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You don't need to see to believe

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During one of my three years in high school woodshop, the instructor from the metal shop next door came over and asked our teacher if he could talk to us. Getting our attention, he held up what looked like a flat strip of gold, a bit more than a foot in length and maybe just under a quarter inch wide. It was a metal strip of extremely thin brass, not gold, and so paper-thin that it curled and dangled like a coiled ribbon.

He said that it came from one of his students, and proceeded to tell us what the kid had done with it. The student apparently got it into his head that it would be a good idea to polish it, and took it to a bench grinder outfitted with a pair of wooly buffing wheels. He wrapped the ends of the strip around his index fingers, turned on the grinder and held the strip of brass against one of the buffing wheels. The metal polished nicely for a few seconds, then caught in the buffing wheel. In a fraction of a second, the metal strip wrapped in the wheel, which zipped the strip out of the student’s grasp, sending his neatly severed index fingers – one on each hand – flying. One landed 10 feet away, we were told. Understand, this was the ’60s; reattaching them wasn’t an option.

The metal shop teacher shared this with us as a cautionary tale, and I’ve never forgotten it to this day. None of us saw the accident happen, nor saw the evidence of its aftermath; there wasn’t even any blood on the brass strip that you could see. But I didn’t need to see either the accident or its gory aftermath for the message to be permanently etched in my mind. I’m guessing – hoping – that reading the previous paragraph sent chills up your spine.

One of the woodworking forums recently posted a link to another (non-woodworking) Web site that showed the aftermath of a lathe accident where a careless worker caught a loose sleeve in the motor. This was a big metalworking lathe, and when it pulled the worker in there was little left – as the several gory pictures, taken from a number of different angles, showed clearly. I’ve never seen anything like it. Nor do I want to again.

It’s common for woodworking forums to post accident reports, with the intention of reminding us of the dangers inherent in our craft. I appreciate these reminders, and I’m grateful to those willing to share their misfortunes in the hopes that we don’t repeat their mistakes. But do we really need these graphic photos? I submit that we don’t. In fact, photos this graphic and disgusting are little more than pornography – they don’t teach, they titillate. (The woodworking forum has since deleted the link to the photos.)

With that warning given me by that metal shop teacher some 40-plus years ago, a simple description of what happened along with my knowledge of tools and my own imagination were all that was necessary to forever remind me of the danger that student put himself in. That should also be all that it takes for you, too. You don’t need photos.

If your imagination isn’t good enough to supply the details and make you learn the message, then you have no business setting foot in a woodshop.

Till next time,


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