Revised January 2019

Woodworking Ability


Leonard A. McHugh

It seems as if every time the topic of woodworking is mentioned, I am asked the same questions. They start out with "How can you do that?" I usually answer saying, "Very carefully!"and then describe some of my tools.

It is a little strange, but I feel safer using my table saw and compound sliding miter saw than letting some friends use them. Sighted people tend to take things for granted, whereas I must be extra cautious.

Some of the specialty tools that I use are a mechanical measuring device that was made from a piece of threaded rod, a folding Braille rule, and a newly acquired talking tape measure and audible level.

When using the power saws or router station equipment, I always use a full-face shield and hearing protection. I want to protect my face, and most importantly, my hearing.

Since I lost the strength and coordination in my hands and arms, I am no longer able to use a hammer. I purchased some pneumatic (air powered) tools to compensate. These tools include nail and staple guns; both guns have a safety feature where the tool must be placed against the wood surface before the fastener can be shot. I always use eye protection when using these tools.

I also never wear long sleeved clothing or any jewelry when working with the power tools. Ironically, what I thought would be the safest tool, a bench sander, has caused me the only injuries. When placing a piece of wood on the sander, I often sand off a fingernail and also have slightly sanded down some fingertips.

I also believe that careful planning adds both to safety as well as the quality of the finished project. Many years ago, I heard a story of a basketball coach who tried an experiment. He had half of the team physically practice and the other half of the team just mentally picturing themselves shooting. After a month those players that actually shot the basketball and those who used mental imagery had roughly the same shooting ability. I use this concept. I have a mental picture of the completed project and picture myself making every cut. I can see myself setting the saws for the proper cuts. I visualize myself actually assembling the project. Now, when it comes time to actually start I feel as though this is the second time since the prototype has already been constructed in my mind.

What is really incredible is that my wife has no problem with me using the power tools, but she will not allow me to touch a paintbrush, glue bottle, or a staining rag, I guess that she does not like the Picasso look.

Seriously, when staining a project, if I miss a spot it is very difficult for Karen to evenly touch it up. So she does not want me to use a staining rag. As for painting, well I get everywhere but where it is intended. And the glue bottle, she often hides the glue from me. I already had glue finger prints on a project and sometimes create a big mess. I think the worst was when I set an open bottle of glue on my table saw. When I went to pick it up I knocked it over. It took me about 2 hours to clean the saw.

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