On my first day of 7th grade shop class, the teacher rolled a TV stand into the room and without any introduction, stuck a video tape into the VCR.
For 40 minutes, my classmates and I watched grisly reenactments of power tool injuries—the very sorts of tools we were supposed to use ourselves that semester. We watched footage of a real surgery to remove shards of metal and glass embedded in a man’s eye because he hadn’t worn his safety goggles.
My stomach turned. I looked out across the cement shop floor at the bandsaw and the drills and all the other tools that could turn my eyeballs into bloody soup.
Our shop teacher turned off the TV, with the injunction to, “Be safe, kids.” He then passed out a paper of 22 possible projects we could work on that semester. To get an A, we needed to successfully complete 15 of them.
I scanned the list.
My answer was simple.
Not every project required power tools. So I would complete only the assignments that did not require sharp, dangerous, eye-gashing machinery.
I did the drafting assignment with paper, pencil, and ruler. I made a flowerpot holder with some flimsy metal and a manual press. I did all the low-risk projects for half the semester, until it became clear that without power tools, I could only earn a C.
So I looked for the least-involved option: making a keychain with the bandsaw.
Four little cuts in a square of acrylic. I could do that.
I put on my safety goggles. I chose the colors for my keychain. I started up the saw, my stomach in knots. I fed the little piece of plastic through the machine…
And I loved it. The cut was slick and straight and the pitch of the bandsaw was so satisfying. I turned my keychain to the other side and made the next cut.
And then I only had half the semester left.
I’d spent terrified weeks avoiding the drills, the jigsaw, anything with a blade. But now, I didn’t have enough time to visit them all, to find out how much utility and delight they contained, right alongside all their possible dangers. Acknowledging those dangers and guarding against them was useful, but avoiding them entirely had been a loss. Every class until the end of the semester, I put on my goggles and then hurried out onto the shop floor to find the next tool that scared me and turn it on.