G is for Gloves

I wasn't wearing a glove for this.
I didn't used to wear gloves.

This was not because of the normal stupidity and bravado that pervades young men, that inevitable consequence of being steeped in testosterone and ignorance. In my own way, of course, I was as drunk on that cocktail of youth and inexperience as the next guy, but I've always been a careful and risk-averse person(1). No, this was a considered approach to woodworking and DIY in general. Two things went into the decision: the quality of the work and the nature of workplace injuries.

Gloves necessarily separate you from the work. Whatever you're doing - sanding, carving, framing - gloves inhibit your ability to control your tools and to get the feedback they're giving you. More importantly, gloves prevent you from sensing the work itself. Wood can lie to your eyes and to the tape measure, but it can't lie to your hands. Your fingertips, your palms, the heel of your hand... these are the means by which the wood talks to you, in syllables of thousandths of an inch.

Is that joint really square? Did that knot sand down properly? Will that cross-grain catch fibers? Are those four pieces really the same length? Should that veneer be re-set? How much flex is on that plane?

For many years, I simply regarded the quality of the work as more important than the safety of my fingers. Being able to sense the wood, to listen to it and work with it, was the first priority. I can't tell you how many splinters, cuts, stabs and slices I've had over the years. I've never kept track. The "mystery cut" is familiar to any woodworker: after a day spent in the shop, you look down at your hands and realize that you're bleeding - sometimes impressively - from a big gash torn in one or more fingers. The mystery cut is bloody, dirty and crusted with sawdust, perhaps with a largish flap of loose skin. It's the kind of injury that should really be washed off as soon as possible. The thing is, you simply can't recall what caused it. Being so deeply in the zone, focused so intently on the work, it happened without your noticing.

Who needs gloves to get in the way when you're having that much fun?

With regard to the potential for really serious injuries, though, I subscribed to the theory that gloves could make them worse. The logic goes like this: your fingers are too close to the whirring blade of your table saw, band saw, miter saw, etc. If you're bare-handed, you get a nasty cut, perhaps even sever a fingertip(2). If you're wearing gloves, the blade grabs the glove and yanks your whole hand in. After that, you're the guy who has to hold up two hands to order four beers. It's the same logic for not wearing loose clothing or unfettered long hair around your power tools. Better a single bad cut to a finger than being chewed up completely because you were wearing gloves, right?

It took a certain amount of distance and perspective before I realized that the real key to not getting badly injured was to keep your fingers as clear of the whirring blades as practical. These days, I use push sticks, grippers, handles and other devices to let me have good control of the wood without having to run my fingertips a quarter of an inch from the blade.

I also wear gloves for rough work. Maybe I've gotten soft in recent years, maybe I've allowed my oxhide calluses to fade to nonexistence, or maybe I've gotten tired of taping closed my wounds with homemade butterfly bandages and digging splinters out of my fingers. Whatever it is, I've changed my behavior. Not for all things and not for all jobs, but much more than I used to.

The gloves you see here are the latest pair of leathers. Spending the extra couple of bucks on good gloves buys you:
  • seams that don't rip
  • fingers that are long enough to be comfortable, not so long that you flop at the tips
  • linings that don't pill and fray
  • surfaces that don't make your hands sweat
  • backstraps that allow a solid closure fit, yet are easy to undo with your teeth.
My recommendation to you: gloves are protective gear. Wear them under any circumstances which warrant the additional protection. Same goes for eye and ear protection.

1. That is, when I wasn't being deliberately self-destructive.
2. I took a big chunk off the top of my left thumb once. It hurt.

For my other posts about woodworking tools, follow this link.

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  1. The number of times I've cut myself like that first picture, and I was only cooking. Some very practical advice here, Tony.

    But no way am I clicking on that "worse injuries" link. Not this early in the morning, no sir. I have to keep breakfast down first.

    1. In googling, I came across some pretty horrific hand injuries. That link is pretty mild in comparison.

  2. Yeah, I passed up the "worse injuries" link, too. I've got an intestinal bug and I know my limitations. :-P I've been known to wear one glove when doing things where I need protection, but still need to feel what's going on.

    My own gloves story is about motorcycling. I used to only have one pair of gloves, and they were winter gloves. So one warm summer morning, I'm riding to work with my hands sweating, and was thinking maybe I should pull the gloves off at the next stop light. Then a large bug bounced off my hand, and I put aside all thoughts of ever riding without gloves!

    1. Ah, yes, the mystery cut. My version involves wondering where that red stuff is coming from, which glue covered finger. I wear gloves when grouting to protect my skin, but cutting glass with nippers is awkward in gloves. Tweezers help with picking up shards of glass, and cut down on ipoking myself with a sharp point.

    2. I've not worked with glass much, but metal projects leave steel shards in the fingers. Might be comparable in need of tweezers. ;-)

    3. I always wore gloves for bicycling, for much the same reasons.

  3. Resonating loudly, though my medium is glass not wood. One of our tag lines in this house is "no bare feet." I always wear gloves when using the glass grinder. It has cut down on the need for bandages.

  4. Resonating loudly, though my medium is glass not wood. One of our tag lines in this house is "no bare feet." I always wear gloves when using the glass grinder. It has cut down on the need for bandages.

    1. Excellent advice. I have the same rule in my workshop.


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