Real Men Don't Need Fingers

As I have tweeted on more than one occasion, I once watched my friend & co-worker cut off two fingers on a table saw.

In honor (celebration?) of Woodworker's Safety Week please allow me to regale you with the tale. It happened like this:

Thankfully, I have all 5.
I was over his house, helping him build a gazebo for his hot tub. It was the start of the day and we were working on roof framing. I was up on the roof and he was almost directly below me making the cuts I called out and then handing up the rafters. The early cuts had all been cross cuts, made safely with a miter saw. Then it came time for the first rip cut of the day, and that’s when trouble struck.

Allow me to diverge here for a moment. It’s helpful to know that while my friend was a very hand’s on DIYer, he lacked the professional experience of a full time carpenter or wookworker. He was also working with a typical DIY tool set.

When that first rip cut of the morning came, laziness and ignorance got the better of him. For, why bother re-setting up, just to rip a single, 6” long piece of 2”x4” cedar? The bench top table saw had been configured with a ⅜” dado blade (a single wide blade, which on reflection may only have been an inner cutter from a full dado set) for making the window frames the previous day. Pushing the 2”x4” though, with the blade cutting the full 1½” height and ⅜” width didn’t seem to him to require a push block or feather board, as he was using the fence.

While the scenario I’ve just described is making us cringe, it simply never occurred to my friend that the wider dado blade would make it harder to push wood through and that the short length of wood would make it less stable.

You know what happens next. While I’m not sure if the piece kicked back or simply twisted on the saw, the result was his running into the house screaming (calmer than you’d think) “I cut off my fingers!”

By the time we were at the 2nd hospital of the morning (better trauma unit) we learned that he’d completely taken off his pinky and ring fingers on his right hand at the first knuckle. He also partially separated his middle finger and took the tip off his index finger. Even though his wife found the finger tips, and followed us to the hospital with them, they couldn’t be reattached due to the wide section of finger that had been completely destroyed by the ⅜” blade. In fact, when the hospital emergency room staff heard that it was a dado blade, even they cringed.

That was about 8 years ago. We’re still friends and he still works with me (being an office manager doesn’t require usable digits quite as much as other jobs may).

While I wish I’d paid attention to what he was doing and had seen the table saw setup before he tried to rip the 2”x4”, I try not to regret it as he doesn’t. Through the entire episode he recognized and stated how it had been his fault. He turned down lawyers who though he should sue Craftsman by telling them that Craftsman were not responsible for his own stupidity.

My friend's Manly hand.
After the accident it took me a good month to get behind my table saw again (a bench top model at the time). I’ve worked not to be afraid of the saw. As aI roofer who has seen more people fall than get cut on the table saw I personally believe that when you’re nervous you can get sloppy and that’s when most accidents happen. Respect and understand your tools and environment, but don’t fear them.

Besides respecting the tools, the episode taught me to respect my friend a lot more too. Admitting his fault, acknowledging that he should have educated himself better about the tools and refusing to blame anyone or thing else for his own actions makes him more of a man in my eyes than two fingers ever did.

My lesson to you, my dear reader? Man up (or woman up). Learn how you’re tools work, how they’re dangerous and what the best practices are before you put blade to wood. After all, the tool can only hurt you through a situation you put the tool in.

Hopefully this lesson will help me keep my 10 fingers. How many do you have?

Here's a link to Marc's Woodworker's Safety Week Link Pages. Not only is he nice enough to start the whole safety week thing, he even curates them for us.
Safety Week Links #1
Safety Week Links #2
Safety Week Links #3
Safety Week Links #4
Be a Safety Hero