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In the Make: Online Toolbox, we focus mainly on tools that fly under the radar of more conventional tool coverage: in-depth tool-making projects, strange or specialty tools unique to a trade or craft that can be useful elsewhere, tools and techniques you may not know about, but once you do, and incorporate them into your workflow, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them. And, in the spirit of the times, we pay close attention to tools that you can get on the cheap, make yourself, or refurbish.


Since it’s Projects: Failure month, we figured it might be a good idea to cover some first aid in Toolbox, ’cause frequently, when projects fail, danger and injury go hand and hand. Here are a few suggestions for first aid kits and supplies to have on-hand.

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Years ago, I contributed to Kevin Kelly’s self-published Cool Tools book. As “payment,” he sent me the Adventure Medical Fundamentals First Aid kit. I love it and it’s become the basis of our home and workshop first aid kit. It’s geared towards outdoor use (hiking, camping, and such), but with a few additions, it works great as an overall kit. Along with the tools, med supplies, and medications, it comes with an excellent first aid field manual. It’s all stored in a very compact, water-resistant zippered case. At an SRP of $110, this might seem like overkill, but it has pretty much everything you need for just about any type of emergency. If you do any camping, boating, hiking, long-distance cycling, long-trip car traveling, etc., it’s worth the price (and you can get it online for $87).

Here’s part of Kevin’s review on Cool Tools:

They appear to be expensive, but are really not when you tally up the costs of the components — most of which have a pretty long shelf life.

The kits from Adventure Medical Kits are highly praised in search and rescue fields. Expeditions carry larger versions. The case is hardy, lightweight, and quick to navigate through. An amazing amount of stuff is squirreled away inside, all easy to reach.

The kit I prefer, the AMK Fundamentals, contains a full spectrum of basic first aids, burn materials, CPR mouth barrier, scissors, tweezers, syringe, plenty variety of bandages, a SAMS splint (which I wish I had earlier when my wife broke her wrist), a decent small emergency medical book (Wilderness and Travel Medicine), and extra containers for personalized pill transport. With this kit you’d be prepared to handle most injuries a non-doctor could manage. It is rated for 1-8 people and is one of the more complete versions available.

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When I put the word out that I was looking for input on first aid, eye washing station was high on a lot of people’s list. As Riley Porter from HacDC writes:

I am getting this. Seems a bit big, but better safe than sorry.

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Tom Lee suggest a cheaper, more basic…ah… solution.

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Martin writes: For small cuts – Cyanoacrylate adhesive (aka Super Glue). My dermatologist recommended it and carries a little tube in his pocket.

Phil Stewart, of HacDC, had this excellent advice to offer:

I’d say you want four things for safety, one of which is the first aid kit:

1) Proper training in the use of shop equipment to ensure that care will be well guided. Avoidance is the best first defense.
2) Simple training for treatment of common injuries, with focus on injuries that require fast treatment (chemical and heat burns are foremost in my mind now, as I type with a scald wound on my left hand). Only with foreknowledge can treatment be speedy.
3) Proper safety equipment (full-coverage goggles etc.)
4) A well-equipped first aid kit –I’ll advocate for gauze bandages, medical tape, self-adhesive tape of the kind that can be removed without much force, such as Johnson & Johnson Hurt-Free Wrap. A variety of Band-Aid-style bandages is good. Fresh antibiotic ointment is good (I think). Burn ointment *not needed* — as first aid it can exacerbate a burn, if used while the skin requires cooling. (Your question is inspiring me to wonder if my present kit is complete. Hmm.)

A shower is de rigueur where any caustic chemicals are used. Not just desirable. If acids or strong alkali get in your clothing, it has to come off fast and be washed off fast, thoroughly, without regard to modesty.

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A couple of related thoughts:

1) I’m a big fan of fire extinguishers. And familiarity with their use. If you’ve ever seen a mushroom cloud come up out of somebody’s fried prawn experiment and hit the ceiling, you might even agree with them. Or for that matter, if you’ve seen two families in ten years on your street spend Christmas homeless because of good cooking gone bad–fire engines lining your street and creating a slick of ice three hundred yards long by morning.

2) We live in an individualist society, but keeping a safety-conscious culture is necessary to safety. If the group using a lab dissuades dangerous practices, those practices will not get out of hand. Keep risks on the level of burning out a transistor or latching up an op amp–you know, the kind of risks you have to take to learn good design. :)

One of the cool things that come out of this discussion on the HacDC list is the possibility of organizing a first aid/CPR class for interested HacDC members.

Kevin’s Cool Tools site has additional reviews of first aid kits, extinguishers, safety and health tools in the Health section of the site.

What first aid equipment and supplies to you keep in your work area? Please share in the Comments.

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Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn is a freelancer writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture, including the first book about the web (Mosaic Quick Tour) and the Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots. He is currently working on a best-of collection of his writing, called Borg Like Me.


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