Blood, Tears, and Singed Eyebrows: The Importance of Tool Safety

In certain industries, workers follow a stringent list of safety rules. In construction, for example, just a few of the “Golden Rules of Safety” include:

*do not walk under a load while a lift is taking place
*do not perform work without wearing general or task-specific personal protective equipment
*do not use tools or equipment that you are not properly trained to operate

Although these all sound like common sense for the most part, it is important to have these rules in place in high-risk situations and dangerous environments. But guess what? It is equally important to be safe when you’re creating jewelry!

True, beaders do not usually operate heavy machinery or lift large loads from great heights, but we do use a variety of tools for our craft, and it is important to use them correctly and safely. Here are a few guidelines to minimize your risk of injury during your jewelry-making:

phillips_safety_com1.) Wear protective eyewear
Beaders and jewelry-makers should wear safety goggles or (at the very least) glasses of some sort while working. Just this small barrier can help prevent small bits of wire or an errant seed bead from flying into your eye. Also, for those who pull really hard with their tools while wire wrapping, wearing goggles will prevent you from smacking yourself in the face if you accidentally let go of your tool (we’ve seen it happen — ouch!).

2.) Hold and use flush cutters properly
One of the first things we review in our beginner classes is how to use flush cutter properly. This includes aiming whatever piece of SoftFlex or wire the crafter wants to cut away from themselves or anyone else nearby. Unfortunately, we cannot control where little bits of wire will end up once cut. However, if you aim your cutters into your tray — or at least at the floor — and wear your protective eyewear, you’ll minimize your chance of getting a foreign object in your eye.

We speak from experience: when our manager, Lydia, first started beading in high school, she once stuck her face too close to her wrap as she was trimming excess wire from a wire wrap. Not only did she point her cutters toward her face, but she wasn’t wearing glasses, and BOINK! That little piece of sterling wire shot right into her eye. After a few very loud “Ow ow ows” she dripped some Visine in her eye to flush out the scrap. It eventually traveled to the little pink corner of her eye (fun fact: it’s called the caruncle!) and she got it out with a tissue. Lydia was extremely lucky she didn’t scratch part of her eye. Moral of the story: before you make that final snip, be sure you are being safe!

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Sara demonstrates how NOT to hold a pair of flush cutters while deep in thought. Watch out, Briana!

Also, any time you are holding flush cutters, be aware of how you are holding them, and whether or not a friend or coworker is close by. You can easily poke yourself or someone else if you are unaware of where the blade is facing, so pay attention!

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At least we have cute BandAids!

3.) Wear closed shoes
We don’t just mean closed-toe — as you can see in the picture at left, Lydia was wearing open-top shoes when she dropped a pair of round nose pliers that did a cartwheel on their trip to the floor, hitting her foot point-first before they got there. The puncture wound wasn’t deep, but it did hurt & bleed, and it was a bit embarrassing to utter a bad word in front of a customer. Luckily, this was the first time this had happened to Lydia in over 15 years of beading experience, but it was also proof that accidents can happen to anyone, even the pros!

4.) Beware of open flames

wikimedia_orgWhen creating jewelry using a torch, such as with fusing, soldering, or enameling, practicing torch safety is extremely important. One of Blue Door Beads’s most popular instructors, Iris Sandkuhler, gives a “torch talk” before every hot class and has students practice the proper way to use a torch before any jewelry projects start. Even students who have taken one of Iris’ hot classes before must practice torch safety before every class, because there’s no such thing as too much practice being safe with an open flame! Iris always shows students how to fill a torch with butane gas properly, how to adjust the flame size, and how to aim a flame toward your project (and not toward any humans!), among other tips.

5.) Handle sharp tools carefully
One of the sharpest tools we use in beading is an awl. Most frequently, this tool is used for either guiding knots or undoing knots in cord, but it can also be used for carefully increasing the size of the hole in a charm’s loop, or for gently pushing debris out of a bead. We want to put emphasis on the words “carefully” and “gently” because it is all too easy to stab yourself with an awl: simply push too hard and you can end up pushing the awl’s tip through your cord’s knot of your bead’s hole and into your finger (see picture of Sara’s simulated self-stabbing). This can result in a very painful, deep puncture wound that could require serious medical attention. Don’t let this happen to you!

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Left to right: 1.) Sara demonstrates how to position the tip of an awl to avoid stabbing oneself. 2.) Close-up of proper awl usage, showing Sara applying pressure to the side of her finger, rather than the tip. 3.) The result of improper awl usage! (with fake blood)

Equal care should be taken when using anything with a blade. In addition to the flying bits of wire we mentioned previously, it is also possible to inadvertently cut a piece of your skin when you meant to simply cut a piece of chain or wire, especially if your fingers are in the way of your project.

In closing, there is definitely something to be said for the truth behind the idiom, “Slow and steady wins the race.” If you take your time with your jewelry-making, and think carefully about your safety and the safety of others, everyone should have a lovely time. Bead happily, and bead boldly!

Safety goggles photo courtesy of phillips-safety.com
Butane torch photo courtesy of wikimedia.org
All other photos taken by Lydia Chapman for Blue Door Beads.

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