Deceptively safe

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Danger – potential danger, that is – lurks everywhere in the shop. Most are obvious; some are not. And some are just plain sneaky.

I’ve mentioned here before that we woodworkers have a great respect for what can hurt us in the shop, especially for obvious things with teeth, cutters and spinning edges. These things scream danger, tell us right up front, and rightly so.

Other things are subtler, like sanders. A disc sander is deceptively safe, but I’m betting that many of you reading this have experienced a suddenly shorter fingernail or two while using one. If so, you were lucky; the sander could just as easily have sanded off a fingertip and not just a nail. Same thing for random orbit sanders. I described here a few years ago how I got hit in the face while using a random orbit sander vertically on the side of a cabinet – the sander is extremely unbalanced in this position, and digging in the edge of the sander sent it kicking my way.

I just completed an article on power planers. You think you’d automatically recognize their danger – they are, after all, really inverted jointers. They have cutters. They spin. But they’re deceptively safe-seeming when in use. They don’t make a lot of noise and they don’t kick around in your hand like a router trying to escape your grip. There’s not a lot of vibration, and most aren’t even that heavy. They don’t really seem much more powerful or dangerous than a beefy hand drill in-use, and therein lies the sneakiness. But make no mistake; power planers are potentially very dangerous. Like the inverted jointers they are, get your fingers in the wrong place and it won’t cut them. No, it’ll vaporize them. You won’t be reattaching anything.

Now don’t get ahead of me; I’m not leading up to how I got hurt while doing my planer article, because I didn’t. But part of writing a tool article is spending lots of time just thinking about them, just taking time to sit and look at them, examine them. And in spite of how easy they are to use, the very concept of them is downright scary. But if you don’t realize this and treat them accordingly, your chances of being hurt are a lot greater.

The point here is that a lot of the things we use everyday – saws, routers, shapers, jointers – tell us they’re dangerous; there’s no “potentially” about it. But it’s those other tools – like sanders, drills, power planers, even very sharp chisels – that probably cause the most injuries.

And that’s because they don’t announce their danger.

Till next time,

A.J.

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