Thursday, May 13, 2010

Graphic Reminder

Every few months, I like to change my title at The Luthier Community. Most of the time, I do it just for the hell of it, maybe to try and be funny, with something like Chief Executive Floor Sweep.

This month I changed it to Finger Slicer Extraordinaire, with a picture of my left dialing finger. I did it not so much because it’s funny, but as a reminder to me at what seems to be a critical juncture in life, and maybe as a warning to others.

Said finger has a crisscrossing map of scars from way too many cuts. Looking at it right now, I can see 7 nasty ones, and those aren’t all. Most of these came from chisels, a few from knives. You’d think that the first time I had my left hand way up on the shaft of a neck in progress and still managed to cut the crap out of it with a chisel, I’d have become more cautious, but I didn’t. And if you sharpen like I do, well… Fellow woodworkers love my chisels, because the business ends of the blades are mirror bright and sharp as razors. I keep all my hand cutting tools like that. Real sharp tools do a better job and are a joy to work. They also cut the snot out of us when we drop our guard: A ¾” Buck Brothers crank neck has a big handle and a lot of steel; serious heft there; it will go to the bone in your finger in a heartbeat or less.

Like I said, I didn’t learn my lesson the first time, nor the second, not the third. As a lifelong woodworker, I am used to cuts and scrapes and bruises, no big deal. But when the last two have left the tip of that finger without sensation from permanently damaged nerves, I kind of woke up. I wonder now what I was waiting for to finally get the picture, to lose a piece of the digit? Kinda like when friend spoke to me of multiple divorces; “Once, they say it could happen to anyone; twice, maybe even three times, you probably still get the benefit of the doubt. More than that, and there’s pretty much no doubt, you’re the problem.” So, when it comes to unsafe practices, yeah, I’m the problem.

All these power tools in my shop and I cut myself over and over with chisels and knives and scrapers. To me, that finally says, “I respect the power tools, but not the hand tools,” and that’s plain foolish. When I was a working cop, I feared a fight with edged weapons more than I did being shot, so why the hell would I think differently in the shop?

For me, after some soul searching and a lecture or two from Doc and Monica, I realize that 90%+ of my cuts were incurred while carving necks. That forced me to look at how I did it, and the glaring flaws in my technique came out. I was leaning into laminated layers of wood, including some real hard ones, and leaving my unguarded left hand up above the cut, ready to get sliced again. I have revisited how I carve and changed the ergonomics of that process so that I do not put my hands onto so much potential danger. And I bought a pair of cut proof gloves and use one on my left, at the very least, when I work now.

I turned 50 this year. I’d like to be building 30 years from now. I eat better than I used to, get exercise every day, take vitamins, don’t smoke, and drink less than I used to: All of that would add up to an opportunity to grow older with a missing finger or two had I not looked at the big picture, made an honest assessment, and changed a few other things too.

So how old are you this year?

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