We’ve all done it. We’ve all quickly grabbed a tool to make a simple cut, small tack weld, or some other “easy” or “trivial” task. No reason to go through all of the trouble of putting on all your safety gear, right? It’s not like the job is being done in an OSHA regulated factory and you’ve done this a million times before. Hell, my last name should be Miller or Lincoln based on how many beads I’ve run. Maybe I should name my firstborn son Hobart. Nah, my mom would never speak to me again. Whatever, I’m cool to just give it a quick zap.
However, sometimes through bad luck, bad karma, or whatever, Lady Luck decides to give you the middle finger and things go awry.
As an example, yesterday I was sent a news story about a man using an angle grinder to cut pipe. Something went wrong and he slashed open his thigh, leading to heavy blood loss and eventually death. The situation is without question unfortunate and tragic, and I can only wish the best to those dealing with the loss.
After finishing the story I thought of all the times I’ve used the same tool for a similar job, and I thought about how it’s easy to get too familiar or sometimes a little too careless with the tools that we use frequently.
Take the angle grinder as an example:
When you absolutely, positively, need to make one big thing into two smaller things accept no substitute. If you’ve seen an episode of the A-Team you know that nothing says FUCK YEAH I’M GETTING SHIT DONE like throwing sparks.
In the shop I wrench in we have three. One little 4” Ryobi for small jobs. It has served us well but the bearings are shot because it’s been used for stuff it couldn’t really handle. A step up is the DeWalt, which is used for most of the medium cutting. It’s been to the refurb shop twice but only for broken switches. Been pretty good so far, especially for a Home Depot purchase. Up top is the big Metabo, which draws enough amps to dim the lights in older houses. Mostly used for making small work of large cutting jobs and being the subject of off color “who wants to sex Metabo” jokes after it annihilates yet another section of tubing or cuts a battleship in half.
Regardless of size and power, all of these tools are perfectly capable of turning a fun day in the shop into a nightmare. Angle grinders can buck, jump, and kick. Discs can explode and fling chunks across the room. The material and sparks being flung can end up in eyes (among other places). Last but certainly not least that spinning disc can destroy your flesh without slowing down.
I’ll readily admit that I sometimes find myself forgoing the face shield for a small cut with the Ryobi because I have my glasses on. Really a bad habit, and I should know better. I’ve been lucky. I’m sure plenty of others haven’t been.
On the same angle grinder you can remove the disc and put on a wire wheel, which is a really popular way to remove rust and other materials from places you don’t want them to be.
Using a wire wheel is popular because it works. You can de-rust old parts very quickly, leaving a smooth surface ready for paint after some more minor surface prep. But as Uncle Ben said in the first Spider-Man movie,
Don’t be a hero, Peter, pull out With great power comes great responsibility. The wire wheel attachment, like the disc before it, can jump and buck too. And it has the nasty habit of grabbing on to things and climbing. Like loose wires or lines under the car. Or clothing. It also flings debris, sometimes a lot of it if you drag a real shitpile home and get to wheeling.
The angle grinder is just one of the many shop tools that can be bad news if you are not careful. Forgetting to lower your welder’s mask is a mistake a lot of people make- ONCE. A trip to the eye doctor because you are seeing purple basketballs that don’t go away is not a good time. Shaping metal using an oxy/acetelyne torch and a hammer is tons of fun, especially in a primal, blacksmitthy way, but it’s still a lot of fire and heat coming out of that tip. As we all know you should really try to avoid jacking a car in the air with no jackstands or suitable supports. But there’s no shortage of stories of cars falling and people being hurt. There are people abusing regular sockets on a high torque impact gun without thinking twice. Drill presses can snatch bar stock and whack you in the chest if you aren’t careful. And the list goes on.
In any case, while some accidents are unavoidable due to unforeseen consequences or just plain bad luck, it doesn’t really make sense to cut corners with your own safety. Face shields, gloves, hearing protection, checking your environment, knowing the behavior of your tools, etc are all things to keep in mind as we head into the depths of winter and the peak of “wrench season.”
Stay safe, brothers and sisters of OPPO.