All thumbs

Physically speaking, what’s the most important and most-used part of your body in the woodshop – Arms? Legs? Hands? Nope – although that last was close – it’s our thumbs.

Some recent blogs discussing back injuries took a look at how we use our bodies while woodworking. Obviously, every part of our bodies is important, especially those related to our senses, but on a day-to-day basis it’s nearly impossible to work without our thumbs being at 100%, and in fact I’ve talked about thumb issues before. It’s for that exact reason that when it comes to hurting something, your thumbs always seem to be the likely victim.

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That little boo-boo happened two weeks ago while adjusting the fence on my band saw – I lifted it off the table, it slipped, my thumb was under it. Result: ouch. Unlike other minor injuries that heal up and disappear in a few days, this one sticks out like a sore thumb. (See what I did there?) It’ll be around for at least the next month or so till my thumbnail grows out.

On the downside, I’ll certainly have to delay my lifelong desire to be a hand model for a while longer.

On the plus side, it’s a small reminder to be more careful even with simple, typically non-dangerous tasks in the shop.


  • john borovka says:

    Your thumb just wants to let you feel its pain. My woodworking friend (very experienced 20 years and European trained) lost his thumb and middle finger to a dado set. He loved to play guitar so they replaced his thumb with his big toe and you can hardly tell the difference. I told him he’ll have to decide whether he is stubbing his toe or banging his thumb. He has a great sense of humor. Everybody thinks it’s beginners that make the biggest mistakes, but I have several professional woodworking friends with 20 plus years experience losing fingers. One was making a safety jig and another cut a perfect 45 on his thumb right after his wife called him to dinner. Best safety advice is relax with focus.

  • Your comments on the thumb are interesting and brought forth a long lost memory from what I guess was my zoology class in college. The point was made that the main thing that separates monkeys and apes from man with regard to dexterity is that they do not have an opposable thumb. Their thumbs hang along with their fingers so they cannot grasp things as we do.

  • alan tasoff says:

    Your article reminds me of the importance of thumbs …..and hands, in general. After a near lifetime of woodworking, arthritis at the base of the thumb is really most inconvenient. Whether related to years of force-requiring activities in woodworking, I’m not sure, but tightening bar clamps and opening stuck jar lids didn’t help. I’ve seen fellow woodworkers, even experts, using their hands as mallets to close joints and move machine fences.
    One trick I have learned in tightening parallel jaw clamps is to use a pipe wrench on the handle. It knicks the handle just a little. I also have relied upon a variety of gear/ratchet type clamps to give my squeezing function a break.

  • johnny dietz says:

    Appropriately timed ! Just nipped my left thumb on the table saw, then decided to sit down and check my email. What do I see, your blog on thumbs. WOW.

  • paul bourque says:

    How appropriate, I just slit my thumb via a kickback on the table saw. Stupid mistake at a time when Christmas projects needed to be finished .

  • Dan Wilmes says:

    On the other hand, uh, thumbnail, although you knew where THAT black mark came from, one should be suspicious of any black marks under nails that DON’T seem to be growing out. Mine was melanoma. That was a decade or so ago, I’m fine, doc just took off the top of my left thumb including the nail (REALLY hurts to hit my thumb now!), normal would have been to take the whole thumb but a thumbless woodworker is perhaps worse than one who is all thumbs. The X-rays of my thumb show that the tip bone is pretty much pulverized, doc said nice forensic evidence of my trade, at which I had either been working for a very long time or was very clumsy. Tactfully didn’t mention could be both.

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