What's the best way to
dangerous tool practices
without taking the
risk of hurting someone? With a
crash test dummy, of course. It's just
not easy to explain stupid techniques
using words alone. That's
where our dummy, Nigel, comes in!
Every year, emergency rooms
report 120,000 visits for injuries
caused by four tools: table saws,
circular saws, nail guns and utility
knives. Add to this the 200,000
ER visits for eye injuries—a large percentage
of which occur during work
around the house—and it's easy to
see how we came up with this list
of the most dangerous don'ts.
Our dummy, Nigel, is making some
common mistakes that can result in
severe injuries. But these are only a
few examples of things not to do.
Don't you be a dummy! When you
start on your next project, keep these
don'ts in mind so you don't become
the next statistic.
Don't use the table saw fence for crosscuts
Nigel the dummy is demonstrating one of the most
dangerous table saw practices: cutting a board to
length using the fence as a guide. There's a good
chance the board will get pinched between the blade
and the fence and get thrown back into his body with
lots of force. That nasty incident is called “kickback.”
Broken thumbs, cracked ribs, ruptured spleens and
punctured eyes are only a few of the resultant
injuries you can suffer. About 35,000 people end up
in the emergency room every year with table saw
injuries, with 10 percent of them hospitalized.
Industry experts estimate that about half of table saw
injuries are caused either directly or indirectly by
In addition to avoiding the dangerous technique
Nigel is using to crosscut a board, here are a few
other ways to prevent kickback injuries:
- Don't cut anything that's longer than it is wide with
the shorter side against the fence. If you want to
crosscut with a table saw, use the miter or a crosscutting
sled. Learn how to build a crosscutting sled here.
- Avoid ripping wet, bowed or twisted lumber.
- Position your body to the right or left of the miter
saw slots, not directly behind the blade.
- Don't let bystanders walk behind you when you're
operating the saw.
Nigel the dummy on the table sawCAUTION:
Don't use the fence as a
guide for crosscutting.
Instead, use the miter
gauge or build a crosscutting
Don't remove that blade guard!
Every table saw sold includes a blade
guard, which has a splitter attached.
The guard covers the blade, preventing
you from accidentally touching it, and
the splitter keeps wood from pinching
on the blade and kicking back. Don't
take them off! Sure, the guard may be a
nuisance at times, but it's better to be
inconvenienced than to lose one or
more fingers. Of the 35,000 emergency
room visits we talked about earlier, 83
percent involve contact with the blade.
If you're buying a table saw, consider
spending extra for the SawStop brand.
It's the only saw on the market that
stops the blade when skin touches it. If
your blade guard is missing, contact
the manufacturer for a replacement. An
add-on guard like the HTC Brett-Guard
($200 to $375) is a good option if your
original guard is missing or doesn't
work well. If $200 sounds like too
much money, ask yourself what a finger
Even with a blade guard installed,
you should keep your fingers away
from the blade. Always use a push stick
for rips less than 4 in. wide. If you're
using your thumb to push the piece
and the piece kicks back, you risk torn
ligaments, tendons and broken bones.
Push the cut piece past the blade, turn
off the saw and wait for the blade to
stop before retrieving the ripped piece.
Don't reach near a spinning blade to
remove a cutoff.
Nigel Ripping Without Blade GuardCAUTION:
Even a dummy should
have enough common
sense to avoid this technique.
Nigel's finger is so
close to the blade that a
split second of inattention
or a kickback could send
him to the crash-test
Don't put your hand directly behind a circular saw
There are an estimated 14,000 visits to
the emergency room every year as a
result of circular saw injuries. Many of
these injuries result in lost or severely
damaged fingers. When you're using a
circular saw, remember that if the blade
binds, the saw can shoot backward a lot
faster than you can move your hand out
of the way. Anything in the blade's path,
including fingers, hands, legs or feet, is
in danger of getting cut. Avoid the risk
by clamping your work and keeping
both hands on the saw whenever possible.
Also keep your body to the side of
the saw rather than directly behind it.
Nigel cutting with a circular sawCAUTION:
Don't hold a board like
this. Use a temporary nail
or clamp instead. Nigel
risks losing a finger or two
if the saw binds.
Don't put your hands near a nail gun
Even if you're a nail gun expert, nails
don't always go straight. Wood grain or
knots can deflect the nail and cause it
to shoot out the side of the board. If
you're driving the nail at an angle to
toenail a board, there's a good chance
the nail can glance off and go shooting
into space. If you must hold a board
with your free hand, keep it well away
from the nail gun muzzle. If you're
reaching over a board to hold it down,
move your hand out of the nail's path.
Also avoid shooting into large knots
that can deflect the nail. And, of
course, always wear eye protection
when you're using a nail gun.
Nigel using a nail gunCAUTION:
Don't hold a board
close to the nail gun
tip. Move your hand as
far back as possible to
avoid getting a nail
through your finger.
Don't be sloppy with nail guns
You've all seen the news stories.
X-rays of big nails embedded in someone's
head, lodged in a spine or stuck
in a foot. Ask any carpenter and you're
sure to hear a story
about a nail that went
through a finger or
hand. A tool that's
powerful enough to
shoot a 3-in.-long nail
into wood can easily
penetrate skin and
bone. Depending on
the type, some nail
guns can be set to
“bump-trip.” In this mode, the operator
can simply hold down the trigger and
bump the nail gun nose against the surface
to shoot a nail. This is great for
speeding up jobs like nailing down
plywood sheathing, but it creates a risk
if you hold the trigger while carrying
the nail gun. Bump your leg and you'll
be heading to the emergency room. In
incidents where accidental contact
caused an injury, more than 80 percent
of the time the operator had a finger on
There are two ways to avoid this.
First, get out your owner's manual and
see if you can set your nail gun to
sequential mode. This requires you to
push down the muzzle and then pull
the trigger for each nail. Second, keep
your hand off the trigger when you're
carrying a nail gun, or better yet,
unplug the hose. Then there's no
chance of accidental firing.
Nigel nailing his kneeCAUTION:
Nigel should have
disconnected the hose
and kept his finger off the
trigger while he went for
his lunch break. You can
reduce the chance of a nail
gun injury by taking these
Don't get careless with a knife
Power tools are one thing, but did you
know that utility knives are one of the
most dangerous tools, accounting for a
whopping 60,000 estimated emergency
room visits a year? One slip is all it
takes to put a deep cut in any body part
that's in the way. And while most cuts
are superficial and may only require a
few stitches, permanent tendon and
nerve damage is common.
The best way to avoid an injury is to
clamp materials whenever possible to
avoid having to hand-hold them. If you
do have to hold something while
you're cutting, imagine a line at right
angles to the cutting line and keep your
hand behind it (on the dull side of the
Nigel with utility knife and straight edgeCAUTION:
Nigel's finger is in the
danger zone. If the knife
slips, he'll end up with a
nasty cut or worse. Keep
your hands out of the
Don't risk your eyes
It's hard to think of a good reason not to
wear safety glasses, goggles or a face
shield when you're working around the
house. It's obvious that Nigel should be
wearing his face shield. Of the more
than 200,000 emergency room visits a
year for eye injuries, at least 10,000 of
them involve grinders. Browsing accident
reports on the Internet will convince
you of the risk. Wood chips,
metal shards, bits of tile, household
chemicals, paint, solvents and sticks
are some of the things that injure eyes.
The good news is that it's easy to protect
your vision. Just choose the right
eye protection for the task at hand. For
general work around the house, wear
ANSI-approved safety glasses or goggles.
Look on the frame for the “Z87+”
marking, which indicates that the
glasses are rated for high impact. Wear
a face shield for grinding operations.
Buy several pairs of safety glasses and
keep them in convenient locations so
you'll always have them on hand.
Nigel sharpening chisel on a grinderRED ALERT:
Nigel is a dummy! He's got
eye protection readily
available and isn't using it.
Keep eye protection handy
and don't forget to wear it.