I Told Me So


Howard Ford


A few years ago, while giving a short safety lesson to the Conejo Valley Woodworkers' Association, I used a balloon to illustrate my point. On an actual table saw with the blade up and ready to cut, I asked those present to use their imagination. Pretend that I am pushing a " board through the saw to cut a dado 3/8" deep on the underside. The board is inclined to ride up on the blade and give a kick back so it has to be held down to assure the dado is a consistent depth. Now let your imagination work overtime and pretend the balloon (the wood) is ready to be push through the saw. While holding the board (balloon) down I pushed it into the saw blade.

You guessed it, the balloon burst. My demonstration proceeded to show how my hand, which was holding down the balloon (board,) instantly went down on the blade. I forgot to tell you my demonstration was done with the blade raised but the power was off, therefore, the blade was not turning.

Now for the safety point. A board, being pushed through a saw, can disappear just as rapidly as the balloon disappeared. It must be assumed that the board is a balloon every time we pass it through the saw. Never have your hands close enough to the spinning blade that it could touch the blade if the wood (balloon) disappeared instantly. I don't mean pretend the wood is a balloon occasionally but EVERY TIME. I told me so and now I have told you so.

A table saw is not the only thing that can produce a instant disappearing act. How about the piece of wood you are passing over a router bite. It does not even have to be power equipment. How about pressing down hard with a blade screwdriver while your other hand holds the two boards together. The blade can slip from the screw and instant go in the direction of the pressure. If your hand is in the direction of the travel of the screwdriver then you stab yourself.

Confession time. Recently I was cutting an old tomato plant off just above the soil in a 5 gallon bucket. There was not much room to get my hand down to the bottom of the plant. I was able to get my pocket knife blade on the other side of the plant and pull enough to start cutting the plant. If I could make a few cuts, I reasoned, then I might be able to weaken the plant enough to get it to break off. I had my left hand up about two feet holding the plant out of the way. With considerable pulling against the tough plant, it disappeared as fast as a balloon can burst. My hand continued moving in the direction of the pull. The sharp blade traveled instantly into my left forearm about 5 inches from my wrist. It opened up my arm about a half inch deep and one and one quarter inches long. It cut the muscle and cut a vein. I held it tightly with my right hand to prevent some of the bleeding and fortunately my wife was home and drove me to the hospital emergency room. Since it was necessary to hold the wound I was not able to drive. It took three or four stitches to close the muscle and vein and then seven to close the outside. My problem was not over. The second day it showed signs of infection. The doctor prescribed a medication to kill out the infection. The infection was moving up my arm at a rate of one fourth of an inch per hour. The medicine stopped the progress about the time it was getting to my elbow. The soreness from the infection lasted longer than the soreness from the wound.

"I told me so" and now I am telling you, "Don't do as I did." ALWAYS assume the danger is only a BALLOON BURST away. I can "hear" so of you asking, "Did you get a warning in my head before it happened?" Yes, but a very small one? It seemed so safe that I was not even thinking safety. I did get a very slight warning, which I ignored because the setting was so "safe." I remember thinking that I am cutting toward myself but gave it no attention because I was not in front of the knife blade until about 16 inches from the tomato plant where I was cutting. The plant was cut only about 1/8 inch and the remaining 7/8 snapped off as fast as a balloon bursting.

Back to Safety Page