If It Slips, Where's It Gonna Go?

Elsewhere I posted about the very humbling thank you note I receveived from Steve Lamantia, author of Scary Sharp TM. In it he referenced another piece he had written, of the above title. Thanks to one of my TNYW friends who found it in the usenet archives, I have resurrected it and reproduced it here. It's worth archiving, not just because the lesson taught is so valuable, but because Steve's writing is worth memorializing, too.

From: (Stephen LaMantia)
Subject: If It Slips, Where's It Gonna Go?
Date: 1995/08/22
newsgroups: rec.woodworking

In the "Re: Wanted: Stanley #7 plane body" thread, (Scott Little) writes:

I'm looking for a replacement body for my Stanley #7 jointer. One fateful day recently I was doing the edge of a long board with good old #7. I had clamped the board to the railing on my deck. At the end of a pass, I somehow lost my grip on the plane and over it went. I watched in horror as it tumbled 20 feet to the rocks below and broke in half upon impact!

Scott, you definitely have my sympathy; I cringed just reading about your air-plane. So realize this is not to rub salt in a wound; just an appropriate place to bring up this reminder once again.

My grandpa was a carpenter. (Why does that sound like a song title?) Although I was too much of a typical scatterbrained kid to learn a real lot from him—just some basic skills was all I had the patience for—one of the most valuable lessons he taught me was this:

“If it slips, where's it gonna go?”

As I write this, I can still hear his voice saying it. He must have said it to me a thousand times, which was about five times more than really necessary. His point, of course, was that when working with any tools, it's always good to visualize the accident that's going to jump out and gitcha when something slips (chisel, handplane, knife, hammer, et al). Estimate where the tool's going to go when it goes too far or veers off course, and then make sure there are no parts of your body (or a 20-foot abyss, or power cords, or children) present in that location. Don't assume nothing will slip, because the cosmos are watching and the cosmos have a sick sense of humor and as soon as you make that assumption, guess what's gonna happen to you?

If it slips, where's it gonna go? Very simple concept, actually, and after early on forgetting it two or so times to my extreme physical detriment, discomfort and inconvenience, I've learned to make it my mantra whenever beginning a cut or any other process. It sounds simple, even silly, I realize; still, it's saved me grief many times so far.

So, repeat after me: If it slips, where's it gonna go? If it slips, where's it gonna go? If it slips, where's it gonna go?…

Thanks, Grandpa.

Your ten-fingered, two-eyed, not-too-badly-scarred, still walking/talking and fully sentient grandson, Steve.

Steve LaMantia
Seattle, WA
[Gutknife users are exempt from this; you
have no choice. Try a Kevlar t-shirt.]

Thanks to my friend, Tony Haukap, for finding the original in the usenet archives.

Last updated: 27 January 2009

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