Why Brian Isn’t Blind.
Or, An Ode to Safety Glasses.

In metalsmithing, as most other things, learning from mistakes is a valuable skill. Learning from somebody else’s mistakes is priceless. So let me share with you why I still have binocular vision.

Some years ago, I was out at the barn, where my lathe lurks. I have a milling attachment for the lathe, which I use from time to time, as my real milling machine is still in mothballs 3000 miles away.
This rig attaches to the toolpost of the lathe by way of a cast iron yoke which must be held down against the toolpost by some sort of crossbar. Exactly what sort of crossbar is left to the ingenuity of the lathe owner.
Being in a hurry, I used a very large blank toolbit. 1/2” square high-speed steel, about 3” long. I can’t imagine how much force it’d take to break that bar. Clearly, plenty strong enough to hang onto a milling attachment.
I’d successfully used this oversized bit for years with no problems, so I didn’t think anything of it as I attached the milling rig to the lathe for a quick bit of facing.

Having completed the first few steps, I turned the lathe off, and picked up a notepad and calculator to figure out my next few moves. Nothing is moving, all is quiet. Even the rats have decamped to places of lesser racket. The only sound is the scritch of my pencil, figuring out where the next holes need to go, when suddenly, there’s a god-awful bang, and an invisible someone slaps me in the face. My head rocks back, and my safety glasses fall off.

Once I find a broom to knock my wits down out of the rafters, I begin to piece together what happened. My safety glasses have a very large gouge in them, neatly centered over my right eye. The milling attachment has fallen off the toolpost, and is sitting on the bed of the lathe. The HSS bit that was holding it in place is in two pieces: one on the lathe, the other on the floor near my feet. It seems that the toolbit may be strong and hard, but it’s also brittle. Eventually, it just shattered from simple stress, even just sitting there with the lathe off, it shattered with enough force to rock my head back when it hit me.
I’ve developed the habit of leaving my safety glasses on at all times when I’m anywhere near heavy equipment, so I still had them on, even if all I was doing was making notes. That habit saved my eye. If I hadn’t had the glasses on, the flying fragment of the toolbit would have easily destroyed my right eye. This happened years ago, and I didn’t save the glasses, but the impact mark was perfectly centered, right in front of my right eye. No doubt at all. The eye would have been toast.

Let this be a lesson to you: keep your safety glasses on at all times, even when you’re not actively doing anything you’d think of as dangerous. The worst ‘almost’ accident I’ve ever had happened when I was just standing around making notes!