Just when you think you know it all…
“Hey, I’m a pro, I’ve been woodworking for more than fifty years.”
“I know the drill.”
“I’m in control when I’m working.”
“Trust me, all that stuff about woodturning being a dangerous activity, well that’s way overstated.”
What does all of this have to do with Albrecht Durer’s self diagnostic portrait? Well, just when you’re thinking that you know it all, the “woodworking gods” look down and come to the decision that you, the very experienced woodworker, need to be reminded that you’re simply not really in total control in many of the things that you’re doing. Much of the time we’re “skating very near the edge” and until the ice breaks, we don’t realize how near disaster we are.
A couple of weeks ago I was turning a natural edge bowl out of “dripping wet” cherry. I’ve done a good number of these bowls and this one was coming along nicely. I was finished all but for the sanding, when I decided that I’d increase the rev’s a little to “centrifuge” some of the remaining moisture from the end grain in the “winged” portion of the bowl. I was standing behind the rest, marveling at the feeling of “spray” coming off the bowl when a sound like a rifle shot rang out. I felt a “thump” on my turning smock and looked to the chuck only to find it empty. Apparently, there was a buried check in the tenon that was that was being held in the chuck. The uneven forces placed on the bowl during rotation had levered the check to the point of complete failure and the bowl shot out of the chuck like wooden shrapnel. Fortunately, no one, with the exception of myself, was on the receiving end of “flying debris”. But, here’s where Durer’s image comes into play:
Luckily my face and hands were well out of the way. But the lesson was pretty darned clear – use good safety practice any time you’re working around any kind of machinery. The more experienced we are, the more apt we are to “push the envelope”. So I’m taking this as a welcome reminder to always stay well within the safe turning speed range which is easily determined by finding a number in the range of six to nine thousand when you multiply the starting diameter of your work by your intended operating r.p.m. Now, that said, you can be operating well within safe limits and something can go wrong (unseen check, for example). This fact alone, supports the notion of using the proper safety gear. Always protect your face and eyes. Don’t wear loose clothing, especially big sleeves. Be careful with gloves. Be VERY careful when sanding. Use paper towels (not cloth rags) for polishing.
When all is said and done, turning is a safe pastime. But prudence should be your “constant companion” when you’re in the workshop.
(Please, no “baby fat” comments. I’m trying to do a public service, after all)