table saw’s surface. I lost most of a fingernail and had to get a few stitches.

The second time I was also using a dado blade. Take note: Dado blades can be tricky. I was machining a dado too quickly and the piece rotated slightly during the cut and caught my finger. Again, it took me a few seconds to realize what happened. Again, thankfully, it wasn’t too serious.

Today, you’d never know which fingers had been injured.

While I was on a Zoom call with members of the Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement team the other day, we somehow got talking about woodworking injuries. Jokingly, I said it would make quite a cover story. I’ve heard some wild stories over the years. Likely the weirdest came from a man I worked with many years ago who wasn’t the type of guy to tell tall tales. He said one of the most respected cabinetmakers in the company was bragging about how good he was during lunch break. “I could even joint the edge of my sandwich on the jointer,” he said, and the challenge was on. A few minutes later he’d lost his two smallest fingers on his right hand.

Care to share some of the ugliest stories you’ve ever heard? Or maybe you hurt yourself? I’m hoping these stories come off as a warning of what can happen if proper safety precautions aren’t followed, and the machines or tools we use every day aren’t respected. Post your thoughts in the comments section below or send me an email.

Easy Exit

This large maple splinter didn’t feel great going in, but at least I could easily grasp its other end and pull it out.

woodworking injuries
Published:
Last modified: August 3, 2023

Rob Brown - [email protected]

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

3 Comments

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  2. My wife’s uncle was working for a company that builds mobile home several decades ago. He was cutting plywood on a table saw with no guard. (They had been written up by OSHA multiple times, but never installed the guard.) He pushed the plywood with his hand too close to the cut line, and cut the ends of his pinky and next two fingers almost completely off. They were only held on by a thin layer of skin on the outside of the fingers. It had cut through bone, tendons, everything. They rushed him to the ER, and the surgeon on duty had had multiple instances over there years where he went ahead and cut off the remaining piece of the finger, only to have the patient and/or family members complain that he should have tried to save it. So his policy was to just sew around the edges, wait for it to start to stink and turn black, and then cut it off. That’s what he did with Sam. Guess what? It all somehow grew back together, and today he has full use and mobility with those fingers, and there is so little in the way of scarring that no one believes him when he tells the story.

  3. Routing (inverted router no table, just the router base) a hardwood board to use for keys. Made it through 2 sides. The 3rd side took 3 of my fingers throught the bit. Off to the hospital, doctor was able to save all the fingers although the index finger is a bit mangled. I still have full function of the fingers, except, to use the fingernail to pick up washers, or dimes off the floor.

  4. Adjusting the guard while operating a scroll saw. The blade was running and I should have turned the saw completely off before putting my fingers near that area. More of scare than a serious injury. Ironic that it was the protective guard I was touching.

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