A Cautionary Tale..

I’m a major fan of Christopher Schwartz’s, lost art press blog and was amused, if that’s the correct word, to read of his nasty encounter with black walnut, (see, The Nasty Nut).
It reminded me of how I developed a healthy distrust of white and red cedar.

It happened back in September 2008 whilst I was working at the working wood show in Canberra. After discussions with the dealer we were doing the show with, our focus for this event was demonstrating the new Vac Sys vacuum clamp system as well as the Rotex and ETS sanders.
From previous shows i’d done earlier in the year I found the the best way to demonstrate the Vac Sys was to fix the Vac Sys to a MFT 3 table then put a slab of timber, borrowed from one of the timber merchants at the show, then use the rotex to sand and polish the slab to a mirror finish. ( See blog on “how to get the most from your rotex” for the technique)
It was a mutually beneficial arrangement as we had a continuous supply of timber to demonstrate on and the timber merchant got a finished slab he could sell for a higher price.
Well, once the test centre stand was set up I went to explore the timber area and soon met up with the boys from Cedarworks in NSW who agreed to let me use their timber. I’d never used this technique on cedar before and was interested in how it would work.
The show began on the Friday which was a blur of sanded boards, and demonstrations. The cedar finished beautifully using the rotex though as the day progressed I found that the 1200 and 1500 grit titan abrasives used in the final stages of the demonstrations weren’t lasting as long as they normally did with hardwoods.

Should’ve paid a bit more attention to this.

Saturday again passed quickly with more boards polished and plenty of sander sales. Started to feel a bit funky that night with my left eye now beginning to feel decidedly gritty and starting to look a bit bloodshot.

Also should of paid more attention to this!

Woke up Sunday morning feeling, well, decidedly crook, with the left eye leaking green goo and the right eye turning a bit red.
I gathered my self together and figured that as my flight home was booked for Sunday night and I’d have no hope of getting home earlier, I may as well go to the venue and do the rest of the show.
Well, you know how when you’ve got commitments to fulfill and you psych yourself up; I did all that and was not feeling too bad when I left the hotel and got to the venue. The eyes were a bit blurry but I could deal with that.
My efforts in talking myself up were rendered futile when I arrived at the venue and was confronted by colleagues, and the dealer staff whose comments of, ” what happened to your eyes” and “Oh you look terrible” really helped to make me feel better.
Anyway, I managed through the rest of the show, packed up and got to the airport to find my plane was delayed for an hour.

This weekend just keeps getting better!!!!

Went to the bathroom to check things out before I got on the plane and was a bit surprised at how revolting I looked. Both eyes were now really bloodshot and leaking green goo.
It now made sense why everyone had been giving me a wide berth at the airport.
I tried to make myself a bit more presentable, then after about another half an hour, got to my seat on the plane.
Got myself comfortable, then was tapped on the shoulder by the hostie who wanted to check if I had seatbelt on. She took one look at me, her smile disappeared then she hurried off to get the cabin supervisor.
After reassuring them I was well enough to fly I eventually got back to Melbourne and managed, more by good luck than good management to drive myself home.

Just after midnight I walked in the front door at home and was greeted with a horrified expression on my wife’s face,( that’s never good). Both eyes were now oozing copious amounts of green goo, were swollen, bloodshot and bleeding from the corners.

My lovely wife grabbed her keys and took me straight to the eye and ear hospital in the city.
After a few hours of tests the verdict was that I had developed a severe bacterial infection from the fine cedar dust which had also scratched both eyes.

The end result was 2 weeks off work with bucket loads of eye drops. I was fortunate to make a full recovery but I’m very aware that things could have been a lot worse.

So what happened.
Well, during my two week recuperation I has a good deal of time to go through the events and see if I figure out where the weekend went pear shaped.
I performed all demonstrations with full dust collection which collected pretty well everything until I hit the 1200 grit and 1500 grit Titan papers. When you sand above 400 grit the swarf you make is classified as “flour” rather than dust. The finer the grit the finer flour. One of the characteristics of Titan papers is that over 1200 grit there are no holes for dust collection. So the flour I was creating was staying on my hands which I then transferred to my eyes when I inadvertently wiped my eye or touched my face.
The problem was compounded by sanding cedar slabs for almost three solid days.
My doctor also advised me at a later appointment that under magnification they found that the particles of cedar flour they had examined were quite sharp rather than being rounded like most timber flour. This probably also explains why my papers weren’t lasting along.

I leant my lesson here and during later demonstrations had a tack cloth handy to contain the flour when sanding above 1200 and I also had a bucket of water handy to rinse my hands in to remove any residue of the flour.

I still work with cedar, albeit a lot more carefully and I’ve had no further problems.

Anyway everyone; have fun and work safe.



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