Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Carving Safety

OK. Today we are going to talk about safety. Carving, just like any time you are playing with sharp and pointy objects, is risky. You can (will!) get cut.

Getting cut can be dangerous. You can damage tendons, muscles and nerves if you go deep enough.

Getting cut can be expensive. A trip to the emergency room will cost you big bucks.

Getting cut is annoying. You get blood on the carving, not to mention floor, carpet, clothes, etc., and the stains just don't come out. Depending on where you cut yourself, you could be out of the carving game while you heal.

So let's try to minimize the chances of getting cut.

The first thing you need to do is get a carving glove. The one I am so elegantly modeling here is available from your local Woodcraft store (I receive no financial or in-kind remuneration from Woodcraft) for somewhere between $15 and $20. A whole heck of a lot cheaper than a trip to the emergency room. This one I believe has kevlar in the weave. Others have stainless steel woven in. Aside from Woodcraft another good source for good cut resistant gloves is a restaurant supply store. The internet is also a good source.

Keep in mind that no glove is absolute proof against getting cut. A really sharp knife moving at high speed with a lot of force behind it will cut through almost all non-chain-mail gloves. But you won't get cut as badly as you would if you weren't wearing the glove. And no glove, including chain-mail, will keep you from getting stabbed. Although, again, it won't be as deep or as serious.

Now, for about the first 45 years after I first picked up a knife, I didn't use a carving glove. And I got cut every once in a while. Never seriously, thank goodness, but I do have scars. I finally began using a glove (it was a struggle, like quitting smoking), because I didn't want to get cut anymore. I can't truthfully say I put on the glove every time I pick up a knife now, but about 95% of the time I do so.

Another good investment is a thumb guard. The ones Woodcraft carries are leather with an elastic strap across the back. They come in various sizes and cost somewhere around $5 a pair. Not only do they protect your thumb from being cut, mostly, they cushion your thumb as you push on the back of your knife for a push cut. You can also make your own thumb guard with medical tape or vet wrap, available in any drug store.

Now we've talked about the equipment, let's talk about procedures. There are a lot of "rules" out there in the wild about safe carving. One of the most common, heard from every parent at one time or another, is "don't cut toward yourself". Good advice. Except. If you are carving wood, especially if you are trying to comply with the other rule of "cut with the grain", sooner or later you will be cutting toward yourself. All you can do is establish safe habits for this type of cut. For instance, have a piece of the carving between you and the blade.

This is a good practice, but it is not fool proof. I have cut myself doing this when the grain was such that the knife split off a piece of the carving and continued right into my finger. I wasn't wearing a glove at the time, worse luck.

The most valuable advice I can give you is this:

1. Learn to properly sharpen your tools and keep them as sharp as you can possibly get them at all times. A sharp tool is a safer tool. It requires less force to move the tool through the wood, and excessive force being applied to the tool is probably the most common cause for the tool slipping. And slipping is probably the most common cause of getting cut.

2. Before you make a cut, plan it out. Look at what you need to cut, and how much you need to take off. Look at where your blade will go if it slips and keep your leaky parts out of that area. This sounds like it takes a long time, but as you gain experience this will become second nature.

3. Take small chips. One of the most common causes of blade slippage is trying to take off too much wood with one cut. Small cuts take less force, and we all know about force, don't we. If we don't, reread #1 above. With practice your small cuts can move as much wood almost as quickly as a single large cut.

If you have about $25 to spare, I highly recommend you go to Pinewood Forge and order Harley Refsal's video, "Figure Carving Scandinavian Style". Not only is it a great video about the history and practice of Scandinavian flat plane figure carving, it has what I consider to be the best demonstration of carving safety, sharpening your knife, wearing a glove, limiting your cuts, etc., that I have ever seen. And I've watched a lot of carving videos! (Again, I don't receive any consideration, financial or otherwise, from Pinewood Forge.)

This is getting long, but one more thing. Tendinitis, also known as tennis elbow, golfer's elbow, etc. I got it as a result of starting to use a carving glove. I was gripping the carving so hard to keep it from slipping that I gave myself carver's elbow. It is painful. And persistent. It kept me from carving for six weeks, and when I started carving again, it came back. That's when I found this video. Within a week of doing the exercises two or three times a day, the tendinitis went away. Occasionally, I will start to get a relapse, but after a couple of days of doing the exercises, it goes away again.

Well, I've made this post probably too long, but safety is important, and the more you educate yourself about it, the safer you will be.

So until next time when we will actually get started, let the chips fly!

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