Every human being attempts to recover from a fumble. The action is instinctive and automatic, and nearly always makes things worse, especially around sharp things.

You’ve done this countless times: You’re doing something, maybe something as simple as just enjoying TV. You reach for the controller or whatever, and in the process bump your drink or bowl of popcorn, causing it to wobble. Without thinking about the action, your hands automatically go into overdrive to attempt to correct what you’ve just done. More often than not the attempt not only fails, but instead creates a worse situation, like knocking the popcorn bowl across the room. The sad part is that had done nothing at all, the original fumble – far more minor than you’d thought — wouldn’t have caused anything to spill.

So why do you do it? It’s just something wired into the human brain, an automatic action you have no control of. In my scenario above, the worst that could happen is that you’d be cleaning up popcorn. (Or letting the dog do it.) No harm done. But do the same thing in the workshop, and you could be cleaning up more than a TV snack.

I was putting a router bit back into its rack yesterday, and in the process started to fumble it. Now, right there what I should have done was just snapped my hand back and let gravity do its thing. The very worst that could happen would be that I’d have to replace the bit, but chances are good that it would have been fine and I could just have picked it up and put it away.

But before I could think about it my hand tried, all on its own accord, to recover and keep from dropping the bit, and in the process I dragged the pad of my thumb over the adjacent bit in the rack. The slice in the pad of my thumb is gorgeous. The newly colorful smear of dark red on the wood of the rack, not so much.

There is no moral here. Even the admonishment of “don’t do that” doesn’t quite work when your hand acts without benefit of brain.



  • Dan says:

    True words indeed. Recently saw a case where the guy knocked his beer can over and lunged for it, forgetting he had a large knife in the hand, and neatly pinned his other hand to the table.
    Good thing he wasn’t trying to swat a mosquito on his forehead…

  • jerry Jaksha says:

    A good reason to use something instead your fingers holding down next to the tablesawl blade. A lot of missing fingers happen because someone “fumbled” while cutting on the table saw or router table, and instinctively reached to hold down a kicked backboard.

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