484 “The Accident”

May 2, 2012

We’re now about halfway through Safety Week 2012 and hopefully you’ve found that one or two golden nuggets you’ll carry with you every time you step in the shop.

Regardless of what it is, the most important thing is to take what you’ve learned this week and turn it into the kind of habit that becomes second nature.  Because it’s those kind of habits that one day could be the difference between a close call in the shop or a trip to the Emergency Room…or worse.

Woodworking to me is the kind of past time and lifestyle that is probably best learned by observation and learning from our mistakes.  No one makes perfect dovetails the first time out and no one WON’T have a close call or two in the shop over their lifetime.

The real responsibility of every woodworker when it comes to safety is to develop a set of best practices they can count on to greatly minimize the chance of an accident occurring.  Because the truth is, there will never be a way to completely eliminate them.  

Last year while working on a project for the show, I had one of those accidents that could have been life altering.  I made a number of mistakes that in hindsight leave me feeling embarrassed and angry at myself.

On today’s episode you’ll see footage from this accident.  I won’t lie, it’s graphic so please consider that before you watch.  But the big lesson for today will be about what went wrong, what I could’ve possibly done to prevent it and hopefully you’ll learn from my mistake so you don’t make one just like it or worse.

As I mentioned in the episode, here’s a link to the video at Popular Woodworking Magazine featuring Bob Lang’s Trim Router base CLICK HERE. Don’t be surprised if it shows up on the show sometime.

Episode available for download in the following formats:
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Comments (24)

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  1. John Verreault says:

    Matt you are damned lucky and thank you for sharing that video. I am just greatful that you escaped with a fairly minor wound and all your digits still attached. No one should reprimand you on this (I’m sure Samantha already did)! You know what went wrong and have taken steps to prevent it from ever reoccurring.
    I’m helping teach a beginner’s woodworking class in the evenings right now and will bring up the whole Safety Week event in the class tomorrow–oddly enough we are starting a section on routing. Great video and thanks for sharing what is obviously a very unsettling episode in your woodworking journey.

    Take care my friend,


  2. Ian Mackay says:

    Thanks for sharing Matt….been there, haven’t done that…but I’ve done my share of stupid things because I was trying to hurry through it.

    Oh, and chicks dig scars. 🙂


  3. Corey Turner says:

    I was nervous like a little kid about to get a shot watching that video. Thanks for showing us that. I try to do everything I can on the router table, handheld routers still scare me a bit. I always try to make my cut with the router off and make sure everything feels ok before I turn it on and make the actual cut. Glad your ok.


  4. Jim A says:

    Matt, I’m glad you didn’t suffer any lasting ill effects from this. I know it wasn’t easy revisiting something as unsettling as this, and thanks for sharing both the video of the incident and your insight gained from analyzing what went wrong.

  5. Dave says:

    I wish you would have mentioned the fact that it was a climb cut earlier in the video as that was the first thing I noticed. I think that would fit in with either of the first two points you make.

    Glad the damage wasn’t too severe and that you were willing to share so we can all learn the lesson.

    • Matt says:

      Mentioning it was a climb cut was suppose to occur earlier in the episode, but as I was recording it kept getting pushed back and it wasn’t until the last minute I remembered THAT was the important point to drive home lol!

  6. R.G.Daniel says:

    Yikes! I was about to invest in a trim router, maybe I’ll wait on that… I’m not sure why you wouldn’t just do that flush trimming on the router table though, that’s how I always flush trim to a template… I never feel very comfortable (never mind complacent) with a handheld, so I use the table wherever I can…

    • Matt says:

      For this particular project I ended up doing just that…finishing the template routing on the router table instead.

      That’s where I’ll probably be doing 99% of my template work from this point forward.

  7. David says:

    Hang in there Matt… I had a similar experience using a lock-mitre bit in the router table. I was cutting a small/narrow test piece and just as I had the thought that I should’ve set up a taller fence with no gap the workpiece got pulled into the fence gap … along with my hand. I lost some meat at the tip of one of my fingers (no bone) in what the ER doctor said was an “angry wound”… a raged hamburger wound. It didnt’ get stiches and could only be wrapped up once they stopped the bleeding.

    It was really late (after midnight), I was tired, and I was home alone rushing trying to get something done because I knew I wound’t have any more shop time that weekend.

    Like your injury… it wasn’t major, but enough to teach me a real lesson.

    • Matt says:

      I’m glad to hear YOU’RE alright, that sounds horrifying! But the lesson from both of us for everyone is…call it a day even when you think you can go “just a little more”!

  8. Tom Collins says:


    First of all I am glad you were not hurt badly. You mention the climb cut at the end of the video, but that is the overwhelming cause of this accident. Anytime you climb cut, you are at great risk of the bit grabbing the work piece and either sending it or the router flying. Your poor control of the router and your stance made it impossible for you to overpower the grab. Also trim routers are light, so they do not do much to resist the movement of the grab like a heavy full size router would. Lessons to be learned:

    Don’t climb cut, and it you do have the work piece secured, take a light cut, have a good stance with the work comfortably in front of you, have both hands securely holding the router, and be ready for a grab.
    Trim routers are not the best choice for climb cutting because they often do not offer handles so both hands can easily be used. They also are too light to offer any resistance to being thrown by a grab.

    I just wanted to make this clear, so any new woodworkers can understand what happened so they do not have to be affaid of trim routers and can be safe and successful with their use.

  9. Marty Backe says:

    Thanks for sharing the video (it was great that the quality was good enough to allow you to show it in slow motion). Besides understanding why it happened, it makes you (me) hypersensitive when operating a small router.

    BTW, I still use two hands when operating my trim router, which I think reduces the opportunity of the router to get away from you in situations like this.

  10. Brent McDonald says:

    Germ, (Matt’s college fraternity nickname)
    Routers are dangerous little bastards. I had a near miss a year ago when using a VERY large 2″ round over bit. Apparently I did not torque down the Colette enough and the bit launched out of that sucker when running at full speed and tore into a box on the floor near by spinning at a zillion RPMs. Thank God nobody and no projects were hurt. Heck I just had another close call with a router Wednesday. One of the bolts that hold the plastic base affixed to the metal base had fallen out and the plastic spun around into the bit launching plastic shrapnel in all directions. I’m glad I had my protective glasses on.

    Great show brother,

    • Matt says:

      Brent I have to confess, even before this accident occurred, what you described has always been my greatest fear.

      I have become obsessive compulsive about the collet. I probably spend more time checking and rechecking it vs actual time spent routing with the bit in it!

      Thanks for sharing.

  11. Walt says:

    Hey Matt,

    WOW ! Thanks for sharing, no reason to blast you on it, we all learn from our mistakes. I appreciate you bringing it to our attention. I have also been in the shop when I shouldn’t have been, tired. It really is a wake up call for all of us. I may have just been lucky and got away with it at the time. I’m glad all is well with you. The mental scars, as well the visual I’m sure serve as a constant reminder but also keeps us as well as you, sharper while in the shop. Thanks again, for sharing, it really was a wake up call for me. We all get comfortable using certain tools and need to be aware of the proper use of them as well the respect we need to have for them, or that one mistake can be costly..

    Take Care,


  12. Bill says:

    Of all the power tools I own, the router is the one that has always scared me the most. I don’t know if it is because it is the loudest or the one that spins the fastest. (I did have a 3″ block of rock maple get pinched on a router table while milling out a 2″ deep groove. But I had taken a lot of precautions beforehand, so I just backed away and turned the router off. The block (literally) popped out as the router spun down… and the 1/2 straight bit was slightly bent afterwards. Fortunately it was my last one out of a dozen pieces.) But I can totally empathize with the psychological effect you mentioned.

    The idea of not using a fence and just a starter pin on a router table makes me break out into a sweat!

    Mark (TWW) once noted that he likes his big Festool router, just because it is massive. So massive that it takes effort to move it around, and less likely to move at the whims of wood grain. I recently got the Dewalt trim router, and really like it but I think of Mark’s sentiment each time I choose which router to use for a specific operation.

  13. Josh says:

    A little over a year ago I had an accident at the router table. I was putting a groove in a length of wood without using any feather boards or push sticks because I wasn’t thinking. The router spit the wood through and sucked my fingers in and thankfully spit them back out. I was able to just bandage it up and in a few weeks it was completely healed (minus my thumbnail which was still growing out the damaged area.

    I counted the number of cuts in my 3 fingers and used the router speed to calculate how fast it happened. My fingers were in-and-out in 10 milliseconds.

    It was scary, and I am glad that it wasn’t any worse. There are two positives…
    1. I completely respect my router now. I wouldn’t use it without some kind of push device and feather boards now no matter how large the work piece or simple the cut.
    2. My mother-in-law replaced my cheap craftsman router table with a brand new Kreg router table and fence, to encourage safe practices. Part of the reason I was not using the appropriate safety equipment when the accident happened was that I found it very difficult to setup all the guards, feather boards and push devices on my old table. The new table makes it so easy that I am never tempted to save time by skipping the safety percautions. Tools that encourage safety are worth every penny.

  14. Ralph Thorne says:


    Today I had the time to catch up listening to your podcasts… while I was cutting out parts with a router! That sounds safe doesn’t it? Actually the router is attached to my ShopBot. Today’s work included 150 climb cuts. A router mounted on a cnc machine is another way to safely make climb cuts.

    I’ve read Chuck’s post and recommend anyone reading about your accident to read it too.

    The only thing I can add is, take off the ring. Do this using any power tool. Any cutting edge getting caught on the ring will pull your hand into the machine. This from Josh in his reply “I counted the number of cuts in my 3 fingers and used the router speed to calculate how fast it happened. My fingers were in-and-out in 10 milliseconds.” If this had caught a ring the injury would have been far worse.

    Enjoying the podcasts as always,

    • Matt says:

      Thanks for the advice…I think I better start soaping up my ring finger before the next trip into the shop, it’s been a long time since I tried to take off the ring. I have a feeling my sausage fingers have gotten fatter since the last attempt LOL.

      But it’s a good point to make, thanks!

  15. Bobby Slack says:

    My Festool OF 2200 is my favorite router precisely because I feel like I can control it. Your video was very good because the better we get, we all commit the “Sunny Bono” mistake.
    Thank you you helped me not to be over confident.
    Bobby Slack

  16. Eric says:

    I’m sure this is common knowledge, but a trim router is really designed for a specific purpose: to trim excess plastic laminate while making counter tops, etc. Typically, the bits used for this don’t extend past the base more than 1/8″, and usually extend even less, so the cut is very small indeed. Going past these parameters seriously exceeds their intended use. In fact, they really shouldn’t be used for other operations, except if very small bits, and very small cuts, are intended. They are just too damned unstable to be used otherwise. BTW, I have a 4″ scar running up my arm that can attest to this, so, welcome to the club I suppose. :/

    • Matt Vanderlist says:

      Yeah, my trim router is being set on a shelf until something more suited for it comes along. Like trimming laminate…or veneer LOL.

      Are there jackets in this club? Or just long sleeve shirts?

      • Eric says:

        Those leather sleeves falconers wear might be appropriate. or welder’s gloves. or we could just bump around the shop in full suits or armor.

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