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Make: Asks is a weekly column where we ask you, our readers, for responses to maker-related questions. We hope the column sparks interesting conversation and is a way for us to get to know more about each other.

This week’s question: What mishaps or near-misses have you had while working on a project, and how did you learn from them?

I was once building a telepresence setup and stereotypically hit my thumb with a hammer. It had to be lanced and I learned to try not to put myself into any more knuckle-busting situations.

Post your responses in the comments section.

Michael Colombo

In addition to being an online editor for MAKE Magazine, Michael Colombo works in fabrication, electronics, sound design, music production and performance (Yes. All that.) In the past he has also been a childrens’ educator and entertainer, and holds a Masters degree from NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program.


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Comments

  1. My most recent near miss was while helping to repair a trailer. When we came to move it off the blocks and onto a more stable surface for welding and general hitting with hammers (Turns out there may be easier ways to remove stubborn bolts that don’t involve a sledge hammer, who would have thought that was even possible?), we managed to move everything out the way to put it down, except one or two vital things. My feet. Safe to say I have a renewed love for my safety boots after that (Poor things get abused with the amount I drop/kick/dodge). With the weight of the trailer, it is safe to say I would have broken something. Just goes to show, no matter how silly you think it may be, how uncomfortable, or whatever your disagreement, use your safety equipment. It is always worth the money to get the stuff that works for you. The expense of buying this gear is much more tolerable than the injuries you could receive without it.

  2. Rolando says:

    I was once replacing the brake pads on an older model car, using needle nose pliers to remove the spring from the calipers. The pliers lost their grip on the spring, and I beaned myself almost right between the eyes, creating a nice gouge in my face. A couple of inches to the left or right, and I’d have broken my glasses and possibly lost an eye. I’m now much more mindful of direction of travel of sharp pointy objects and the importance of safety glasses.

  3. Ron Hinton says:

    was grinding down a bolt on a small angle grinder once freehand. No gloves no pliars. Had been using the grinder for some time and never had a problem. The bolt got caught, and in an instant hit my finger, tossed the bolt, and somehow wrapped a blood blister 3/4 of the way around my right pointer finger. Now I hold small workpieces that get accelerated quickly in pliers.

  4. ouch that hurt says:

    I respect hammers, axes, dremels, and *especially* electric saws. Apparently I don’t (didn’t) respect drills. Now I do.

    #1 – I was drilling through a small plastic project box with a spade bit, holding it with my hand with my thumb on the inside. “I’ll go slow….” Nope. The bit finished and dropped through the hole and punctured my thumbnail with the spike on the end of the spade bit.

    You’d think I’d learn? Naw, that was just a freak accident!

    #2 – I was remodeling our bathroom, using a hole saw to put a hole in the back of a cabinet. You know hoe it’s a real pain to get the waste circle out from the center of the hole saw? Well if you try to hang on to the wood sticking out real careful and spin the hole saw reeeaaal slow in order to back the wood out, you can manage to almost tear off your fingernail when it catches on the hole saw teeth.

    Stupid stupid stupid. I should have known better. Both times.

    1. diluded000 says:

      I was making a long cut with a round base router running along a guide fence using a spiral router bit in a laminate trimmer sized machine. As I moved the router, it rotated and I felt a strange vibration in my thumb, then I realized I had cut through my thumbnail when my thumb rotated into the top of the router. Thumbnail injuries hurt.

  5. While disassembling x03 disposable cameras I attempted to discharge the flash charging circuit on the third when I thought to myself, “self, you should really be extra careful not to…”. Whap!

    After picking myself up from the floor I proceeded to the next logical stage of looking to and fro with the hope that no one observed the incident. Sadly my wife was having a laughter induced asthma attack at my expense.

    What did I learn? I learned that my testicles hurt more than my pride after pretending that I wouldn’t retrieve her steroid infused inhaler. The end.

  6. John says:

    LOL, just last night, I dropped a Unicorn on my foot while repairing said unicorn. Sadly, my flip flops were not much protection, and have a swollen blackened toe to show for it. http://youtu.be/aw1esgr-vx0

  7. When building a hovercraft do not be too eager to test the lift prop and engine. Wait until you have the throttle cable and finger guards in place. At 16 I had the bone ejected from the end of my right pinky-finger learning this lesson.

  8. diluded000 says:

    From the most recent, backwards a list of incidents and lessons:

    After a day of copper and bronze plating, woke up with a horrid gushing nose bleed from the sulfuric acid. Next time, wear a proper respirator.

    While blacksmithing, picked up black hot metal (multiple times), plunged hand in quench bucket. Next time, tap the metal with fingertips.

    Picked up an off cut from behind the table saw blade, it slipped out of my fingers and I dropped it on the spinning blade. Nice square bruise on my gut, knocked the air out of me. Next time, hang on to board and consider getting a blade guard.

    Stuck my head into the wheel well to see to get the impact wrench on the nut holding the top of the cast iron brake caliper mount. Got it on, pulled the trigger, got whacked in the head when the impact wrench spun the mount and bolt together. Got a concussion. Next time, remove head.

    Jabbed a just broken drill bit into my leg, with the bit being pulled forward as my clothes wrapped around the chuck. Next time, don’t balance all my weight on the drill.

    Was pulling parts at the junkyard, using the jack that was in the trunk of the car. The car rocked off the jack, I jumped out of the way, but was nearly pinned between the falling car and the one next to it. Next time, go to Autozone.

    Near miss with drops of molten MIG wire when sitting crosslegged, and welding. Next time, kneel with a leather apron.

    Got seven stiches from a metal burr from a piece of metal I cut and put in my trunk, then it later fell onto my hand. Next time, always always deburr as soon as the metal is cut.

    Yet another square bruise on my gut. Stacking pieces of material to cut on the miter saw, the top piece was above the fence, it spun and whacked me good. Next time, keep the stack below the fence.

    Using a cutoff wheel in a Dremel, the wheel shattered. A piece stuck in my safety glasses, right in front of my eyeball. Next time, keep wearing safety glasses.

  9. Trav says:

    Last year, I was building a bunk bed for my daughter. I was hammering the rail in place and slipped and hit my arm with the handle of the hammer. The first thought that went through my head was, “That’s a good way to break an arm.” I actually felt OK, but the next day I was wrestling with my son and an hour later my arm was aching. I guess I cracked it and then cracked it open later. Now I keep blaming my son that he broke my arm.

  10. chuck says:

    After Reading The Foxfire book #1 and doing some web research I decided to build a still. I gathered all of the materials together and realized I didn’t have any copper wadding for the column. I zipped down to the local dollar store, bought some copper dish scrubbies, and assembled my new still. I started my first batch, carefully watching the temperature so I’d run out the bad stuff before I started collecting the hooch. It all went well and when I was done I tried a sip. It wasn’t too bad tasting for a first attempt so I had a shot. That went down well so I had one more. About 30 minutes latter I started getting stomach cramps. A little after that I got a wanging headache. I figured the stuff was just way stronger than I had thought and went to sleep. The next morning I felt terrible! I went into the kitchen to clean up the mess from the night before. When I opened the column to clean it, all the copper scrubbies I had used for wadding had turned to a gritty black sludge. I dug through the trash until I found the package the scrubbies came in and noticed the word ‘copper’ was in quotation marks on the label. I don’t know what weird alloy they used but the lesson I learned was don’t trust anything you buy from the dollar store if you want to avoid poisoning yourself.

  11. Greg says:

    I was using a VERY large industrial lathe and I had to change out the chuck. That required a huge wrench, about 2 feet long and several pounds. I forgot that I left the wrench on the chuck when I turned the lathe on. Well, it spun around at about 800 rpm and whacked me in the chest with enough force to push me back. If I was one inch closer I would have broken my collar bone. If I was one inch to the left, I would have split my skull. Needless to say, I never did that again!

    1. chuck says:

      OMG you’re the guy from the high school shop class safety film! I love your work. (sideways smiley thing)

    2. jamesbx says:

      I’m just running a benchtop Harbor Freight 3-in-1, but I spray painted my lathe chuck key bright yellow so I can see it hanging out of the chuck.

  12. rocketguy1701 says:

    In a machine shop class I learned the hard way why you never use rags to clean milling machines, or any other spinning machine tool. It was “almost stopped”, however that’s not “stopped” and a bridgeport mill head has a lot of momentum, even at 10rpm. Sucked in my hand and took off a small chunk of thumb before I could let go, just like that. At that point the instructor declared it was time for a class “safety talk” once the bleeding was controlled. A little late, IMHO…

    Moral of the story: use a shop brush, not rags.

    Also secure anything with any tensile strength that’s attached to you, hair, sleeves etc. *don’t* wear gloves, oddly enough that’s more dangerous with mills and lathes due to the feed in phenomena. Respect machine tools, they can maim or kill you with just one stupid move or moment of inattention, even if you’re smart or experienced. As long as you stay aware of that, you can do great things safely.

  13. Jussi Mäki says:

    Yeah, dont wear gloves while using power tools. This didnt happen to me, but to my dad ~10 years ago. He was drilling with a benchdrill while wearing gloves. The glove catched the bit and almost cut his thumb off the hand. It was hanging on with only a small bit of skin. They still stitched it up in the hospital and now after 10 years he can feel with the tip of the thump again..

  14. quackyquackquack says:

    pneumatic frame nailers are not my friend. Built a house last year and put three 3 1/2″ nails into my hands. First one was someone else’s fault, launched it clear through the fleshy part of my palm and hit me in the chest. No. 2 was my own doing. Nailed my finger underneath the fascia board while 25′ up on a ladder. Only way down was rip my finger off the nail that was going through it. Have no feeling in the end of my left index finger now. Still not sure how No. 3 happened. Nail didn’t go into a board and bounced and ended up stuck in the palm of my hand just below my ring finger. Got a bone spur from that one that grates sometimes.

  15. Karl says:

    My “best” near miss experience involved a power supply from a 286 ibm clone. What big capacitors you have, though I. One slip of a screwdriver later (more or less) and a shower of sparks and the cloud of smoke and ozone told me that I was lucky to be alive. The lesson learned was signs or stickers that say “high voltage do not touch” should not be ignored!

  16. Steve says:

    I’ve started to MIG weld recently, and keep having to learn: “Just because it’s stopped glowing, doesn’t mean it’s cool enough to pick up”. Hopefully someday soon the lesson will stick.

  17. Mr. Shiv says:

    Caught the end of my longish beard in a drill bit. No real harm done, but my wife immediately posted about it on Facebook, and now everyone makes fun of me.

  18. I came within a half inch of losing my left eye once.

    Cutting a piece of polycarbonate on a miter saw, I was being a bit too casual (just a small cut!) and not wearing safety glasses. Ha. The plastic caught a tooth and rode up into the saw body. I had pieces flying everywhere, three teeth! on the saw broke off and flew around and had major bleeding from a cut on my face. A little bit over and I’m sure I would have lost the eye. Ever since then I’ve been paranoid about wearing safety goggles – it’s why I have three sets in the house, each at a spot I work in.

  19. GoodHart says:

    I remember when MUCH younger (aprox. 35 years ago) that being eccectic can have a price. Anxious to pop open an old air ciruculation pump from the under belly of an old IBM 305 type HDD, I grabbed the nearest “tool”, a flat head screw driver.
    Within minutes the now greasy blade of the screw driver was imbedded at a sharp angle nearly 2 inches into the palm of my hand, just below the thumb.
    I kept my cool though, and grabbed some rubbing alcohol we used for cleaning tape drive heads, and an old tooth brush, and cleaned all the grease out of the wound…..because it was a puncture wound though, I had to FORCE it to bleed to make sure it was fully cleaned out. I rarely pry with an old screwdriver anymore :-)

  20. I’m a woodworker and I generally use hand tools for much of my work. Most of my injuries have been small cuts and bruises, nothing to write home about.

    But I did recently buy a table saw. I spent half a week putting the safety features together, building jigs, etc. And then, inspiration struck and I had to get a 19″ x 20″ piece of plywood cut NOW. Screw the safety equipment.

    I crosscut that bad boy without a sled. Big mistake. Midway through the cut, the plywood stalled, caught the blade and kicked back. Luckily, my hands were well away from the blade and I was standing to the left of the fence. The plywood struck the fence and broke the 1/8″ iron wings, breaking the fence in two. An incredible show of power and stupidity. In the words of Guy Clark, “I won’t be doin’ that again.”

    I’ve been quite respectful ever since.

  21. [...] the article MAKE Asks: Incidents and Accidents, user diluded000 writes: From the most recent, backwards a list of incidents and [...]

  22. Nick Normal says:

    I was playing the game of “hot glue skin pickup” and managed to drop a dollop of glue on my right hand’s index knuckle: http://flic.kr/p/dUz5Eq – good times!

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