“Almost” always counts, Part 2

“Almost” happens a lot in the shop in both good and bad ways. But when it refers to a safety issue – as in, “I almost cut my finger off,” it’s always bad. Or is it?

We’ve all had bad “almost” moments in the shop that have scared us: Almost cut off a finger. Almost had a bad kickback. Almost lost control of a router. Almost put my eye out. Almost chopped my head off.

Naturally, the fear of the moment makes us look at these incidents as things that, literally, almost occurred. But what does that mean, really? Did you really almost cut your finger off, or were you merely doing a dangerous shop action in a fully controlled way that, although the action was performed without incident or injury, the proximity of danger turned it into an almost moment?

For example, several months back I described my first bad kickback on the table saw. The kickback was caused by vibration and not through any negligence of my own. The workpiece grazed my hand, causing a small cut. Could it have been worse? Yepper, could’ve hit me in the neck or smack in the face. But it didn’t, so I looked at it as almost having a serious accident.

And although almost can be used in the horseshoe sense here – that workpiece came close but wasn’t a ringer – upon further reflection I’ve decided it wasn’t an almost at all. Why not? Because I was doing things right. Specifically, as I was making the cut I consciously stood well to the side of the blade for the express intention of keeping myself safe in the event of a kickback. When that kickback happened and sent that piece flying in it’s logical direction, most of me was somewhere else because I was following good safety practices.

In fact, I’ve come to the conclusion that near-accidents in the shop, the ones where you almost do something bad to your body or a favorite appendage, fall in the almost category because of two things: good safety practices and good luck.

If you have both all the time, you’ll likely never experience anything more than an “almost” accident. If you always use good safety practices, you’ll probably do OK when you’re a little short on the luck part – luck certainly wasn’t on my side when a kickback occurred that I didn’t cause, but my good safety practices made up for that.

But if you don’t use good safety practices at all times in the shop, I can guarantee you’ll need lots and lots of luck. And if you do, you’ll be just fine.

Almost.

Till next time,

A.J.

COMMENTS

  1. Doug wrote:

    BINGO! I have read many times in books and magazines that if you use good safety practices you will prevent kick-back, or router kick, or… whatever. With 30 years of experience behind me I can qualitatively state that this is NOT true. Stuff happens. Sometimes, no matter how careful you are to use guides, guards, feather boards, proper feed direction and speed, and the rest something unforseen occurs.

    Most of the people I know who have lost a finger or suffered a cracked rib while woodworking did so not because they took off a splitter or rushed a cut, but because they got cocky. They thought they had it all under control. They let their fingers get where they should not be, or stood where they were in harms way. Remembering that “stuff happens” is also an important safety practice we should always observe.

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