07 July 2009

safety first

so….it’s been a minute since my last post.

in my defense, I have been a bit busy.

the last 60 days have been almost exclusively devoted to final construction of the cabin we’ve been building for a client. loooooong days of labor notwithstanding, it’s an interesting way to spend two solid months. i’ll try to devote a post to that project soon.

thus far, it’s a gorgeous summer…..incredible amounts of sunshine, very little rain, unbroken weeks of temperatures in the 70’s.

18-22 hrs of sunshine tends to foster working late into the day….while extremely healthy in the long view, it does leave me a bit drained of energy when it comes time to surf the interwebs.

working late can also lead to one being careless as fatigue sets in without one noticing….and carelessness can lead to not being able to type for a few weeks…..

if you’re right-handed, you never realize how much you use your left index finger until it’s out of commission for a little while.

in my case, lefty got a wee bit too close to a running sawmill blade one evening, and was sent to the penalty box for a fortnight.

ohhhhhhhhhhh, the comedy, kids.

I’m not gonna lie to ya, it was quite the scene.

It was about 7 pm, I had been milling lumber all day.

about an hour before, I was thinking, “cool….it’s 6ish….I can get one more log cut by 7-730….be done with all the lumber we need for the next few days, not have to cut in the morning….it’s still 70 degrees……my tan’s coming in nicely….ohh, look an eagle….alright, one more log then….”

the mind does tend to ramble in the AK summer.

anyway….here’s a photo to help set the stage….

for lack of better words, that’s the lumberyard in the back 40.

almost every incarnation of wood is represented in the photo….the raw logs, the peeled logs destined to be a picnic table, the smaller logs destined to be posts, the finished lumber, the scrap pile, and of course…..the back-up firewood woodpile, just in case the previously featured “WoodPile Mark I” were to somehow become depleted…..“practical” and “over-kill” are synonymous in the AK.

the sawmill is the contraption in the middle of the photo. the base is a 20 ft steel frame that the power-head (the wheels, engine, and, of course, saw blade) slides along….in the photo, the power-head is at its rearmost point. with this device, we can mill logs up to 18 feet in length, 24 inches in diameter.

the greased lightning operation that is “milling lumber in the AK” consists of: moving the logs in the left of the photo onto the sawmill frame……then, by application of the saw blade, turning that log into whatever particular style of lumber may be needed at the moment (2x4’s, 1x3’s, 4x4’s etc, etc….including the most popular board on Trail Lake, the 2x10…..we tend to build things beefy….)

there are many methods one could use to move the logs from their initial resting places around the yard onto the mill…in a previous location, we were using a boom and chain hoist to lift and drag the logs…..in the current incarnation, “moving the logs” involves yours truly and a stick with a hook on it persuading those lil’ doggies to git along.

here’s an action shot towards the end of that ballet…..

I believe it was Archimedes who said, “give me a big f*cking stick and I’ll move the whole world….”

an observer might notice that I’m only wearing a heavy protective work glove on one hand in the photo…..I really hate wearing gloves….they remove too much dexterity and tactile sensation, and give me sense memories of winter….I may have become a bit more amenable to the argument that they do have their place, however….

it’s a band-saw mill, meaning that the blade is a one piece oval “band”….the blade goes around the two wheels so that it is parallel with ground…..you position the log, push the power-head forward down the mill, the blade cuts through, you adjust the blade height for whatever size board necessary, make another pass…….you’re milling boards.

here are a couple shots of the saw-blades we use….efficient little buggers….

so…….. it’s 7ish, and I’m in the middle of the second-to-last cut of the day…..when I notice that one of the “saw-dogs” (these are movable steel posts used to hold the log in place) is set too high, and the blade will run into it if I were to continue.

we dragged the mill out into the woods three winters ago, this scene has happened hundreds of time since.

we’ve been lucky to always notice prior to the saw-blade hitting the steel….as bad, noisy things would occur if that were to happen.

the proper procedure to remedy the situation is to bring the blade to a stop, back the entire power-head off a few feet, lower & re-set the post, bring the blade back up to speed, and continue milling.

but…….as I said, it’s late…….and I’m almost done for the day…....and bringing the blade to a complete stop & back up might add all of 45 seconds on to the procedure……so I’m just going to back off the power-head, quickly drop the post and finish up……

except that rather than backing off the power-head a few feet, apparently I only backed it off a few inches….and as I reached my left hand down to drop the post…..it kissed an angry, top speed saw-blade.

the next series of events takes less than 90 seconds…….my hand rears back….I see that my index finger has sustained a gash & is bleeding profusely but is still connected to the hand….I consider how both extremely stupid and extremely lucky I am, as I drop a series of F-bombs…..I hit the kill switch on the machine, slap my right hand on the finger in a pressure inducing death-grip, and proceed to walk briskly to the main cabin where my sister and niece are, realizing that I have about a two-minute window before I pass out.

this isn’t the first time I’ve inflicted trauma upon my body…..at this point, I know how it will react…..and losing consciousness is definitely on the menu….

so….I enter the cabin…rather calmly, I might add….and inform my sister that, “I need a towel for my hand and a chair to sit in so that I can pass out.”

cue the wailing, the “oh my god, what did you do?!?”….the reply of “I cut my hand on the saw-mill” (although I’ll admit that there were at least three F-bombs strewn about in the reply)….my niece Meghan saying “oh, geeeze” as she sees the finger while replacing my right hand’s death grip on it with a towel and her own (I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard her swear)…. I sit down and say, “OK, I’m going out”….and then I promptly pass out.

after a brief interlude of sweet unconscious bliss….I really wish there was some way to record those sensations that occur in the mind while I’m out-to-lunch, it’s almost another reality/dimension….I always recall having conversations, and events occurring in the dream-state, then I hear the voices from outside intruding and I come back around to this world….I should probably compare notes with Frank Bruno to investigate the experience further…..

anyway…..I come around….see my sister holding my shoulders, my niece holding my hand, tell them, “OK, I’m back”, and we proceed on to damage control.

it’s a fairly nasty cut, or rather, a combination of two cuts…. a large one running from the base of the finger to the knuckle, and a smaller one from the knuckle to about a quarter inch below the nail…..but there appears to be no bone or ligament damage…..

after some initial examination, cleaning, & dis-infection, the following conversation occurs….”dave, it’s gonna need stitches…..”I’m not going to the hospital…….dave, I think it needs stitches……that’s not happening……dave, I really think you need to go in….I AM NOT going to the hospital, we’ll deal with it here…..”

after much back and forth, discussing of options and medical supplies on hand, etc, etc, it is decided that spending far too much money and time on getting an emergency flight for me into town and a visit to the ER is not an option.

score one for the mule-headed idiot with the boo-boo on his finger....BECAUSE HE STUCK HIS HAND IN A RUNNING SAWMILL.

so, we move on further into damage control….after ruling out my initial solution of, “let’s just duct-tape it up and be done”, we decide on a combination of gauze, wrapping, and these cool neo-butterfly bandage strap thingies to seal it up, and declare that if any sign of infection shows itself or proper healing doesn’t appear to be occurring within 48 hrs that I will fly into Anchor-town and visit the “medical professionals”.

a note here for some that might not be overly familiar with my family background: my mother was a RN for over 40 years and I have seven brothers & sisters…..we’ve dealt with a myriad of injuries through the ages & have more experience than probably necessary in knowing how to properly handle them (I’m the most graceful member of the family, and trust me, that’s damning with faint praise)…. I have nothing but respect & admiration for the doctors and nurses who every day sacrifice parts of themselves to aid other people…this simply was a situation that I thought could be handled with the tools and people at hand…..and luckily, that thought turned out to be correct.

and it helps to have a ridiculous amount and variety of first-aid supplies in the house. it’s not over-kill, it’s the AK.

so……lefty is healing nicely….I’m typing with two hands again….I returned to the scene of the crime & milled 4 logs a few days ago…..and it should be a wicked-cool scar when everything is said and done.

so….what did it look like? while I do have some photos that I think are pretty dope in a gruesome, surgery-channel sort of way, I’ve been advised that it’s probably better not to inflict them on people willy-nilly….

instead, here’s a shot of the fireweed in full bloom, it’s particularly impressive this summer….just drop me an email if you want to see lefty in his bloody glory, I’ll be happy to send you some pics toot sweet.

one final note…..this is the last time I’ll be telling this particular story in regards to the scar….from here on out, it’s a “walking down the trail, had to fight off a bear heroically” kind of tale….

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