Workshop Mishaps: Iron-rich diets promote cavities and tooth decay

The story

My uncle gave me some old oak 2×8s salvaged from an 1890s barn so that I could mill my own flooring for my dining room. After cleaning, inspecting, and planing the boards, I started ripping them into floor-width strips.

About two feet into the sixth board, my table saw blade hit a nickel-sized metal fragment that was hidden within the board. Amid a horrible noise, a chunk broke off the end of the board, flew across the shop, and punched a hole in the wall, shorting the wiring that powered my shop. I was unhurt, but I can’t say the same for my saw blade. The almost-new blade was now missing about half of its teeth.

In spite of the unexpected expense of a new blade and the time spent wiring and spackling, the look of the finished, new, old-oak floor was worth it.

The victim

Josh Cash, a computer operator, invests most of his woodworking time in repairing and remodeling his home in Belton, Missouri. A self-taught woodworker, he likes to read and learn about techniques and procedures before tackling a project. Milling and installing the salvaged oak floorboards was one of his larger projects.

Case analysis

Who among us could pass up free wood? But just as important as cost, salvaged lumber, like Josh’s barn wood dating from more than a century ago, usually yields stock with beautiful grain and coloration unavailable in new lumber. Plus, reusing old lumber is environmentally sound too.

The down side? Because of the labor costs involved in salvaging, cleaning up, and milling, store-bought reclaimed lumber commands a premium price. That makes it mighty tempting to plane, rip, and resaw salvaged boards yourself. However, as Josh’s experience shows, used lumber poses unique hazards, often unseen. The chunk of metal his saw found in mid-rip was completely hidden within the wood.

Shop-smart strategies

  • Assume used or found lumber contains dangerous metal such as construction-related fasteners like nails and screws. Backyard trees are notorious for growing over and hiding fencing, hooks, and even old clothesline pulleys.
  • Remove visible nails, screws, or hardware. Probe nail and screw holes with a stiff wire; if the wire doesn’t go through, assume a fastener is broken off inside the board.
  • Buy a metal detector and save a saw blade. Wand-style detectors can detect the presence of both ferrous and nonferrous metals.
  • When in doubt, cut it out. If you see a metal stain, or your detector lights up, remove that section. 
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