Workshop Mishaps: Issue 27

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This article is from Issue 27 of Woodcraft Magazine.

The Story

A perilous plunge

I was using my biscuit joiner to cut slots into some walnut parts for a clock. After I plunged all of the needed slots into the face and edge grain of the parts, I proceeded to plunge the first end-grain slot into a 1×2×8" side part. While holding the workpiece in my left hand atop my workbench and the tool in my right (as I had done for the other parts), I proceeded to slot the part. In a nanosecond, the tool yanked the piece from my hand, and the biscuit-joiner cutter, not yet fully retracted, sliced into my wrist, creating a nasty gash and severing the tendons to my index and pointer fingers.

When an on-call surgeon arrived at a local hospital and saw my injury, he said that it gave him a reality check about the dangers of power tools. He was in his yard trimming a tree with a chain saw when he was called in. After surgery, my hand was immobilized for two months. When the wound healed sufficiently, weeks of uncomfortable stretching and dexterity therapy followed. Fortunately, I had a full recovery except for some remaining sensitivity and numbness. Unfortunately, this was my first “fight” with a power tool, and the tool won.

The Victim

A self-professed intermediate woodworker, Gerald Paalman, of Greenville, Wisconsin, has enjoyed woodworking as a hobby for 35 years. Among the projects he has built are various clocks and large furniture pieces, including tables, desks, computer cabinets, and bedroom sets. Now a retired lab technician for a cheese factory, he plans to spend a larger slice of his time in his workshop.

Case Analysis

Gerald should have secured the workpiece to his benchtop and kept both hands on the biscuit joiner to maintain safe control. As it turns out, he had removed the tool’s adjustable fence with integral handgrip to better see his marked centerlines. This freed his left hand to hold the part, but placed the hand in harm’s way and jeopardized control of the machine. When he attempted to plunge into the tough walnut end grain, the cutter torque overcame his grip, causing the part to rip out of his hand and the machine to slip. Another no-no: Gerald was wearing a watch, which could have become entangled in the cutter and resulted in worse injury.

Shop-Smart Strategies

Gerald learned a hard and painful lesson using a power tool that many woodworkers regard as one of the safest in the shop. He now realizes how important it is to know and obey all general safety procedures, as well as the manufacturer’s operating precautions, no matter the size of a tool or its perceived safety. The accident has not changed Gerald’s willingness to reach for his biscuit joiner. “But I’ve learned how to use it safely now,” he notes. When working with your biscuit joiner, follow these pointers:

•Always use clamps, a vise, or bench holdfasts to secure the workpiece, freeing both hands to hold the tool.

•To ensure safety when working with small parts, make a scrapwood holding jig consisting of a base with a cleat. Clamp the part against the cleat and the base to your workbench.

•Do not wear loose clothing or jewelry that can become caught in the machine’s cutter.

•Never remove the tool’s adjustable fence or handgrip. If the fence obscures your centerline markings, it’s time to deep-six the tool and go for a new, safe model.

•To minimize kickback, make sure that the cutter is sharp. If you notice the wood burning or smoking during a cut, it’s time to sharpen or replace the cutter.

•Wait for the motor to reach full speed before you plunge. This helps prevent the cutter from grabbing the wood.

•Plunge at a moderate and steady rate. Plunging too quickly increases the chance for grabbing and loss of control.

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