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Carpentry Safety; Why Bother?

In my first year of carpentry on a framing crew I was a walking accident looking for a place to happen! The construction trades can be a very dangerous profession, so whether you are a working carpenter or starting a home project listen up!

Modern tools are designed with various safety mechanisms and these are for your own good, learn to use them. Nail guns and staplers have two activation devices; the trigger and a safety tip that must both be pressed. As a young carpenter I would walk around with my finger in constant pull upon the trigger. This allowed me to just press the nose of the gun against a surface and it would activate. Well I remember stapling siding and walking past a window and bumping the window, bam! a staple went right through the window. Again on the same crew doing siding, the boss was bent over securing the board and I was behind him ready to staple it, he backed up and bang the staple went right through his pant into his butt crack! Amazing it missed his butt and his spinal cord! But what a stupid sad thing almost happened. I think that was the end of my sloppy careless gun maneuvering.

Most experienced carpenters of course are very quick with a nail or staple gun but also very wise in handling it. The only time I keep the trigger pressed on a staple gun is when doing large sections of plywood and the gun is right near the surface continually. With a framing nail gun I almost always wait until I feel the tip connect the surface and then press the trigger. Experience will dictate when you need to make consecutive shots and keep the trigger pulled. If you doubt me on this just visit your local emergency room and watch how many carpenters come in with nails in their flesh.

Circular saws come with a blade guard the retreats as the saw moves over the wood. For some cuts especially miters this device can be awkward. Often amateur carpenters will use a shim to wedge the guard out of the way or remove it completely. I remember a novice saying that he thought all real carpenters did this, “no way! I said”. Once you wedge the guard back it never really works the same. A classic accident I remember with a guard wedged back was a guy cutting tails off of trusses and between cuts he set the saw on his leg, it went right into the flesh of his thigh. I know it sounds incredibly stupid, but it’s true. These guards are a little nuisance but worth learning how to work with.

I will admit that there are times when some safety rules and tools can be a hazard in themselves but mostly I’ve grown to appreciate them. I’ve been a carpenter for over 30 years and still have all my fingers. I have only suffered one broken rib and one nail through my toe and of course many minor injuries such as smashing my thumb or getting splinters. But one must learn quickly to look out for ourselves in all construction trades.

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