Feb 142016

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.

IMG_5988I 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.

IMG_7559The 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.


  3 Responses to “Safety First”

  1. Do be careful of over-use injuries, very easy to acquire though they take more time and determination than cuts. Last spring I got a bit obsessive (ha!) about carving, I was putting in several hrs a day / evening, often without breaks because I was having so much fun. Also I was working on a piece that I fixed way too high on a hydrolic vise I like, so my right arm/shoulder was inappropriately elevated. Not smart.

    I started to get a sore right shoulder but of course totally ignored it: Push on, right? By early May, it was so sore all the time that I started to have trouble sleeping. Pushed on anyway, added in moving concrete blocks for new garden terrace steps. Figured it would heal itself. uh-huh…. by the end of June I had neck as well as shoulder/arm pain and couldn’t raise my arm above my shoulder, couldn’t pick up even my coffee cup with my right arm, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t reach behind me at all – aspirin & rest did nada. Brain started to kick in at long last, saying, “what have I done? What if the shoulder/arm pain is referred paid from worsened cervical arthritis?” After a trip to the doc, x-rays, trip to orthopedic specialist (good one), the diagnosis was ‘frozen shoulder’. (Lots of info on the web). After several PT sessions, several months of fairly diligent stretching etc exercise and absolutely NO carving – actually very little activity – function started to return and pain decreased enough to sleep through the night.

    It was only in January that I was able to safely start carving again. A bit. Now I’m up to ~2 hrs, and when my brain is functioning I take breaks, serious ones (as in: STRETCH then GO SIT DOWN. NOW!). I’ve pretty much got full range back, but not completely pain free. That’s not uncommon with frozen shoulder, which can take anywhere from 6 mo to 3 yrs to resolve. For some people, discomfort never completely goes away.

    Be kind to your body. It’s the only one you have, no matter what your mind (or mindlessness) tells you.

  2. Good strategy for rests while carving: Use your phone timer function. Set it to 30 minutes and then put it as far away from you as possible, so you have to walk over to turn the damn thing off. Breathe deeply a few times, stretch, sweep up shavings, wander outside to the garden for a few minutes.

  3. Both Linda and I have had frozen shoulder (not from carving). In my case, a rolfer put me back in order. LInda’s was more serious and she had prolotherapy. Two treatments set her right. (I never miss an opportunity to suggest alternative therapies!)

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