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Afraid of the dark

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We’ve all had scares in the shop with machinery. I had one last evening that was not only terrifying in a woodworking sense, but the most terrifying I think I’ve ever had.

Although I work with machinery easily and often, I have a respectful fear of it. This is a healthy thing, and I hope you feel the same way. There’s no machine I respect more than my table saw, and when I’m using it I focus 100% on the tool and what I’m doing. I check everything – my stance, my fingers, clearances and obstructions, feed path, my fingers, fence, the stock and, oh yeah, my fingers. I leave nothing to chance. Ever. But yesterday, chance had other ideas.

I was ripping stock for a new hardware storage center, for which I needed seven workpieces cut to the same width. I was cutting them one after another, and was on the fourth one when it happened. While feeding the stock through the saw, at the exact moment when my hands came the closest they would come to that blade, the power went off.

My garage shop has no windows, the door was down, and even the door to the house was closed. The result was that at the exact moment my hands were closest to a spinning saw blade, my shop was instantly plunged into total darkness. No power, no lights, not even those little dots of red or green from a battery charger to give you some reference of place or position. Nothing at all.

Absolute terror went through me. I was in complete control a moment earlier, but in the pitch blackness I found that I suddenly couldn’t remember exactly where my hands were in relation to the blade – which, although now spinning down, was still spinning and cutting the stock.

Several possible actions went through my mind: Let go and step to the right, or pull the stock backward out of the blade, or maybe nudge the stock a quarter inch forward to add load to the blade to stop it more quickly, and a hundred other things all in the space of a half second. Instead, I did nothing at all. I froze, held my breath, and didn’t move a muscle as I waited for the blade to take what seemed minutes to spin down to a stop. (In reality, only a couple seconds.)

The blade stopped and I let go. I was taking a few more seconds to orient myself when I had the presence of mind to reach out in the dark and slap the big red stop button on the saw. A minute or two later, the lights popped back on.

With everything over, now was when the cold sweat and a sudden case of shivers broke out. I left the shop and took a slow walk around the house resetting all the clocks that were now flashing. By the time I was finished, calm had returned and I headed back to the shop to shut it down for the day – didn’t really feel much like working.

In my June 30th blog, I talked about expecting the unexpected. Well, I sure never expected this, but still managed to keep a presence of mind during what happened.

And as a result, nothing came of this potentially dangerous occurrence but a good story to tell.

Till next time,


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