The rich tradition of knifemaking is full of rewards, but it demands respect. The ways a knife shop can inflict bodily harm are endless. That’s why BLADE asked knifemakers to share some of the worst accidents in their shops. Hopefully, others can learn how to avoid making the same mistakes.
“Like a Missile Straight at My Right Shin”
Lesson: Save sharpening for the last steps of making a knife.
There's a reason sharpening should ALWAYS be the last thing you do on any knife before it leaves the shop.
A few years back I was working on a large Bowie. The customer requested a sharp, full convex edge on the clip/swedge area. Against my better judgement, I got in a hurry and sharpened this swedge as soon as the knife was back from heat treat…with a lot of work left to perform with this razor sharp edge on the clip.
Somehow I managed to let the tip of the knife bite into a cork belt which caught it and ripped it out of my hands and sent it like a missile straight at my right shin. Since that top edge was sharp it cut through my boot and buried itself about 3/4-inches into my leg. It filled my boot with blood and ended all work for a couple days.
If I hadn't been wearing boots or if both edges had been sharpened, I'm sure it would've exited the backside of my ankle and possibly crippled me, or worse. It was a lesson that reinforced a very basic rule of our craft and I don't think I'll ever forget it.
Martin Olexey Blades
“The Knife Went Right Through My Legs”
Lesson: Stand to the side of the buffer.
The buffer is the silent sleepy monster that can lull you into a wheelchair for life or just take it from you in the blink of an eye.
When I started making knives about six years ago, I had this cheap Ryobi buffer that I spent like $40 on. Thank God I did, because if it would've been stronger, I’d probably not be here right now. That thing ripped a fully sharpened drop-point hunter right out of my hands and spun it around to to the ground with the tip hitting first.
I was sitting down in front of the buffer, and the knife went right through my legs. Stupid hurts, and that was as stupid as it gets.
I still probably I don't realize how close I was to death. It scared the s*** out of me, enough so as to never use the buffer facing in front of me ever again. I stick to the side now, and am always alert with the door locked so no one can come in to distract me.
I love making knives and every thing about it, except for the buffing and polishing.
BC Cutlery Co.
“All the Skin and Part of the Finger Nail was Ground Off”
Lesson: Wear gloves while using a grinder.
While rough grinding a blade on my 2×72 belt grinder, I was pressing pretty hard against a 36-grit belt. At the time, I thought to myself, I need to stop and grab a pair of leather gloves.”
Sure enough, the blade slips, and I drove my finger in to the belt. It was only a split second, and I jerked back instantly. It was still enough time for 36-grit traveling at 1,750 rpm to do the job. All the skin and part of the finger nail was ground off.
I always say I put a little blood into every knife, usually when hand finishing, but dang this one was to excess. Lesson learned. I now keep a dedicated pair of gloves by the grinder when performing heavy roughing.
Edge of the Border Knives
“A Perfect, Knife-Shaped Burn on My Ankle”
Lesson: Use tongs that grip work securely.
I was forging and tried to use a pair of tongs that didn’t grip the work well enough. This knocked the piece I was holding loose. The blade dropped right in the gap between my work boot and my ankle.
By the time I could get it knocked out of my boot and my foot in the water bucket, I had a perfect, knife-shaped burn on my ankle.
Lessons learned. Don’t forge in shorts. Either use tongs that hold well, forge from barstock, or weld short pieces of blade steel to a rebar handle.
“I had Caught My Butt Cheeks on Fire”
Lesson: Don't become complacent around forges.
Last winter, I got up before daylight with a plan to forge a couple skinners. It was extremely cold out, and I have no heat in my shop. So I lit the forge, which is pretty cold-natured due to its size. It has a small doorway in the rear that I keep blocked off with a fire brick.
Well, the fire brick fell off onto the ground at some point, and the forge was shooting flames out the rear. I fumbled around sleepily and walked behind the forge to get my gloves and glasses put on. Unbeknown to me, the flames were reaching the back of my coveralls. I started smelling something burning and immediately felt the heat.
I had caught my butt cheeks on fire.
So I sprinted through the door like a battering ram and did a flying back smacker into a couple inches of snow we had gotten through the night. I hadn’t felt pain back there like that since I was a kid when I sprayed my dad with a water hose while he was finishing concrete.
The coveralls were toast. There was a fist-sized hole in them that left me with two, half dollar-sized blisters and a hairless rear end like the bear on “The Great Outdoors.”
Complacency is the number one cause of accidents on job sites. Working around a 2,000-degree forge is no different.
Bonds Creek Knives
Learn First-Aid For Knifemakers From A Doctor
While you're at BLADE Show 2019 this June in Atlanta, be sure to take the First-Aid For Knifemakers class, hosted by Dr. Martin Payne. Register here.
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