David Stivelman testimonial 

“I just knew my life was changed. I lost most of the dexterity in my right hand and will never get it back.” 

–David Stivelman 

David Stivelman Hand

Every first-time parent knows how challenging it can be to care for an infant. From changing diapers to buttoning or snapping onesies and other clothing to feeding them to bathing them, it’s often a struggle.  

Now imagine doing all that with a hand mangled by a table saw. 

David Stivelman had to learn to care for his newborn son just nine months after suffering a horrific accident in his home woodworking shop. The accident cost him half of the index finger on his right hand, as well as permanently damaging two other fingers. 

“Once he was born, I felt the impact of my lost dexterity in a way I hadn’t before,” David said. “Diaper changes, onesies, zippers, buttons, snaps, putting together furniture, toys, this all presented me with a really significant challenge. 

“Before he was born, I was practicing changing diapers and figuring out how to grip this and hold this and move things around. By the time he was born, I thought we’d done a pretty good job of addressing most of the things, but I was so wrong. I’ve learned buttons are my greatest enemy. We got as many things with zippers and Velcro as we could.” 

Here’s how David’s life disruption happened. 

The Accident 

The modest basement workshop in his Baltimore home was anchored by a portable table saw in 2020, an older model given to him by his grandfather. It did not have a blade guard, riving knife, or any other safety devices. David enjoyed making all sorts of projects, and even had a decent market for small projects through an online vendor. On the day it happened, he was making repeated crosscuts from maple stock when disaster struck. 

“I was rushing a bit, since I had an order to fill, and I had fallen into a rhythm and wasn’t paying full attention. With my right hand, I grabbed an offcut to move it out of the way without first stopping the saw. As I grabbed the piece, it moved into the blade, which pulled in both the wood and my hand. I didn’t realize at first how serious the injury was, but when I looked down, I saw that my index, middle, and ring fingers had all been mostly severed. The blade had cut through all of the bone and tendon and all three fingers were still attached by only a piece of skin. 

“There’s that moment when you get hurt when it’s kind of like, you don’t know how bad it is, and I look down, and I’m like ‘Oh s***.’” 

“My immediate memory is just the sound of it, it sounded the same as when a piece of wood would kick back. It just wasn’t the sound I would expect. There’s that moment when you get hurt when it’s kind of like, you don’t know how bad it is, and I look down, and I’m like ‘Oh s***.’” 

Thankfully, David’s wife was home at the time—and able to rush him to the hospital. However, because this happened during the Covid-19 pandemic, his wife was not allowed to stay with him in the ER. 

“I yelled for her, and she later told me that the sound of my voice was chilling, and as soon as she heard it, she knew something was seriously wrong. We wrapped my hand in a kitchen towel, and she drove me to the emergency room.” 

After stabilizing David’s hand, the hospital transferred him to a different hospital equipped with a hand specialty center. 

“They’ve got one of the best units for that in the area. They knew immediately I needed surgery, and they had a hand surgeon on his way. The accident happened mid-afternoon, so by this point it was 2 or 3 in the morning, and they couldn’t really do anything for me until I went into surgery. They just managed the pain as best they could and at 6 or so in the morning I went in for surgery. It was about a four- or five-hour procedure. The surgeon reattached all three fingers but warned me that he did not think the index finger would survive. I had pins in the fingers that would need to be removed in six weeks.  

“I was able to return home a few hours after the surgery. Not long after, the local anesthesia wore off and the intensity of the pain really set in. Three days after the surgery, I returned to the doctor to have the bandages removed and assess the healing so far. This was the first time I’d seen my hand since the accident, and it was shocking. My index finger had already started to die and had turned mostly black. Six weeks later, I returned for the surgery to remove the pins and amputate most of my index finger. Although my middle and ring finger had been successfully reattached, their range of motion was (and still is) significantly impacted. I lost most of the dexterity in my right hand and will never get it back.” 

Before he got into the months of rehabilitation and therapy, David knew he had to face one fear head on. 

“Probably a day or two after I got home, I came down to the basement just to move a couple things around to grab something, and I had to move the table saw from where it was just to a separate spot in the room. It was unplugged, the blade was retracted fully, and, still, when I touched it, I had this moment of almost instinctual fear, like something I had never felt before. I had to kind of step back. It was really strange, because I knew no matter how much logic I had, saying ‘There’s no possible way this can hurt me right now,’ my body just instinctually kind of recoiled from it. I realized in that moment I knew I could never use this saw again because it didn’t have any of the safety features or anything and I just had to get rid of it. So, I listed it on Craigslist and sold it pretty quickly. 

“The moment I really remember is getting home after my time in the hospital, and I sat down on the bed with my wife, and I just broke down. It was the first time I’d had to really sit and breathe and think about what had happened. I didn’t know how bad it was going to be. I didn’t know that I was going to lose my finger at that time. I didn’t know what kind of dexterity I was going to have. I just knew my life was changed.

“The emotional toll has definitely been as significant as the physical toll, if not more.”

Needless to say, David missed significant time from his job while he recovered and continued to search for ways to deal with the injured hand. 

“After the accident, I was in physical therapy for several months, and it was about six weeks after the accident when I had the pins removed and my finger amputated. I was unable to work for about two months and ended up losing a significant amount of income. I had to keep doing therapy for a year.


“You kind of instinctually know that you use your hands always. They’re important for almost everything you do. If you had asked me before this happened to list all the ways my life would be impacted if I had a serious hand injury, I could have talked for hours and I still wouldn’t have hit a fraction of it.

“It’s truly amazing how many tiny little things that are so natural and so normal that you don’t even think about until, suddenly, you have trouble doing it.”

I mean, turning a doorknob, starting your car—I couldn’t start my car for weeks without having to reach my other hand over, and I didn’t have a push button car at the time, so turning the key was a real challenge because I couldn’t get that grip, I couldn’t turn it.”

And even though woodworking led to the accident, David said he kept feeling the call to get back in the shop.  

“As my recovery progressed, I was itching to get back into the shop, but found myself increasingly nervous and apprehensive any time I needed to use a tool with a blade. So, after it happened, I knew there was going to be a time where I was recovering physically, of course, and while I was doing that I was thinking how quickly and to what extent did I want to start doing woodworking again. Like, did I want to dive right back in, or did I want to really take my time? And even less than the physical limitations, just the mental block that kept me from being comfortable using a table saw for a long time really put a dent in what I was able to do with woodworking.” 

The Cost 

Thankfully, David’s health insurance and other coverage helped to minimize what would have otherwise been medical costs deep into six figures. But it’s not just the medical bills that hit him hard. 

“The cost was definitely a bigger impact than I expected. I was unable to work for a long time. I was on short-term disability, which was 50 percent pay, so I lost a lot of income. I also lost the income from doing my woodworking business on the side. And even though my wife was working and I was still getting some pay from the disability, my income was reduced so much I ended up putting a lot of expenses on credit cards and really accumulated a lot of debt that I’m still paying off and will be for a long time. Once you get kind of under that kind of debt, it’s just increasingly hard to dig yourself out.” 


David’s grandfather, a retired surgeon and lifelong woodworker, helped David learn the craft from an early age. He’s also the one who gave David the table saw. 

“My grandpa had been a woodworker his whole life, and because he was a surgeon, he was very aware of the risks and potential for injury from power tools. So, when he gave me the saw, he walked me through all the kind of common knowledge safety things and told me all the things that I need to do to be safe. As he taught me more as I got older, he gave me my first set of tools, really basic hand tools. Even when he taught me how to use a hand saw, before he would let me use anything, he would go out of his way to explain, make sure you’re avoiding this and avoiding this and you’re doing this particular thing, because he knew the risks involved.

“Every tool he gave me and everything he taught me to do came with its own lecture about safety, its own set of rules that I had to learn before he would let me start using the tool. And the table saw was no different. When he gave me the saw, he reiterated things that he taught me before but just the very basic ideas of table saw safety, you know, picture every cut, make sure you know all these different ways to avoid kickback, just common-sense things that everyone should know, and things that I did know and just let lapse in that one moment. But it was really important to him that he went into detail about that and made sure that I was aware before he sent me off with a tool.” 

That’s why David knew he had to talk with his mentor right away. 

“My grandpa was one of the first people I spoke to after the accident. Of course, I called my dad, let him know right away, but my grandpa and I were always very close, and because he got me into woodworking, especially. After I got home, he was very sympathetic.

There was no ‘See, I told you so’ kind of moment. One of the first things he asked me was whether it was the saw he had given me, and I did not tell him that it was because I didn’t want to put that on him.  “But he was very interested in the recovery process and just being present for me. He was really helpful as I started to consider getting back into woodworking and try to find where my comfort level was with using tools again. He helped me a lot with finding my comfort in that again. Because of his emphasis on safety he was able to give me a space where I felt like I could go back to using things that I was a little nervous around because I had him helping me out and guiding me through it. Even things that I’d known my whole life that weren’t anything that would have made me think twice before, suddenly I had this very intense awareness of what could happen. So, he was really crucial in helping me get back into that process.” 

The Son 

So how do you teach a toddler about Dad living with a disabled hand? 

“I’ve been very open with him. He’s seen my hand looks different than his and I just tell him ‘Daddy got a big boo boo’. So, he’s starting to ask questions about it. This age is tough because you don’t really know how much he’s going to retain or understand, and you’ve got to find the right ways to talk about it without going into too much detail.  

David Stivelman with son

“It’s funny, my other grandfather actually lost a finger when he was young, too, and I remember being a kid and seeing that as well and I remember finding it really fascinating and really terrifying at the same time. Young people, myself included, think we’re invincible, like that won’t happen to me. Knowing that there can be long-term effects from not being careful enough or from doing something wrong I think is a lesson that I took from seeing my grandpa missing his finger when I was a kid and I think something that my son will hopefully carry with him as well. 

“He’s immediately drawn to anything that I do, and especially power tools. They’re loud, they make noises, they make a mess, they’re cool, and he’s immediately drawn to them. We’ve gotten him toy tools, and I bring him into the shop sometimes just to watch or to help me with small things or ‘Here, you hold this.’ I’ll have him help me put something together.  

“I think about the importance of not just teaching him the safety, but teaching him to appreciate what woodworking has to offer. I really do think there’s a lot of value in being able to create something and have that pride of knowing that you built something that is useful or beautiful, something that you created with your hands that was not there before. Something about that is magical, and I want him to be able to understand that.  

“Once he’s a little older, I can really go in depth about how it happened and how it’s affected me. It’s something where even if he doesn’t take off with it as a career or hobby, I want him to be able to appreciate it and find the lessons in it that I have found useful, but still make sure he’s safe. As a parent, my first instinct, my number one priority is to keep him safe, keep him happy. And as much as I know the value in learning a hobby or trade like woodworking or anything like that, the inherent risk of doing so is always front of mind for me, because it has to be.” 

“I can’t count the amount of times—it’s less now, but it still happens—where I’ll just grab something the way I’ve done it for 30 years and I just drop it.” 

“I’m at the point where there’s a lot of residual effects, a lot of pain sometimes. I’m not at a point where any more progress is being made, so I’m kind of where I will be for the rest of my life with it. Probably the biggest thing I’m still dealing with and making progress on is just learning ways to do things that I used to be able to do without thinking and now have to be creative, whether it’s pick things up or move things around, or even things like playing guitar or doing woodworking, I just have to find new ways to hold things or do things, and that’s something I think is going to be a constant learning process. 

“It’s something where I’m faced with it every day because you use your hands constantly, and whether it’s buttoning my shirt or getting my son dressed or even just things around the house. I still do a lot of things primarily right-handed, like brushing my teeth, and I’ve had to really readjust to small things: the way I hold the toothbrush, the way I even turn on the faucet, or grab a cup of water. So many times, I’ve reached to grab a cup or a plate or something and immediately dropped it because I forgot that things like grabbing a cup of water or picking up a piece of food from the table are hard now. I can’t count the amount of times—it’s less now, but it still happens—where I’ll just grab something the way I’ve done it for 30 years and I just drop it.” 

The Guitar 

Woodworking was not David’s only hobby to be affected by the injury. David has played guitar from a young age, and now his picking hand will never be the same. 

“There are some things, no matter how much I practice, I just will not be able to do the way I used to do. Some different playing techniques that are just impossible with what I have available.”

David Stivelman with guitat

“It’s always been a central part of my life, and when I realized ‘Oh, it’s not just that I can’t play as well as I used to, it’s I need to relearn essential foundational techniques from scratch.’ That’s something I had the time to do when I was younger. It’s not something I have the time to do now or the energy. It’s been a struggle just having to look at something that used to be so central to who I am and so important to me, and have to kind of accept that it’s just completely different now. 

“There are some things, no matter how much I practice, I just will not be able to do the way I used to do. Some different playing techniques that are just impossible with what I have available. It’s been a struggle to realize that. Even though it’s not something that is as central to my life as it used to be, it’s still a big part of my identity.” 


“The one lesson I really take from it is just how quickly it happened. No matter how confident or how experienced you are, it’s just a split second, and I feel like when you’re using a tool with that potential and that power, everyone’s bound to have an accident and it’s just a matter of when and how bad is it going to be.” 

“As a hobbyist woodworker, I’m not someone who has been using these tools my whole life and working full time with them, but I can see how quickly it happened, how small of a mistake it was. It was a fraction of an inch that really made the difference here. It doesn’t matter how comfortable you are, how long you’ve been using them, if you’re in a rhythm, especially if you’re making repetitive cuts like I was, you kind of get into a zone, you get in the rhythm, you’re doing things you’ve done a thousand times and when you’ve done them so much you start to get comfortable that you can let your attention wander for just a moment. I feel like no matter how long you’ve been doing it or how comfortable you are, whether you’re having a bad day, or you’ve just got something else on your mind, or there’s a noise off to the side while you’re making a cut and you look for a second, that’s all it takes. It’s a second and it happens. 

“The one thing I would always want to reiterate to anyone who does woodworking is just the speed with which (the accident) happened. People say, ‘Well, if you knew what you were doing, if you were being safe, or if you weren’t being an idiot this wouldn’t have happened. I’ve been using table saws my whole life, I know what I’m doing, and if you know what you’re doing you’re not going to get hurt.’ And, yeah, there are safety rules you can follow and there are things you can and should do, and there’s things that I did wrong that day, and I will never deny that I did something wrong. But it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing it or how comfortable you are, it’s a split second, it’s a lapse of attention, you hear a sound and turn your head for a second and all of a sudden that blade is pulling that wood, and it happens so fast. 

“The one lesson I really take from it is just how quickly it happened. No matter how confident or how experienced you are, it’s just a split second, and I feel like when you’re using a tool with that potential and that power, everyone’s bound to have an accident and it’s just a matter of when and how bad is it going to be.” 

David also had to deal with the mental anguish and guilt within himself. To help, he got a tattoo of his “new” hand wrapped in flowers and herbs that hold special meaning to him. 

“I have a tattoo of my hand that I got a few months after it happened because I realized it’s something where I was having, like flashbacks almost, where I’d look at my hand and have this persistent thought of the moment it happened, the blood and the sound and everything. And I realized the image of my hand was something that was really sitting with me in an unhealthy way, and I wanted to turn it into something that I could control and something that I liked and found beautiful. I worked with a local artist, who I think did a really great job incorporating it, and just kind of took that back and turned it into something that I can look at and be proud of instead of something that takes me back to a kind of horrific memory.” 


Obviously, if he could turn back time, David would find a way to prevent this accident. Change his routine. Take a break. Focus his mind on the task. Or replace his saw with a SawStop model, with its unique finger-saving technology. 

“When this happened, I had been saving for a SawStop because I knew the saw I had was older, wasn’t accurate, wasn’t powerful, and I had seen the demos everyone has with the hot dog, how the technology works. I was really close to ordering it, but I just didn’t have the cash, and it was something that was going to have to be put on credit, and I didn’t want to have to worry about the interest, didn’t want to have to worry about paying off the credit card. I was just going to save up until I had the cash to buy it. That was less than a month before the accident happened. It would have saved me a lot of money in the long run. 

“I think it was like a week after the accident, one of the YouTubers that I follow did a video really in-depth, explaining all the technology and everything, it felt personal. It was definitely interesting to see how the technology works after I’d seen what can happen when it doesn’t.  

“With technology like that in those moments where you have a lapse of attention or there’s just a split second where something goes wrong, even if it never happens, having that peace of mind, of just knowing that if something were to happen or if someone else is using it, is incredibly valuable. If my son is here and he’s learning woodworking and he doesn’t have all the experience I have, or if you’re teaching someone, or so many different things that can go wrong, just knowing in that case there is an extra level of security and safety there no matter how many safety steps you take, having an additional level just to make sure or just to prevent any serious injuries is huge.”