Grinders Bite Back

Common sense has to guide all of our actions and reactions when working with shop machinery—even the relatively "safe" tools.

Common sense has to guide all of our actions and reactions when working with shop machinery—even when using those relatively "safe" tools.

The other day, while grinding a fresh edge on my turning chisels, I was reminded of a rather searing injury from my past. It’s proof that sometimes the “safe” tools are the ones that bite you back. Here’s what happened…

You might remember an Arts & Crafts Wine Cabinet I built for the magazine back in the August 2003 issue. I was nearly finished with the project and ready to hang the doors. The hinge screws were all a little too long to work right, so I decided to grind them down instead of buying shorter ones. Nothing particularly unsafe about that.

Or so I thought.

I turned on the grinder and got down to work, shortening and installing each screw. All the while, I left the grinder running on the bench. Little did I know that the it was slowly but surely vibrating its way toward the edge of the bench. That demon machine.

And then, calamity struck. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the grinder tip toward the floor, headed for a nosedive. Reflex, instead of good common sense took over, and I shot my arm out to push it back to safety. My right index finger got there first…I planted it straight into the coarse wheel, spinning at 3600 revolutions per minute.

Here’s where the pain comes in.

The wheel grabbed my finger and pulled it into the gap in front of the toolrest—a gap just wide enough to lodge a pinch of skin and fingernail. Still spinning at full power, mind you. Now, I wasn’t actually trapped in that agonizing situation for more than maybe two seconds before yanking myself free. But, a little circumference math tells me that I was basically dragging my finger along a 40-grit surface for nearly a football field. Not really what you ever want to do.

Aside from the white-hot pain radiating down my arm, I could smell seared flesh. Mine.

Turns out, grinding wheels have a cauterizing effect, so the bleeding was pretty minimal. Who knew?! Fortunately, I had only removed a chunk of my fingertip and nail. But there was plenty of pain to follow, thanks to some debridement at Urgent Care. And, to add insult to injury, the nurse informed me that her father, a lifelong woodworker, had never been hurt in the shop. Just what I needed to hear right about then…

Ever started your day in the workshop and ended it here? I did, and thankfully my lesson didn't cause irreversable harm.

Have you ever started your day in the workshop and ended it here? I did, and thankfully my accident didn't cause irreversible harm.

There you have it, a very painful lesson learned—and one I’ll never forget. Now, it’s your turn. Care to share one of your “Homer Simpson” shop accidents with the rest of us? Maybe we can commiserate about our REALLY stupid shop injuries. Please post it, because you’ll be in good company. And, I bet we can all learn something from it.

Catch you in the shop,

Chris Marshall, Field Editor

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About Chris Marshall

Chris Marshall has been writing for Woodworker's Journal as a contributing editor and field editor since 2001. Prior to that, he spent five years developing home improvement and woodworking books. He's written five of them and has served as a contributing writer on many more. A wood and tool junkie since childhood, Chris thoroughly enjoys building projects and reviewing woodworking tools for the Journal. When he's not assembling new machinery, sawing parts, taking photos or crunching text for an upcoming story, he enjoys spending time with his family and a houseful of pets at their home in rural Ohio.

4 thoughts on “Grinders Bite Back

  1. Glenn,

    How right you are, and as they say, hindsight is 20/20. That grinder gets clamped down every time now.

    Thanks for posting!


  2. Well, the injury did leave a little scar, but I guess it’s a good reminder of what NOT to do again. And, as a tee shirt I have says, “Scars are like tattoos with better stories.”

    Now you know one of mine!


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