Monday, August 16, 2010

Lessons in Woodworking, A Cautionary Tale - John Thomas

September 20, 2008 will be a day that will be etched in my memory forever. I've been using table saws, routers, and the regular run of power tools since the winter of 1994. I have owned my personal saw since 2003 and have felt very comfortable using it. On this day I learned that I was too comfortable. I was tired and in a hurry. I had overwhelmed myself with getting ready for my first ever Arts and Craft show in Asheville, NC.

I think the night before I had worked until 2 or 3 am and only slept for maybe 3 hours. The project was something I've done countless times; build a box. With this particular box, I decided that I wanted to run a couple of strings of Purple heart around the perimeter to spice it up some. One of the lessons here was to leave a perfectly fine figured plank alone, the other make sure you have a splitter if you plan of using your table saw to resaw anything!

I had the blade raised more the half the width of the plank and was using my trusty orange push stick. I had about 1 to 1.5? to go before completing the cut when I was blinded by pain in my hand and bizarre sounds from the spinning blade. It was over before it began. The pain wasn't searing, but more like blunt force trauma.

I remember thinking, So this is what is feels like to get you hand smashed with a 2x4? Of course that thought was a hour of so later, but it's the closest memory I've got. Lucky for me I wasn't alone, my wife Dawn was sweeping just on the other side of the saw. She heard the unfamiliar sounds and quickly turned to see me hopping across the shop floor, and flinging the orange push stick as hard I could. I could see the droplets hitting the floor way to quick, and knew this was bad. I couldn't look
at my own hand.

It's different when it's your skin and blood. IIn my life prior to working wood full time I spent seven years of working the worst neighborhoods, the true "Wrong side of the tracks". I enjoyed being the first cop on scene and remember all of the carnage I saw. What people can do to each other is frightening. Well, it never phased me much, the carnage. We treated like the job that it was then figured out where we would go eat, and no, it was never once Dunkin Donuts. The lesson I learned from this is, no matter how strong a stomach you thnk you have, that all changes when you see your own finger splayed open to the point you can watch the actuall knuckle pivot when that same finger is being bent.

John's hand, the saw blade (now a clock) and the piece of Purpleheart.
My whole life changed. I can no longer play guitar and was a very avid guitarist all through the 90s, the Gen X thing and all that good stuff. Now I'm lucky to play one chord and get the notes to ring clear. On the bright side to all of this, my work excelled much past the injury. The hand surgeon told me to allow my hand 6 months to heal. I asked him for living expenses for the next 6 months. He just gave me a weird look.

I cranked the saw back up after one month. It took about five minutes to hear it run before I could send a piece of wood through. I needed to feel the resistance we ALL should feel, and not forget its distinct feeling.

Separating age old dense fibers with super sharp high speed metals and the results that came forth are what I now show in my gallery on Fine Wood Artist. A lot this work was started with the mean
tools then brought to life with some pampered hand tools. Right now I feel a change coming and I'm letting it happen. I'm not questioning too much, just going with it.

As convenient as a well turn table saw can be I'd trade in for a nice Bad Axe Tenon Saw and maybe a refurnished Disstion rip saw. I could honestly do this with out looking back. I'm excited to see what's next and glad to share my story with you.

Being safe means don't work fatigued, or stressed, and make sure you remember the sharp tools are safe tools.

All the best-
John A. Thomas