Larry Ciesla

A Philosophy of Precision and Safety

When it comes to working wood, you’re either moving the wood through the machine, or you’re moving the machine thru the wood. 

During a recent class at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking, I was struck by something our shop assistant said as he gave us the mandatory safety briefing for a simple chop saw.  At the Marc’s school, it doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned woodworking professional with 30 years experience, or if this is the very first time in your life that you’re about to use a particular power tool.  Before you touch that tool, you must listen to a mandatory safety briefing about that particular tool.  There simply are no exceptions!  During the chop saw safety briefing, our shop assistant said two things that struck me as utterly profound:

Safety comes from control.

Control gives you precision.

Two very short sentences packing an enormous amount of woodworking wisdom! Fine woodworking is not possible without precision.  For joints to close perfectly, or a drawer to fit precisely, or dovetails to match flawlessly, precision is the most important thing.  To achieve precision in woodworking, whether you’re moving the wood through the machine or the machine through the wood, precision is impossible if you’re not in complete control!  When you’re in control of the machine, you’re operating the machine in a way that is inherently safer than if you’re not in control. 

The more dangerous the tool, the more important control becomes.  It’s when you loose control of the work piece that bad things happen!  Best case – you’ve ruined your work piece.  Worst case – you’ve injured yourself.  Either way, you’ve thrown precision out the window!  Precision and safety, possibly the two most important tenets in woodworking, are inexorably linked by control!

Naturally, control in woodworking is a vast and complex topic.  Like pornography, control is very difficult to define.  Yet, we all know it when we see it!  More importantly, we all feel it if we’re about to do something where we don’t have it!  At one time or another, we’ve all experienced that feeling, that little voice inside us, warning us that we’re about to do something that just doesn’t feel right.  That feeling is our brain’s warning that if we do what we’re about to do, we’re not in control.  Now, thanks to Marc Adam’s obsession with safety, whenever I get that feeling, I apply a slightly modified adage made famous by Nike:

“Just don’t do it!”