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Thread: Complacency Bites...in the Shop, Too

  1. #1
    rwanttaja's Avatar
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    Complacency Bites...in the Shop, Too

    With all the articles I write about homebuilt aircraft accidents, I’m well aware of the ensuing irony if I, eventually, have a crash. I’ve always hoped that if it did happen, I’d have the guts to post a message afterwards dissecting what I did wrong.

    Hasn’t happened yet, touch wood. But I recently had an accident in the shop that others might find instructive. My apologies, it wasn’t while building an aircraft part. But the same sort of complacency issues may arise in a typical homebuilding activity. This is probably a good cautionary tale.

    Part 1: Bitten

    About 30 years ago, I bought a brand-new table saw. I’ve used it intermittently over the years, a few airplane-related projects, but mostly for building furniture that fits an exact need. Cabinets shaped to an awkward space, computer desks with built-in armrests and USB/network ports, that sort of thing. All practical items, but things that were fun to design as well as build.

    I finished the latest project this weekend (a custom jewelry cabinet). After some last minute tweaking to get a couple of drawers working more smoothly, it was all done.

    I was feeling pretty good, Sunday afternoon. My wife was flying home from Florida, and I was looking forward to showing off the new cabinet. With a couple of hours until her plane landed, I decided to make an add-on drawer for my computer desk, modifying a commercial wood drawer insert and using some left-over drawer glides.

    I’d gotten pretty darn fancy with the table saw, over the previous sets of projects. While I’d removed the safety shield almost immediately after purchase, I’d religiously used a push stick and other aids to keep my hands away from the blade.

    But I’d always hated the way the newly cut wood thudded into the ground on the far side of the saw, and had gotten adept at reaching over and snatching them away before they slid off the table. Yes, I know I shouldn’t do it. But I was Mr. Magic Expert Table Saw Guy; I had the routine down. No danger. Shoot, I HAD big blocks of foam that I could have positioned to protect the wood when it dropped. Too much effort.

    The wood from the commercial insert was a bit thin, and not very hard. I was even more concerned about it getting damaged. The first cuts were with the blade all the way up, as I was trying to cut through as much of the insert as possible.

    Time to rip some of the strips a little narrower. Out came the push stick, and I started to cut. I realized that the blade was up all the way, and thought, “Hmmm, I should crank that back down when I’m done with this strip.”

    When the strip completed its cut, I reached over with my left hand to flick it clear. Right into the elevated blade.

    I immediately snatched my hand back. Reflex snapped my other hand down to kill the saw. My thumb was chewed, blood was pouring down my hand and wrist. No pain. Yet.

    Not just a nick this time. Not something I could just cover with a band-aid. This was serious.

    Dash around the corner in the garage, wrap the thumb with paper towels. My wife wasn’t home, she couldn’t take me to the ER. Went to the next door neighbor. He wasn’t home, either.

    Options? Call an ambulance…see one of the other neighbors?

    Noticed that the paper towel around my thumb wasn’t getting soaked in blood. So the bleeding had slowed down. It was only a 15-minute drive to the Emergency Room. So I locked the house and hit the road.

    As it turns out, the damage was bad…but better than I deserved. The blade had basically “scalped” the pad-area of my thumb (not the very tip, but the area a bit down from it). It wasn’t like a cut where the doctor could just sew back the skin around the wound …there WAS no skin left. He thought I’d need skin grafts. The bone was nicked, but intact. Fingernail not involved. They put some artificial skin on the opening, put a single stitch in where the gash started, wrapped it in gauze, and sent me home with antibiotics and instructions to see an orthopedic surgeon ASAP. “It’ll ooze for a while,” was the parting comment.

    Saw the orthopedic surgeon two days later (today). Took a while to carefully undo all the work the ER crew had done.

    The news was about as good as one could hope. The expected oozing hadn’t happened; the wound had stopped bleeding long ago. No skin graft required…”Given time, it’ll close up again.” Instructed me to just put Vaseline on it every day, with a protective gauze wrap. A splint over the thumbtip to protect it. Three months should see it completely closed. Six months until it’s as good as new. Can even get it wet in the shower.

    So, there’s where I’m at. The splint is awkward, but it’s my left thumb so it’s not as big of a deal. The pain is minor; just a Tylenol or two.

    But…the product of my complacency still reverberates. Yesterday was spent scrubbing blood off the shop floor, and washing my bloodstained jeans.

    And the nights. Waking up at five in the morning, staring into the darkness, and remembering the pain and shock. That’s probably going to take some time, before it recedes. Don't know if I'll be able to use that table saw again.

    So there’s my warning to you. You might think you’re Mr. Magic Table Saw Guy (after all, the crown is now available), or Sir Drill Press Pro or Lord What-A-Racket Rivet Gun Guru.

    But complacency will bite. It might take 30 years, like my case. Please don’t cut the safety corners. Please don’t get used to doing it the “wrong” way because it’s worked so far.

    Be careful out there.

    Part 2: Adventures in ER Visiting

    OK, the sermons are over. My trip to the ER had some “features of interest,” so let me talk about them, too.

    I am a clumsy galoot. I have a long history of getting gashed by tools, cut during poker games, slamming my head into things, tripping on shadows, etc. I didn’t panic when the thumb was pouring blood, because I’ve seen that sort of thing several times in the past. The site of my own blood doesn’t faze me.

    So the drive to the ER was no problem. The problem AT the ER was parking. There was plenty of curb space right by the entry…but I knew it’d take hours for me to get released. I needed “normal” parking.

    Which was about two blocks away. Sheesh.

    The people at the ER were a bit...amazed...at how calm I was about this. They’re used to people on the edge of panic. Me, it was just, “Ehh, cut myself on the table saw.” I had to explain that this wasn’t my first rodeo.

    They did the usual desk interview and took vital signs. I mentioned how far I’d had to walk after parking. I pointed out that I'd have no trouble finding where I'd parked, because I'd left a trail.

    They looked at me a bit funny at that point. Tough room.

    After a few minutes in the waiting area, they took me back to the ER complex. There were chairs there, and I was told to wait in one until an exam room came open.

    By this point, the adrenaline rush was gone and I was starting to get a bit shocky (Yes, I'm been cut and banged enough to recognize it). Got a tad dizzy.

    So I did what you're SUPPOSED to do when someone's going into shock: I laid down on the ground, and elevated my feet by plopping them on the seat I was sitting on.

    "Don't worry, folks," I said to the family group sitting a seat down from me. "Just a bit dizzy, I'm fine."

    Didn't occur to me until later...they had been speaking Spanish. They probably didn't understand me, anyway.

    I whipped out my phone at that point, and they probably figured I was OK.

    "HEY, SOMEONE'S ON THE GROUND OVER HERE!"

    Newcomer. Probably hadn't connected the fact that people having seizures rarely surf Facebook at the same time...but who knows, it might even enhance the experience.

    "I'm all right," I called. "Just a bit woozy. Doing OK."

    About 15 seconds later, the ER Head Nurse came over. I was, of course, in a bit of a disadvantaged position. “No, seriously, I’m OK. Started getting a bit shocky and wanted to get my feet up.”

    "You know," she replied, "They scrub that floor every day, but I SURE wouldn't want to lie on it."

    Considering what I'd been through already, I didn't consider the floor being that major of a risk. Told her I was fine, just starting to go into shock. Lying down felt better

    "Get up in that chair, put your head between your knees, and I'll get a bed for you right away."

    I hesitated to point out that the ability to put my head between my knees ended a few dozen pounds and ~40 years ago, but complied as far as I was able. They showed up with a wheelchair and brought me to a room a few minutes later. Felt better lying on the exam bed.

    As I expected, the whole process took about three hours. Almost froze to death, getting to my car…I’d left my (bloodstained) coat at home, and the sun had gone down. Just a flannel shirt, and I was still reacting a bit to the adrenaline surge and shock. Was shaking with cold by the time I’d gotten to my car.

    Was hungry. Considered stopping for a fast food burger on the way home, but didn’t know yet how well I’d be able to handle objects with one hand hors de combat. So went home for a healthier meal.

    And got back in the car two hours later. My wife’s plane was due at Sea-Tac airport. I’d originally left my bloodstained coat at home because I thought I’d have to go right from the ER to the airport. But instead, was able to put on a sweatshirt and decent coat.

    Met her at baggage claim, with my left hand in my pocket. After the greeting, I had to break down and tell her…”Uhhh, honey, I had an accident with the table saw today....

    Ron Wanttaja

  2. #2
    DaleB's Avatar
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    Ron,

    I hear you. Have had a few of those trips myself. One night I managed to (condensing a long-ish story here) run a long, thin screwdriver through my hand, and there was a little plastic computer part missing. It was 2 AM, I was at my office, and when I thought that piece was inside my rapidly swelling hand I was feeling a little shocky too. I called my wife for a ride to the ER. While waiting for her to get there, I laid down on the floor in the front of the office.

    So at 2 AM she gets a call from me... I need to go to the ER, no big deal, but could she com get me? She drives over to the office and sees me sprawled on my back in the middle of the office, staring at the ceiling, not moving. Almost had to drive her to the ER for a heart attack. Since then I've learned to approach my wife with news of an accident like I would a deer... slowly, calmly, no sudden movements... and never, ever mention a power tool until she asks.

    Dale
    Measure twice, cut once...
    scratch head, shrug, shim to fit.

  3. #3
    Mike Switzer's Avatar
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    Scott blue shop towels & duct tape have been needed in my shop several times. Haven't had to go to the ER since the late 90s (knock on wood) but there are several large bloody spots on the shop floor.

  4. #4

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    Just asking, Ron. Do you also have a nail gun? The possibilities are endless.

    Bob (Who hold parts with one hand and uses a nail gun with the other.)

  5. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Dingley View Post
    Just asking, Ron. Do you also have a nail gun? The possibilities are endless.

    Bob (Who hold parts with one hand and uses a nail gun with the other.)
    My BIL is a dentist, but has done a lot of home renovation projects over the years. He's actually pretty good at it.

    So 20 years ago, he got his first nail gun - a framing nailer. He shows it to my mother, who had very little understanding of tools, but told him to be very careful with it. He showed her that the only way to hurt yourself with it would be for the following things to align. 1) Loaded with nails. 2) Hooked to compressed air. 3) Nose piece against something solid to turn-off the safety. 4) User pulls the trigger when the first three are aligned. 5) Gun aimed at something it shouldn't be.

    Shortly thereafter he tripped walking across the room. Put his hand down (with the gun) to catch himself. Gun is loaded. Gun is full of nails. Nose piece presses against the top of his boot. Involuntarily squeezes trigger.

    Voila! Foot nailed to floor.

    Me?? My airplane project accidents include minor accidents with a center punch (hole punched in web between thumb and index finger) and a bandsaw (nicked finger at 2 AM).
    Last edited by Kyle Boatright; 10-10-2017 at 05:31 PM.

  6. #6
    rwanttaja's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Dingley View Post
    Just asking, Ron. Do you also have a nail gun?
    Oh, great. Something ELSE to wake up to at 4-dark-30....

    Ron "Next is the pizza slicer" Wanttaja

  7. #7
    DaleB's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rwanttaja View Post
    Ron "Next is the pizza slicer" Wanttaja
    I am not allowed to touch the mandoline slicer any more. Ever.
    Measure twice, cut once...
    scratch head, shrug, shim to fit.

  8. #8

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    I stuck my finger into a spinning prop. Just a small 36" wood prop I had carved and mounted on a 10 hp Tehcumseh engine. Was adjusting the idle or something.
    The immediate reaction was of self anger. Not bleeding badly but the trauma was enough to get me feeling queasy and then faint. I went inside and laid on the couch with elevated feet and got feeling better quickly. Didn't go to ER.
    The worst of it was my finger knocked a chunk of wood out of the new prop and ruined it, so I had to carve another one.

  9. #9
    Dana's Avatar
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    A friend of mine was a metalworker all his life, then in his later years acquired a bunch of woodworking tools for a boat restoration project. He said to me one day, "Woodworking tools are DANGEROUS! Hacksaws are nothing, wood saws have REALLY BIG SHARP TEETH!"

    I can't count the number of times I've been bitten by sharp tools, but the worst was on a backpacking trip with my daughter, who was maybe 12 at the time. We had found a campsite and were getting ready to make dinner when I got careless with a sharp knife and nearly cut my little finger off... cut through the second knuckle clear to the bone, and completely severed the extensor tendon. No pain at first, but strange not to be able to straighten the finger. We were about 3 hours from the car. She was amazingly calm for a 12 year old, helped me clean up, bandage and splint the finger (with a stick and duct tape). Debated what to do, didn't know if delay would make it a problem for doctors to repair it but I knew I wouldn't sleep well worrying about it, so we (she) packed up, hiked the 3 hours back out in the dark, then 15 minutes on a rough dirt road and another 20 minutes to the nearest hospital (one handed with a manual transmission). Got there around 11pm. Nurse at the ER saw the blood, asked if the stick was going through the finger (no), and brought me straight to the doctor. He stitched me up and sent us on our way, at this point we decided to go home (another 2 hours) and freaked my wife out when we arrived around 3am... I hadn't called, why worry her?

  10. #10

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    I always worry when working on my airplane and there is no human red sauce leaking out somewhere in the process. It means I probably missed something in construction and repair.

    I actually have my own suture kit and have used it from time to time, much to the dismay of the wife.

    I'm more of the "stand up into the aileron/engine mount/instrument panel" kind of guy than a "slice with tool" kind of person, though. I'm more likely to drop the bit of tubing I've just coped on the belt sander (but not quite dulled yet) onto my leg and make a slice than get a finger on the sander itself. Judging by the state of my very excellent steel toed leather boots I wear in the hangar, I'd be short several toes without them.

    Don't even get me started on safety wire....
    The opinions and statements of this poster are largely based on facts and portray a possible version of the actual events.

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