For any woodworker, a workshop should be an oasis of creativity; however, it can become a dangerous torture chamber with even the smallest mistake. It’s easy for something to go wrong due to machinery complications, human error or a mixture of the two. Whether you’ve found yourself here as a preventative measure or as a last resort, it’s never too late to learn good first aid.
First Aid Basics
Sharp woodworking machinery and tools can cause disastrous, and sometimes fatal, injuries. If you haven’t attended a First Aid class lately, here are some basic principles to keep in mind:
1. Keep Calm
It’s tempting to panic immediately after hurting yourself, whether it is a serious injury or a minor one, however yelling expletives and hyperventilating aren’t going to make it better. Take the time to sit and take deep breaths. If you’re breathing quickly, that will put excess strain on your body and may make it more difficult to treat your wounds. One way to reduce the stress of treating your own wounds is asking someone for help.
2. Stop the Bleeding
This depends on the type of injury, but generally the first thing to do is to apply pressure directly to the wound with something that can soak up excess blood (gauze, paper towels, or a clean rag). It’s smart to keep something like this in your immediate reach in your workshop, rather than storing it away. Hold the cloth or paper to the injury until the blood flow has lessened and will not bleed through a dressing.
3. Prevent Infection (Wash the Wound)
Generally, the best way to clean a wound is with soap and water. Be careful to remove any debris or foreign objects from the wound without damaging your skin, if possible. Antibiotic ointment can be applied after cleaning the wound, however, too much ointment may soften the scabbing, so only apply lightly. Avoid more abrasive cleaners, such as hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol, as they can stress or damage tissues.
4. Promote Healing (Cover and Protect the Injury)
It’s necessary to cover any injuries to protect them from infection from outside irritants. Bandage your injury and check it regularly, changing it when it becomes wet or dirty. When changing the bandage, look for any signs of infection, such as increased sensitivity, pain, or swelling. If you suspect an infection, contact a doctor immediately for treatment. Failure to treat an infection can lead to serious complications down the road.
Types of Injuries (And How to Treat Them)
If you are reading this article because you or someone you know has already injured themselves, then be sure to follow the basic elements of First Aid listed above. It’s best to seek professional medical advice or treatment if you are unsure of your injury’s severity. Some workshop injuries can be treated by the following:
If a cut is spurting blood, you may have sliced an artery, so you’ll need to seek medical attention immediately. For cuts bleeding at a normal rate, be sure to apply pressure to the cut, clean it and cover it with a bandage suited to the type of injury.
Adhesive bandages work well for a variety of cuts, so it’s a good idea to keep many sizes and shapes in your First Aid Kit. For larger cuts, gauze pads or rolls of gauze are helpful for soaking up blood and covering more surface area than a standard Band-Aid. Steri-Strips, or Wound Closure Strips, keep wounds closed temporarily until they can be properly treated. In emergencies, many woodworkers cite the use of Super Glue, or C. A. Glue, to hold a cut closed. While this is certainly not the most sanitary option, it can be used in a pinch.
Treatment of a splinter usually requires a pair of tweezers. Do your best to remove all splinters, but don’t be overzealous with the tweezers or you may cause further damage to your skin. Clean the tweezers before and after pricking your skin, because using dirty tools to clean or treat an injury will increase the likelihood of infection. If the wound is a larger puncture and you cannot remove it without possible damage, keep the object where it is and seek immediate medical attention. Be sure to receive a new tetanus shot if you are punctured by metal and have not received a tetanus shot within the past five years.
Immediately after any kind of amputation, wrap the wound and apply pressure to stop the bleeding. If you’re able to locate the amputated part, put it in a Ziploc bag with a cold pack from the freezer, not ice. Don’t put it in direct contact with ice, as it will increase the chance of hypothermia, destroying the tissues of the amputated part. Use a tourniquet to cut off circulation from the amputated stump and seek immediate medical attention.
Your work is important, but so are your limbs. Moving too quickly or carelessly in a workshop can lead to serious injuries, so take the time to plan out the work you do each day and do it right the first time. Don’t take the easy way out and risk your safety. If something seems wrong, it probably is, so don’t do it.
Before working, look in your first aid kit to see if it is stocked with what you might need in the event of an accident. That way, you know where the kit is and whether or not it is fully stocked in case of an emergency. If you’ve injured yourself, don’t just bandage it up and continue working. Take a moment to assess the damage, and when in doubt, seek medical attention.