Carving knives must be razor sharp. The test is to see if you can take thin slices from a piece of paper. It’s quite satisfying when your blade reaches that degree of sharpness. But when a knife is that sharp you can slice yourself in an instance.
I have shed blood and one chisel cut got infected which, unfortunately, required antibiotics. That was my own fault because I didn’t do proper first aid. Since then, when I sliced myself I stopped, bled it really well, cleaned the wound with alcohol, applied some antibiotic ointment and a band aid. It only took me about six cuts to decide to take some precautions.
I’m impressed watching carving videos that these experts normally don’t wear any kind of protection. I’ve sliced myself enough that I came to the conclusion it was better to be safe than sorry and I’ve gotten used to wearing a carver’s glove, a thumb guard and a leather apron.
The glove has metal threads running through it and although it isn’t foolproof it does offer a first line of defense. I’ve manage to slice through the glove but didn’t cut myself. Since my right thumb (my cutting hand) is always in jeopardy I wear a thumb guard. You can buy thumb guards or wrap some duct tape around your finger. I cut the fingers out of old leather gloves and that seems to work fine.
I haven’t cut myself since getting religious about protecting my fingers except for one small knick when I got too close to the corner of the carving hatchet.
The best protection against cuts are the different techniques for carving—grips and movements that limit how far the blade can travel. You can also use the piece you are carving for protection by keeping wood between your fingers and the blade or, in the case of the hatchet, by choking up considerably on the handle. Securing the work is also important using a vice, a shaving horse (another kind of vice), carving stump or hold fasts to keep the work from moving around.
Cuts are annoying but tendonitis, carpal tunnel or repetitive motion injuries are potentially a bigger problem. Yesterday I whacked away on a bowl with a hatchet, chisel and mallet and adze for over three hours. I wear one of those straps that tennis players wear to keep from getting tennis elbow. I stop periodically and do a series of stretches. My arm is often sore to the touch from elbow to wrist but, with the precautions I’m taking, with massage and liniment I’ve avoided anything that keeps me from carving. This type of carving is quite vigorous. My guess is that if some kind of injury stops me from carving it won’t be a cut. It will be sore muscles or ligaments.