Safety around the home

February 4, 2006

This amazing table saw can detect the difference between cutting wood and cutting your finger. The video demo really is worth a watch.

Years ago, my grandfather was teaching me how to use a chain saw. Unfortunately he didn’t know that the chain was very blunt and was using hand signals to try and explain the failings of my amateur chainsaw technique. With him getting so close, I became too scared to move the saw at all. Turns out I didn’t need to; he waved the webbing between his thumb and pointer finger right into the chain.

Very fortunately for us, this accident just took a small chunk of skin off (probably because the chain was so blunt).

While I have no plans to ever go near a chainsaw again, I’ve had many exciting moments with non-powered saws too. On holidays, I’d usually spend a day acting as a human powertool for my grandmother in the garden. In particular, this meant scaling countless huge trees to remove branches obscuring their beautiful view of the coastline.

One day I was about 15m up a pine tree to remove a particularly large branch. Unfortunately the only saw access was from a branch below. Unpeturbed, I tied a rope to the branch so my grandfather could pull it away from the tree (and me) at the critical moment.

Let’s just say that slow sawing and overzealous grandfatherly protection from a falling branch resulted in an exciting sling-shot style ride for me when the branch broke free. With the tree whipping back and forth while I held it with one hand, and tried to prevent serious impalement from the saw with the other, I didn’t really have time to notice my grandfather diving out of the way of the branch that he had pulled so enthusiastically down onto himself.

Now, just one last story to honour his memory. Taking the boat out one day, we were having trouble getting the trailer to slip down onto the towball. I stood on the trailer front for weight while Grandpa drove the car forward a few centimetres to get the alignment right. The dolly wheel on the trailer ensured that, should the trailer come off the ball, it (& me) didn’t have far to go. All went according to plan and the trailer plopped on.

At this point, my grandfather thought he’d just drive forward about 20m up the sloped driveway to get the boat on the grass for a wash down. Again, no big deal as I was used to riding small distances on the trailer rail in between the car and the boat.

Unfortunately, just as he was stopping the car we reached the crest of the hill. The dolly wheel, left in for safety during the tow ball engagement, now touched the ground and lifted the trailer back up off the tow ball.

We should have used the safety chain as well.

The thing about my grandparents block is that its basically a really long, sloping block (say 150m long and a 25m drop). Starting from the top, I’m now riding a free-falling boat and trailer.

That day it was proven that I have both more brains and less courage than my grandmother. As I jumped off the moving boat, she ran along for an extra second attempting to hold and / or steer it down the hill.

The boat rolled straight down the middle of the driveway missing the BBQ on one side and a large tree on the other. Crossing a flat section of the concrete driveway, the metal keel at the bottom of the outboard motor was sheered off completely.

Continuing to accelerate, the boat stayed on the concrete driveway (or runway at this point) now going past the side of their brick house. Two large LPG cylinders providing gas for the kitchen were torn from their chains (set into the brick wall) and sent flying.

Set into the wall of the house was a very small window providing limited light to the basement. Somehow, probably slightly slowed on that side by hitting the gas cylinders, the boat steered just enough to wedge its back corner right into the brick windowsill, stopping dead in its tracks (without even breaking the window).

Meanwhile, the gas cylinders rolled more than 100m down the hill, crushing plants, crossing a road and settling to rest in the neighbours frontyard. Try saying this in a nonchalant manner “Hi there! Don’t mind me, I’m just looking for our gas cylinder”.
Believe it or not, these stories highlight a few of the great things about my grandfather. His adventurous, can-do attitude created a multitude of exciting projects and outings. By actively involving me in each one, I received great gifts and lessons that no one else could have given. Finally, and weirdly, the problems above were primarily created by his vigilant efforts towards safety and correct technique.

I only hope that one day I’ll be teaching such great lessons in life.