The construction industry is well known for being dangerous. In the UK it was the industry with the highest rate of fatal accidents in the year 2021/22, with 30 deaths in total. These were mostly due to falls from height and being struck by vehicles and other objects.
According to self-reported statistics for the same period, 2.88% of construction workers reported a workplace injury.
The most common injuries were due to lifting and carrying, falls, and hit by moving or falling objects.
A carpenter is a construction worker, and as a result they fall into these statistics. However, carpenters do work with a lot of sharp hand tools and power tools. This means that minor cuts are also a very regular occurrence.
Most of the time this is just small cuts. However, there is the risk of more serious injury.
If care is not taken, losing fingers is a very real risk for carpenters. Power tools, such as chop saws and circular saws, certainly have the potential to remove a digit quite easily.
When I was working as an apprentice, a fellow trainee and friend of mine, did actually lose a finger on site.
We were working in a pub refurbishment, and towards the end of the day, one of our jobs as apprentice workers, was cleaning up and loading tools back into the van.
My friend had an accident while picking up one of the chop saws on site. As he grabbed the saw by the trigger handle, he applied pressure, which opened the guard, and caused the blade to spin.
At the same time, his other hand went underneath to grab below the guard. Before he had time to think, he had lost half of one finger and damaged a second.
The first thing to point out, is this was a terrible way to pick up a chop saw. The blade should have been down and locked in place to stop this happening.
Secondly, it should have been unplugged. The saw was still attached to a power cable and a transformer, so it couldn’t be moved anyway.
This accident can be put down to working with dangerous tools, combined with naivety and lack of experience.
Thankfully, my friend recovered. The injury was to his left hand, and since he was right handed, it didn’t completely ruin his career, and he is now a very successful, qualified carpenter.
Dangerous carpentry and joiners power tools.
- Chop saw – As we have already mentioned, injuries with this tool are not uncommon. When cutting small pieces with a chop saw, fingers can get very close to the blades, and injuries do happen.
- Circular saw – Again, this has a round blade similar to a chop saw and it could easily take off a finger.
- Jigsaw – Losing a finger with this tool is less likely, but it could certainly cause some serious damage.
- Table saw – This is more commonly found in a joinery workshop, and fingers are often running very close to the blades. One slip and you could lose a finger.
- Thickness planer – This is another common workshop tool and wood is usually pushed over the cutter. I personally planed the fingerprint of my left thumb with this very tool around 20 years ago, and you can still clearly see the scar. See pic below:
Can you lose a finger with hand tools?
You are very unlikely to lose a finger due to an accident with a hand tool. Maybe something like a sharp axe, but more common tools like hand saws and chisels would struggle to completely remove a finger.
With that said, these tools can still cause some serious damage if not used correctly.
Personal anecdote #2
When I was training in carpentry, I spent one day per week at college. Whilst at college we would be practicing and building things out of wood.
There was a workshop to the rear of the area we worked in, with various woodworking machines, and a worker called Dougie, If you needed wood cutting or planing to size, he was the guy you went to.
He was also very good at sharpening tools. As a result, people would bring in chisels and other blades for him to sharpen.
One thing he would always say is, “do you want them sharp, or do you want them finger losing sharp”.
This was no joke; he would get your chisels razor sharp. They were so sharp, you could run a chisel on the back of your arm without any pressure, and it would literally shave the hairs right off.
Ironically, you are actually more likely to injure yourself with blunt hand tools. A sharp tool gives you more control and mistakes are far less likely.
How to avoid losing fingers and other injuries
In the worst case scenario, carpenters, and joiners, can, and do lose fingers.
Most accidents happen due to complacency. The best way to avoid these types of injury, is to remain vigilant and fully concentrate when using these tools.
Use guards where possible and keep hands as far away from the blades as possible. You should also wear the relevant PPE to mitigate the risk.
For smaller cuts and injuries, these are usually par for the course. It’s very likely you will sustain a minor cut here and there. However, you should always use best practice with the tools you are using.
A lot of this will come with experience and small scratches and cuts will be less common as you learn the trade.
Also, make sure your tools are sharp.
Whilst a sharper tool can potentially do more damage, you are far more likely to sustain and injury with blunt tools.