In the current issue of British Woodworking, Steve Prescott writes (in response to a reader’s letter in the previous issue) in the defence of his use of ‘grippy gloves’ while operating machinery. This is the kind of subject that can raise a lot of debate…
If you’ve had any formal training or education in the use of woodworking machinery then, you’re probably aware that gloves are generally regarded as ‘hazardous‘ as any loose, hanging threads can easily get caught in the moving parts. Where Steve argues that this risk is reduced when using a surface planer/jointer (as opposed to a thicknesser, which has an additional pair of feed rollers), I disagree, as I believe there is an equal risk of the same threads getting caught by the sharp knives and pulling your hand in to the revolving cutter block. Also, while wearing gloves, you have less of a ‘feel’ for what’s going on and exactly how close you are to possible amputation.
Of course, with the correct technique for keeping your fingers well away from any sharp, moving parts, this risk can be minimised. Although I would never recommend the use of any gloves while working with machinery, I do appreciate Steve’s “need” for extra grip when handling timber that’s already been prepared or surface on at least one face. If you follow my blog regularly then you’re probably aware that I frequently wear a pair of Irwin Carpenters Gloves at this time of year, purely because of the cold. Because two fingers and my thumb are both free on each hand, I still have some sense for what I am doing (I’ve also had the splinters to prove it!). Without condoning the use of gloves, they do give me more confidence than a cheap pair of £1.99 ‘disposable’ gloves.
When the power is off, the machine is isolated and you’re looking to handle a sharp blade or, particularly, when changing planer knives, I would strongly advise the use of a thick pair of gloves […been there, done that! :oops:].
Now, we come to the real meaning behind this post…
About a month ago now, at 16.30 on Monday, as I was winding down towards the end of another day, I decided I would give my planer/thicknesser a good clean after all the troubles with rust I’ve endured, recently. As irritating as this problem has been for me lately, it was only a thin coating and didn’t require a lot of work to remove (400g W&D paper with WD40 – didn’t even need the Rust Remover products). With the tables coming up nicely, I noticed some of ‘the dreaded brown stuff’ on the cutter block, in between the knives… :-S So, I started sanding and felt my right-thumb slide along what I later realised was one of the recently-sharpened knives – OUCH!!! [edited for the sake of any younger readers!!] After a delayed reaction, the pain kicked in and I yanked my thumb away, which was barely visible for all the claret running down my right hand!! 😯
WARNING: This first image contains lots of blood:
After about five-minutes of swearing at myself and holding it up in the air, I realised this was much worse than any accident I had previously endured. On this occasion, a plaster and a bit of masking tape simply wouldn’t do!! Reaching for my First Aid Kit [essential!], I managed to ‘mummify’ the thumb enough to keep the bleeding at bay. If you don’t have even a basic one-person First Aid Kit in your workshop, I strongly advise you to buy one ASAP! They’re not expensive and you never know when you might need it. I’ve had mine in the ‘shop for five-years and had only ever opened it for the plasters, before this incident (I always keep one in the boot of my car as well).
At this point, I probably should’ve sought proper medical advice. I was too ashamed to admit how careless I had been – I should’ve worn a thicker pair of full-fingered gloves. This does go to show that machines can still bite even when the power is off!! That first night was the worst; the pain was intense and it took a good couple of hours before I could settle off to sleep (…for a little while). After forty-eight hours, I was brave enough to remove the bandage and assess the damage; confident enough that the wound was no longer bleeding freely.
WARNING: This next image contains blood and an open wound:
While the pain had passed, it didn’t make for comfortable viewing – what you can’t see clearly from the above photo (for those who are brave enough!!) is that the knife had somehow removed a gouge from my thumb and I’m still baffled as to quite how I managed this… I have lost a slight sensation of feeling partially down that one side of the thumb but, fortunately, it still operates and functions correctly today. It took three-weeks for the wound to reach a state of healing at which I was comfortable enough not to cover it with a non-adhesive dressing. In all that time, it was a struggle to do many of the everyday things we all regularly take for granted – from brushing your teeth to trying your shoe laces. Certainly, I hadn’t spent much time in the workshop until recently.
This final image isn’t nearly as bad as the others; it plainly shows the wound as it was about a week ago; scarred, but almost healed:
This is a very dangerous game we are all involved in and it does pay to take a step back and assess all potential risks and hazards before attempting any operation, from time to time. I’m actually quite glad that this happened and even more-so fortunate that no greater damage was done (a couple of poor practices were creeping in to my working methods, in my home workshop…). I could have been much worse but it could have easily been prevented. If I was self-employed and running my own business, I’d have lost two-weeks worth of work without any sick pay or compensation.
I apologise if the warnings weren’t sufficient or if I have just put you off eating your meal but, please, whatever you do, put your own Health and Safety ahead of all other priorities within your workshop! This is even more important in a small space, where trailing cables and trip hazards are likely to be of greater threat to yourself. Gloves do have their place and guards are put on machines for a very good reason!
If you are at all concerned, there is plenty of FREE information available to read and follow at the HSE website:
Or, if all this wasn’t scary enough, I recommend some time browsing Jeff Gorman’s site:
Thank you for reading. Please, think about your own Health & Safety in your workshop!