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Rated: E · Short Story · Experience · #1765724
"We have an enormous respect for what these tools can do -- in a heartbeat."
After 36 years of remodeling houses as a carpenter and working in a cabinet shop,

I can be proud of my lack of injuries more severe than a nasty oak splinter under the finger nail or accidentally pinning my finger to a door jam with a nail gun – Ouch. I stay completely focused on where my hands are, what I’m wearing, (loose clothes and jewelry – bad!) and practice the repetitive safety methods on every power tool.

I show my hands all the time to my crew as an example.
See? No scars, ten fingers, safety first.

We have regular safety meetings and watch out for each other. We have an enormous respect for what these power tools can do — in a heartbeat.

The other day, me and my helper, Randy, were building a cabinet together. It was one of those days where we just couldn’t get in a groove and be productive; two steps forward, one step back. Randy was in a pissy mood and just wasn’t helping at all. I would have sent him home but he didn’t have a ride until the end of the day. Plus, I was cutting 4×8 plywood sheets that day on the table saw and even though I can manage them by myself, two guys are much faster and it’s definitely easier on my lower back.

So, we took a break for lunch and hopefully get a fresh start.

My expectations are not that high for Randy but he usually comes through and does a good job. He’s a good soul with a bad past. I take on these “projects” because I believe it is my duty as a master carpenter and a human being. I have worked with over a dozen young men to get them to see their full potential. I find they respond with gratitude and truly want to be a better person and a true professional.

I’ve had mentors all through my life that nudged me in the right direction when needed. I believe strongly — we must pay it forward.

It was a Friday; the sun was shining, so we went for a drive to our favorite hot dog stand, Sammie’s. I figured he would be in a better mood and maybe we could salvage what was left of the day.

We came back and finished cutting all the 4x8 panels without any problems and I moved on to making face frames, cutting them to length on the sliding miter saw. Usually, I like to sight the blade to line up with the mark which involves rotating the guard up and holding it there while I make the cut. The guard on the Makita miter saw is hard to hold on to with one hand so I used a small bungee cord to hold the guard in the up position.

I know, I know — Bad, very bad! But, hey, see all the fingers?

Meanwhile, I had given Randy a list of easy things to do in no particular order but he was all over the place trying badly to look busy, doing the smoker’s shuffle and looking for excuses to go outside for a break. I was trying not to get irritated but he was such a distraction I could tell it was effecting my work.

Just as I was finishing cutting some frame pieces on the miter saw, he knocks over a can of screws all over the floor behind me and starts yelling and cussing. I was in the process of clearing the fence and all of a sudden, PING!

My thumb just tipped the 12" 80 tooth blade as it was coming to a stop. There was blood everywhere.

I don’t know what was worse, losing half of my thumb nail or the overwhelming feeling of nausea that swept through my body knowing
— I almost lost the whole thumb.

Randy was beside himself.

I think he knew he was partially responsible, but I don’t blame him. It was my own fault. I cleaned and bandaged my thumb and then we decided to take the rest of the day off and had a beer or two.

It was a wake up call for both of us that day. Randy is a much better shop mate now, at least when the saw is running. And I humbly admit, no matter how injury free my lifetime of experience using woodworking machinery has been, no matter how safe I am,

You can still lose a thumb in a heartbeat.

One month later, almost healed.


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