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Alan Longmire

How NOT to use a sledge hammer

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As promised, here's what I did the second hour of a week long class on socked axe heads. The pics may be a bit graphic for some people, but if it keeps this from happening to someone else it's worth it.

 

First, the description of how and what happened:

 

Making the socket calls for hammering on the edge of a sheet of 5/16" plate. A bigger hammer makes the job go faster, and I had my 10lb sledge with me, so I was using it as I do at home for big jobs. Hold it right under the head and "punch" down on the steel. It's normally safe, but this anvil was set higher than I'm used to and my tongs were not as tight as they could have been, a combination that resulted in the steel jumping to one side in the midst of a blow. Went almost right between my forefinger and middle finger, but the middle finger got in the way, so the corner of the steel plate went right through it, giving the bone a kiss as it swished by and took a chunk out of the hammer handle on the other side. Since it was hot steel I did as smiths are trained and dunked it in the slack tub immediately to freeze the burn. Pulled it out to see how bad it was and got blood all over everything in the half-second it took to make a bandage out of my bandana and apply pressure.

 

The good (?) news is it clipped a nerve on that side so it doesn't hurt as much as it could. I still have feeling in the tip all the way around, but the side that got cut is numb from the cut to the last knuckle. I'm not complaining!

 

The end result was six or eight internal stitches to reattach the muscles and such deep inside near the bone, and twelve to close the external tear. The two shots of lidocaine for the digital block hurt worse than the actual wounding, as is often the case. X-rays showed there was no major damage to the bone, just a scratch. They did as good a job of cleaning it as they could after putting a tourniquet on the finger, but there are still a few flecks of scale visible on the x-ray. Those will eventually encapsulate and work their way out in a few years to remind me not to do this again.

 

Here's the hammer handle showing the chip removed after the steel drove through my finger.

 

hammer handle chunk.jpg

 

And here's the slack tub showing the streaks of blood. Remember, this was about a half-seconds' worth before I got the wound wrapped and pressure applied.

 

slack tub.jpg

 

Now comes the unpleasant bit. First a shot of the freshly stitched tear at the clinic, then a series from top to bottom two days later showing the full extent. Note also the cut/burn on the inside of my index finger.

 

Stitches new.jpg

 

Stitches two days on top.jpg

 

Stitches two days side.jpg

 

Stitches two days bottom.jpg

 

I was lucky there was a small emergency clinic two miles from the school. Otherwise it would have been a 28-mile ride to the ER in Christiansburg, VA. I was even luckier there was a doctor on duty. They told me we should have called ahead to make sure, since he's only there a couple of days per week and the nurses are not qualified for heavy suturing.

 

The most helpful thing was that Gerald Boggs has EMT training and was right by my side within seconds of the impact. He asked how bad it was, and I said "It's bad. I'm going to need stitches, I think." He took me up to the main office for first aid. Leia whose last name escapes me, the brand new education director of the school, also had several years of Red Cross first aid training, and agreed stitches were in order. She took time to drive me to the clinic and help fill out the paperwork, as I couldn't write.

 

Here they are, happy I'm okay. Thanks again, guys!

 

Gerald and Leia.jpg

 

Now then, what did I learn from this experience?

 

1. When working in an unfamiliar shop, make darned sure you can deal with an anvil set at a different height, and more importantly ALWAYS FIT THE TONGS TO TO THE WORK!

 

2. Have a first aid kit handy with plenty of alcohol, Betadine, and bandages. A suture kit would be handy, but there was no way I could have sewed myself up. Finally, always have a bandana or something handy to wrap a bad cut. Clean is good, but just having something ready at hand is the most important part. And make sure you can get into your kit with one hand. It won't do you any good if you need two hands and you've seriously injured one.

 

3. Have a plan in place to get your rear end to the nearest clinic or ER. I probably could have driven IF I could have gotten my keys out of my right front pocket, which would have been darned difficult that day, plus I was not familiar with the area and did not know where the clinic was. If I'd been working alone at home I would not have had my wallet with my insurance cards with me, so I'd have had to go get it before driving to the ER. Luckily my truck has an automatic transmission. If I'd been stuck with my wife's car with manual five-speed I would not have been able to shift without loosening the bandage and bleeding all over the place.

 

3a. Keep a cool head. I did not yell, scream, or run around like an idiot getting blood everywhere, but then again I too have Red Cross training and have the ability to stay calm when faced with lots of blood and pain. Not everyone has that ability, and a serious injury WILL cause the victim to go into shock as the adrenaline wears off. By the time I was in the chair at the clinic I had the shakes so bad it was almost funny. Remember, if you black out you could easily bleed out, so you have to to stay alert. I would not sit down until the nurse showed up because it made the shakes so much worse. Keep pacing, keep the limb elevated, and keep the pressure on the wound until you're in professional hands.

 

In the end, I will be fine. I was able to stay in the class helping out the guys who were not as experienced with coal forges and welding, and I was able to watch and absorb the techniques. Not as good as actually doing it with Tom beside me, but I know now how to do it and how it's supposed to look at each step. Tom was also gracious enough to give me an almost-finished axe from the demos to finish myself when I am able to forge again, for which I am extremely grateful.

 

Remember, be careful, guys. And FIT YOUR DARNED TONGS! It only takes one heat, and it can save you from serious grief. Gloves would not have helped much in this case, and might have even broken the bone or dislocated the knuckle through the extra resistance to the tearing. Not to mention how much fun it would have been to remove the glove afterwards.

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The corollary post: how to fit your tongs!

 

Heat the jaws and pivot plus an inch or so of the reins to a good orange heat, and clamp them around the work in the vise. With the tongs firmly clamped on the work at hand, adjust the reins for comfort. Remove from the vise and work them open and closed a couple of times. Let cool.

 

If your tongs are mild steel or iron you can quench them. If they are alloy steel like OCF or Tom Tongs, do not quench them, they'll harden and possibly break.

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Ouch Alan!

 

So very hard, in the excitement of the moment, to remember the hard learned lessons from the past. I know, my own personal little demon is "eye protection". May you heal well and quickly.

 

~Bruce~

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When i get my new phone, ill upload the pics from my incident with a pair of tongs ripping my finger apart. I was lucky, i could see both the nerve and blood vessel, as well as tendon. My muscle is all that took a wallop, I know the frustration first hand, you will be out of smithing for more than two weeks :(

Mine still hasnt fully recovered, and its been months.

Basitricin (however thats spelled) and plenty of it!

Your nerve will eventually re-connect itself (after a few months) If it grows in the right direction.

 

On a note about shakes, Ive had so many injuries, im even missing the tip of my left middle finger. As well as NUMEROUS deeeeep scars. I never got the shakes, i even drove to the ER and filled out paperwork. I just kept the pressure on my wound the whole time. Then again, i didnt have a severed blood vessel :/

 

Glad to see the injury wasnt worse

Edited by Eric Leonard

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Good grief, that's gotta hurt :o

I'm glad to hear that you made it out alright and there won't (hopefully) be any lasting damage. I've only had stitches once that I can remember, and it came from the blade of a rusty shovel. Didn't hurt much until they got the shots out. Not an experience I want to repeat.

Hope you have a speedy recovery.

 

John

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Oh no ! :( Sorry to read about your accident. That' surely bad but could be worse.

Thanks to share learnings and tips. I hope it will help someone facing a bad situation (not that I want it to happen to anyone)

Your calm is legendary Alan. You had the perfect reactions.

 

Stéph

Edited by Stéphane A.

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Glad you are going to be all right in the end Alan. The internal stitches are not for the untrained to do. Outside suturing, just to close the hole and stop the leaks is not that big a deal, but the re-attachment of muscles or tendons or resecting blood vessels really should be done by the professionals. Well done on keeping calm. It is always the first thing to remember. :)

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Thanks, guys.

 

Bruce, I was sorry to read about your steel splinter to the eye as well, I wouldn't trade you. ;) That's a totally non-ironic smilie, too.

 

Eric: The important thing is, did you learn why it happened and how to prevent such in the future? That's the purpose of this thread and indeed this whole subforum. Sort of a "Learn from my fail" kind of thing. B)

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Oh, Ouch! Get well soon, Alan. And thanks for the lesson - at least maybe a little good will come from it... :o:D

 

Tom

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Holy Carp!

 

Glad to hear it wasn't worse. Congrats on being able to keep your head during

a wickedly stressful event. I hope your healing is quick and complete.

 

Take care,

 

Bill

Edited by Bill Hoffman

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Wow, Alan, major ouchie there for sure. I hope it mends quickly. We all need a heads up once in while on what can happen, unfortunately someone has to be"it." :(

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Alan, thats horrible. it couldnt happen to a nicer person.

 

hope your feelin ok brother.

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Ouch Alan! That looks painful. Looks like it's about the same place I cut my finger almost 2yrs ago. I have feeling in that finger but it's not back to normal. The strangest thing is when I get something abrasive (sandpaper, files, ect) against it, there is a very unpleasant sensation. It's similar to the "pins and needles" you get when your foot falls asleep, except more intense. I'm just thankful I have any feeling at all. Hopefully yours heals without any long term issues.

 

 

 

P.s. If you decide to come up to Tom's shop to finish the axe, give me a holler. I'm only an hour and half away and any excuse to go visit Tom is a good one :D

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Eric: The important thing is, did you learn why it happened and how to prevent such in the future? That's the purpose of this thread and indeed this whole subforum. Sort of a "Learn from my fail" kind of thing. B)

 

Of course, never do anything out of anger, and check all tool edges for sharp and pointies so there is no incident.

(I was SUPER pissed at my wife, and went to chuck a tool in the dirt, a sharp and pointy caught my finger, the rest, as they say, is history.

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Glad you're OK and kept cool, Alan. Wondering if you had any premonition, or heard a little warning voice in your head, saying that something wasn't quite right in the moments before the accident.

J

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Oh, Man. Hang in there. We all get hurt at some point doing this, and the crippled smith is an eternal element of mythology for a reason, but it's never a good thing.

 

Heal well and quickly!

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Glad you're OK and kept cool, Alan. Wondering if you had any premonition, or heard a little warning voice in your head, saying that something wasn't quite right in the moments before the accident.

J

 

Thanks, JD, but this time there was no little voice as is so often the case when I'm about to do something stupid. :rolleyes: It may be that I was just in a hurry, which is always a bad thing, but still...I knew the tongs were a bit loose, and should have acted then. I just wanted to get the last out of that heat. Lesson learned!

 

Richard: Thanks, and yep, I'm "it," so I chose to make it educational. :lol: Hope you and yours are well.

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take care Alan... these things happen and it seems theres little to stop it... i burnt my hand about 5 months back.. pick up a bar that i had just thrown into the pile, not 5 minutes before... the bar felt abit slippery.. didn't feel hot.. soon as it registered i dropped it... slippery feeling is my fingers cooking in their own oil :(

- the burn didn't hurt so bad, so i knew that was real bad... and the skin turned white with no blister... ofcourse cold water n ice

 

ofcourse it was the one day i wasn't wearing my gloves on the account of a hole ( a hole i kept finding )

 

 

heal well !

 

 

Greg

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Ouch! and i though i was the only one to get hurt like this from simple things! Well, keep in mind you still have a full finger, and its just gonna be another scar! Hope it heals alright and that pesky gauze doesnt stick to those stitches! :blink: Kinda reminds me of my buffer/polisher and a dagger incident.. :mellow: Safe forging everyone!

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I'm glad that the worst thing is that you will not be able to forge for a few weeks and that there was nothing that couldn't be sewn back on.

 

One work of advice if you have an accident like that an there's not one to drive you, do not drive yourself to the hospital unless there is absolutely no other way to get help getting there. Call an ambulance or drive somewhere that an ambulance can be called from. What would happen if you're driving down the highway and you passed out or at least got shocky enough that you can't control yourself. You could end up hurting yourself more, hurting others as well, and wrecking your vehicle.

 

Doug

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Alan It is burning beard NOT burning hand!!!! that is not the same thing at all.... heal well and fast!

MP

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Owww....sorry to see this! Heal up well, Alan. Sounds like it was handled really well by all involved, hopefully you'll get all feeling back, and just have an interesting scar.

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Ouch! Extremity injuries are the worst, too many nerve endings. And throw in a burn also. Hope it heals fast and correctly.

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Thanks again for the well-wishes, guys. :)

 

Got the stitches out Wednesday, which was NOT fun. I did find out yesterday (totally by accident) that one reason it was still swollen and hurting so much when moved was that the knuckle was a bit dislocated. Got that finger caught in a towel after a shower and SNAP! :blink::ph34r: It popped right back in place and the whole thing moves much better. Not much worse than a deep cut now, I'm pleased to report. I can close it about halfway before the scar gets too tight for comfort. I'm going to give it some more time to heal before I start stretching it back out to normal, squeezing a rubber ball, that sort of thing. Heck, I'm even typing with it again! An experimental hammer tap today was still a bit much, though.

 

I continue to not recommend doing this to yourself, however. :lol:

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Thanks again for the well-wishes, guys. :)

 

Got the stitches out Wednesday, which was NOT fun. I did find out yesterday (totally by accident) that one reason it was still swollen and hurting so much when moved was that the knuckle was a bit dislocated. Got that finger caught in a towel after a shower and SNAP! :blink::ph34r: It popped right back in place and the whole thing moves much better. Not much worse than a deep cut now, I'm pleased to report. I can close it about halfway before the scar gets too tight for comfort. I'm going to give it some more time to heal before I start stretching it back out to normal, squeezing a rubber ball, that sort of thing. Heck, I'm even typing with it again! An experimental hammer tap today was still a bit much, though.

 

I continue to not recommend doing this to yourself, however. :lol:

 

Alan,

 

At my guitar shop I bought a hand and finger exerciser that allows you to exercise all fingers together or one at a time. I prefer it over a rubber ball.

 

Here's hoping for a fast recovery.

 

-Art

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