Safety Week 2012 – Matt Vanderlist’s video

It’s the end of Woodworking Safety Week and I was going to post something something different but this video from Matt Vanderlist (Matt’s Basement Workshop) caught my eye and I just had to do some analysis.

First, the video. It’s graphic so be aware of this BEFORE you hit play.


Well, wasn’t that fun? I can still see the router flopping all over the bench top with abandon in my mind. Does that mean we woodworkers should give up our tailed routers? Absolutely not.

Although that may be the reaction of many, those less reactionary should seriously look at what he did and how we should never do that ourselves. It’s like any mistake, you need to learn from it. Everyone talks about tablesaw accidents but routers, especially the new larger horse power models, can cause some serious damage if used improperly.

Now, let’s discuss Matt’s analysis. His first mistake he points out is complacency. In other words he just didn’t think about what he was doing.

I don’t think he meant it that way when he created his video but that’s what it boils down to. He listed within his section on complacency several things to illustrate how he was complacent. Being tired was one of the major things he pointed out and he is correct to do so. When you’re tired, it’s time to quit…no matter what you’re doing, how you’re doing it or what your deadline may be…stop, get some rest and attack it when you’re fresh. While this is a big factor, I just don’t think it’s his biggest mistake.

He gives the example ‘I’m just going to use the tool this way just this one time. What’s the worse that can happen?’ This implies that he thought about the use of the router and chose not to do it safely. I think he’s correct in his “complacency” argument which means he never stopped to think about what he was doing. In the video he had the router set up, the board in place, picked up the router and turned it on and started routing without a thought to what was happening and why. We’ll get to that shortly.

His next section was on misuse of the tool. And while this too was a big contributing factor to the accident, it still wasn’t the biggest. He points out that he’s using the wrong router for the task and he’s once again correct but he didn’t go far enough. His trim router was made to “trim” things off. It’s in the name! What he failed to do prior to turning on the router was think about the operation he was performing and what were the potential problems.

Matt’s last section was about body placement. Again, I think his analysis was on the right path but he stopped short of reaching the goal. He works hard at trying to get you to understand his body position wasn’t being effected by camera placement. I’m sure it wasn’t. Personally, I didn’t see where he was over-reaching to the point it would cause this accident. What I saw was, he didn’t think about what could happen and what would be his escape route if something catastrophic happened.

This all brings us to what I saw and what I think he could have done to avoid this accident. Let’s look at the four major things I think he did wrong.

First, he was taking too big a cut for the size router he was using. This jibes with his idea of switching to a full sized router rather than a trim router but even at that, the cut is just too big to take in one pass given the rest of this setup. I wouldn’t attempt such a deep cut (look at how much router bit is projecting beyond the base of the router) in one pass with any router. One of the things I want you to walk away with from this is, a larger router isn’t going to make the process inherently safer. If Matt had used a 3-1/2 horse power router, he would still have had problems taking such an enormous cut.

Now that I’ve criticized how he did it, let’s take a look at how it could have been done better. First off, regardless of what router he chose, he should have tried to take that pattern cut in several lighter passes. I’m not talking at this point about how much material extended beyond the pattern. I’m talking about how far the bit projected beyond the base. It looked as though he was using a top mount pattern bit to make the cut. In spite of the name, it’s the wrong choice. If he would have thought about how far the cutter extended beyond the base, he might have realized there was no way to control the router once he made contact with the wood.

The better choice would have been to use a guide bushing and take the trim cuts in smaller bites (3 or 4 at least). I know that means making several trips around that pattern but I’m sure the extra 15 minutes would have saved him hours (if not days) of pain. Even with a trim router, this cut would have been a lot safer and manageable with a guide bushing and shallow cuts. He just needed to think through the process better.

Starting on end grain is another problem he had with this accident. Trying to take such a deep cut on end grain at any time is just asking for trouble. And he found it. Again, shallower cuts and starting on side grain (where the grain direction is going in his favor) would have been the better choice had he thought about it.

My next bone of contention is going to cause some controversy, I’m sure. Let me just get it out…I don’t like those hockey puck bench things. Matt mentions that they’re safe ‘you’ve seen the demo with them using a belt sander on a board on top of them and it doesn’t move’. In the inimitable words of Col. Sherman T. Potter…horse hockey. I’ve never liked the pucks nor the mats for routing. There’s too many directional forces at work for them to be secure. Using a belt sander on a board that’s on top of the pucks puts a fair amount of downward pressure on the work. That’s what keeps it “securely” in place. I say “securely” because I’m not standing behind a person using a belt sander with a board on those pucks, are you? Think about it, a bit too much dust between the puck and the board and a drop in downward pressure and you’ve got a rectangular frisbee on your hands…on in your stomach or face.

Let me say this in no uncertain terms. Clamp your work securely to your work surface. If you stop and think about it for a second, no matter what I’m doing, if I have my work locked into a vice or clamped to my bench it isn’t going anywhere.

Matt pointed out how he was going the wrong direction. When I watch the video, it looks like he was doing that from the start. It was my first reaction when I watched the video. It looked like he pushed the router into the work and then decided to move the running router away from himself. At that point it grabbed the end grain and became a rocket instead of a router. I’ll take Matt at his word that he actually intended to go the right direction and accidentally caught the work while trying to back up to his starting point. I just thought it too important to not point out here…DO NOT CLIMB CUT WITH A ROUTER. It’s spinning far too fast and has too much horse power (that little Rigid has a one horse power motor) for ANYONE to control. Matt’s climb cut wasn’t intentional but the inability to control the tool was exacerbated by the depth of cut. The base of the router being so small also contributed to the bit contacting the wood when he didn’t intend it. If he would have thought about what he was doing more, he would never have backed up with his router.

One of the last things I see that Matt did wrong was he used his hand to help secure the wood to the pucks. See my rant on the pucks to understand why I don’t think Matt thought this process through enough. It’s just a couple of paragraphs back so you should be able to find it quickly.

In all of this, I’m not trying to bash my friend Matt Vanderlist. I’m trying to point out Matt’s biggest mistake. It’s one I talk about frequently here at the school, the Acanthus Workshop. If you’ve taken a woodworking class here I’m sure you have heard me talk about it. Matt’s biggest mistake was he didn’t think.

He shut off his brain and used a tool that, for all the reasons he and I have given, wasn’t right for the job. He also didn’t think about how the tool was going to react to coming in contact with the workpiece. He didn’t think about where the tool, the work or the cutter might end up if something when completely wrong. He didn’t think about how to keep his hands out of the path of the cutter when something did go wrong nor did he think about how he can’t move fast enough to avoid injury. He didn’t think about the fact that he was tired and NOT THINKING.

No matter what tool you are using, whether it be hand or power driven, you need to think about what you’re doing. You need to think about what the potential dangers are of the operation. You need to think about how you can position yourself to receive the least bodily injury possible should something catastrophic happen. You need to be alert and focused on the task at hand. In other words, you need to think…constantly. As sad as it may be in some cases, your brain is your biggest safety device. If you aren’t willing to use it, give up woodworking and take up crochet. Think about it.

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7 thoughts on “Safety Week 2012 – Matt Vanderlist’s video

  1. What my initial thoughts were was that he was routing in the wrong direction and that he did not take multiple passes as he was trying to bite off more than the router could chew! Then when I listened to his reasons why the accident occured I didn’t even agree with his first three (3), couldn’t determine from the video whether or not he was tired and why did he place his very last point, my first, where he did. That to me should have been at the top of his list!

    And immediately following that comment (which he didn’t even rank as number 4) I didn’t even watch the remainder of his video I went right back to rewatch the whole “incident” to confirm what he said, “I went in the wrong direction to go back and…”, and realized that was a complete misstatement!

    But before I sent this I wanted to first read what you had to say because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t inserting foot in mouth and then you would NEVER have me back in your shop because of MY sloppy analysis. You taught me well, Yoda!

    1. Bob,

      I want to address something right out of the gate. I’ve gotten a couple of responses to this post on my Facebook page as well as a couple of emails about my post.

      First off, I am really not trying to bash Matt Vanderlist. I’m trying to give him (and everyone who reads my blog) something to think about. Safety starts with thinking the process through completely. I truly believe Matt thinks at this point he was going back to start the cut over. It may have been in his mind but, to me, on the video it looks like he just went the wrong way. A mistake easily made by anyone.

      Bill commented on FB that it’s easy to say the accident happened because he didn’t think about the operation. He followed up by saying it was entirely the wrong choice of tool. I didn’t say Matt’s ONLY mistake was not to think. I said it was his biggest mistake. Had he thought about it, like Bill did, he probably would not have used a trim router.

      I got an email from my old friend Mike Siemsen in which he said I should have brought up using a router table (or shaper) instead. This too is a valid method to trim the piece to the pattern. This method has a different set of potential hazards. If the person using the router table shuts of their brain and doesn’t think the process through entirely, they could have the same accident in reverse (the work goes flying instead of the router) with the same potential for disaster.

      My point in the post is, no matter which method you decide to use for any operation think it through so that Matt’s accident doesn’t happen to you. Let’s face it, there’s always more than one way to skin the cat. Whether you’re holding the router or using a router table there are inherent dangers once you turn on the tool. Find and develop the safest method that makes sense to you (meaning you fully understand what you’re doing and how the process works and what the potential dangers are) BEFORE you turn on the tool. Don’t just grab and go.

      Again I say, I am NOT BASHING Matt Vanderlist. This is an accident that could happen to anyone. I’ve seen amateur and professional woodworkers all do exactly the same thing Matt did using a variety of different tools/machines on a variety of different woodworking operations. The common cause of every accident, lack of focus on the task at hand and failure to properly plan the operation. They all failed to THINK it through.

  2. Chuck

    I concur completely and I never once thought your intent was to bash, but rather present another view or perspective. Mine was one where I just thought he started out wrong from the very beginning and was too aggressive no matter what tool or method chosen.

    “THINKING” it through applies to everything we do in every area of our lives from thinking before we say something we might regret after we say it to thinking about whether or not we can afford to go out to dinner rather than just staying home. There are consequences for every action and you definitely hit the proverbial nail on the head with this one!


    1. Bob,

      I know you realize I wasn’t trying to bash. There’s lots of people who read this blog (including Matt) who are fans of Matt’s and I just want them to understand this isn’t an anti-Matt rant (or is it?). I consider Matt a friend and want to keep it that way (preferably a friend with all ten fingers). The thing about this whole accident is, I can see myself and nearly everyone I know having it happen to them. THAT’s why it’s so important to critique what happened as “harshly” as I did. It’s an easy mistake to make and constructive criticism is a gift everyone should share. That’s why I also posted the info Mike Siemsen sent me about the router table. It was an alternative I failed to mention. No matter what method we choose, let’s try to think it through enough that all the consequences are good.

  3. Chuck,

    I have to disagree, in part, with what you said. If you are not willing to use your brain, even crochet can be hazardous:

    Now, back to routing:

    As for the use of a pattern bit, I think of the operation as requiring two hands on either the router (if the router is on top), or two hands on the work, if using a router table. If I only had one hand, I would have to figure out how to get the same amount of control of the situation with one hand before attempting it.

    Should I NEVER use a climb cut? I have run into some situations where the end grain will severely tear out if a climb cut isn’t resorted to. In those situations I have used very light cuts and taken precautions to guard against mishap. Should I be resorting to a method other than routing in this situation?



    1. Charles,

      Not trying to cast aspersions but those dreadlocks dudes don’t quite sound like they were really coherent enough to be crocheting…think Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High…

      Two hands or nothing is what I’m saying. That combined with smaller cuts will ensure a great deal more safety.

      I’m saying you should NEVER climb cut without the aid of a power feeder and then only in rare instances and using EXTREME caution. Shallower cuts in the correct direction, even on end grain, should give the desired result if your bits are sharp. If it still doesn’t give you what you want, there are LOTS of ways to clean it up including everything from scrapers to creatively using files and rasps to good old sandpaper. There’s always another way to do nearly everything so there’s just no excuse for choosing an unsafe method.

      1. Thank you for being unambiguous. But, I guess that is what NoBS is all about.


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