The typical egger can experience problems right away if
they forget that eggs are organic and that organic things can carry bacteria.
You’re familiar with bacteria… that stuff that causes infections? So, your
first stop on the path to safe egging is to make sure that you clean and
disinfect your eggs before hunkering down to work on them. Many suppliers state
up front that their eggshells have been cleaned and disinfected, but we aren’t
always fortunate enough to get our eggs from those suppliers. Deals do come
along at times and you’d do well to remember to wash your shells with soap and
water as well as disinfecting them with bleach or with one of your favorite
kitchen or bathroom-cleansing agents. And, if working on eggs seems to change
your overall physical well-being, remember that some people are allergic to
eggs, whether or not the shells have been thoroughly cleaned. Your physician can
do a simple test to determine if you’re one of those unlucky few.
Okay, you’ve got clean eggshells awaiting your magic
touch and you excitedly pull up your favorite chair so you can get to work.
Uh-oh. Another danger zone… we’re going to talk about ergonomics. Before you
pooh-pooh this concept as overkill, talk to someone who has sat for hours, day
after day, in a poorly designed chair. Or, talk to someone who has suffered from
carpal tunnel or tendonitis because of repetitive motion (eggshell carvers are
more likely to experience this, but nobody is immune.) Even resting your
forearms on the sharp edge of a table while you work can cause nerve damage that
is extremely painful. Scary scenario, huh? It is scary when it happens to
you, but the good thing is that it’s so simple to avoid! Invest in a good
chair with solid support for your back, pull this wonderful chair up to a work
surface that’s the right height for your arms and – last, but not
least – get in the habit of taking frequent breaks. Stretch, get up and move
around… set an alarm if you have to!
Next on our list of nefarious enemies is a veritable cornucopia of things we can inhale while working on eggs. These can be divided into two groups: toxic fumes and eggshell dust. As we discuss these mean ol’ substances, please keep in mind that you are not the only individual at risk in your home, just because you are the only one working with eggs. Other humans and pets living with you are exposed as well. So, what do we need to be careful with? Well, do you bleach your eggs to disinfect them or to remove the membrane? Inhaling bleach fumes can literally burn your lung tissue, so always use bleach in a well-ventilated area. Ventilation is also required if you use paints, sealers, solvents and glues in your work. It would probably be prudent to point out that the “instant” glues pose another unique danger. If you aren’t careful, they can bring you closer to your work than you’d like. It would be embarrassing to have to explain just how that miniature Fabergé reproduction came to be permanently adhered to your nose. Tweezers could help you avoid this type of problem when using any of the “super” glues. You etchers out there should also take care when working with vinegar or muriatic acid (and please do not mix the two). Repeated exposure to fumes produced by all of these things is quite dangerous, believe me. Egg dust can cause just as many pulmonary problems even though it is not a toxic substance. Eggshells are made primarily of calcium carbide, which is normally harmless. The problem we eggers have that is when we are cutting or carving our eggshells, we produce an ultra-fine cloud of this dust. Inhaling dust is not a good thing to do on a regular basis, even though some of the calcium can be absorbed into our bodies beneficially. How do you escape this nasty dust? Some people cut all of their eggs outside and, even in the great outdoors, they wear a dust mask. This is just dandy if you’re a “casual” cutter. That is, if you occasionally cut a few eggs in half or cut a few ovals or doors. Casual cutters can also get by with a vacuum cleaner hose taped right on their work surface, engaging the vacuum only while they are actually cutting. If, however, you’re a regular cutter or carver, you’ll need to invest in a good dust collection system, build a self-contained dust box that vents the dust away from you or get a drill like the Turbo-Carver II with a water misting attachment that contains the dust as you work.
Our next stop on the highway to happiness (or the
highway to Hell, if you choose to ignore my warnings) involves protecting your
eyes, and two dangers come immediately to mind. As many of you have discovered,
cutting tools have a tendency to propel small shards of eggshells in all
directions as you work. These little missiles can travel at very high speeds and
one of Murphy’s special egging laws states that in spite of the total surface
area of the egger’s body, a flying piece of eggshell is most likely to land in
the tiniest area where it can do the most damage: in your eye. Simple goggles or
safety glasses will do a great job of protecting your peepers from this danger.
Remember, another of Murphy’s special laws for eggers states that of all the
flying debris you create while egging, the one that lands in your eye will be
the only one with bacteria that you missed back when you were cleaning the egg
to begin with. Another eye problem experienced by a few of us more
anal-retentive eggers is that we forget to blink. That’s right, we concentrate
so hard that we actually override our autonomic urge to moisten the eyeball on a
regular basis. Over the long haul, this can create a great deal of pain! No
equipment can solve this problem (unless you can rig up a little beeper to
remind you to blink every few seconds – not the most practical of solutions)
so it’s up to you to do whatever you have to do to break this nasty habit.
As long as we’re talking about protecting body parts
here, let’s not forget our ears. Most egging tasks are very quiet activities,
unless you’re a carver. Air compressors, drills and exhaust fans or vacuum
cleaners can be loud enough to actually affect your hearing after a time. How do
you avoid this danger? Some people wear earplugs if they have other people
around to listen for the phone and doorbell. Putting your compressor or vacuum
cleaner far away from you (preferably in another room) and using an extra long
hose is a viable solution. Drills produce far fewer decibels than these other
machines, and working within a cutting box can minimize even that.
Speaking of drills, they are designed to cut, right?
They aren’t picky about what they cut, either; they just go after whatever you
instruct them to cut. Please keep that uppermost in your mind when
you’re cutting an egg and your nose begins to itch. Put the drill down or turn
it off before you succumb to the urge to scratch. Dremel Tools revolving at
25,000 rpm’s and air tools revolving at 400,000+ rpm’s have several things
in common, the most important of which is that they are POWER TOOLS!! You need
to observe the same safety rules as factory workers in terms of keeping your
long hair pulled back, avoiding baggy clothes and keeping your workspace tidy.
Forgetting any of these precautions can cause major problems, okay? I hesitate
to mention this because it seems so obvious, but here goes… when changing bits
in your Dremel, turn it off or unplug it! When changing burs in your air tool,
cut off the air supply first! And, in the case of air tools specifically,
don’t supply your tool with more air pressure than the manufacturer
recommends. At best, you’ll burn up your turbine. At worst, you could
experience a bursting drill. Likewise pay attention to the burs you use in air
tools. Not all burs that you might be able to get are rated for such high
speeds. Just because they fit a dental drill doesn’t mean they have a high
speed rating… 90% of the drills that dentists use run slower than a typical
Dremel. Oh, and if you’re using an air compressor with an air tank on it, you
must empty the moisture from the tank regularly. Moisture that sits around in
there for long will cause the tank to rust and a rusting tank can explode.
I’ll just bet that you never thought egging to be such a hazardous activity. Actually, most of you already practice safety standards because you’re naturally wise or because one or two drastic experiences wised you up pretty quickly. New eggers will benefit more from these tips than most of the old-timers, but everyone must stay aware. Although this little treatise on the hazards of egging could be seen as a good plot for a horror movie, if you’ll just scan quickly back through what I’ve written, you’ll see that most of it involves simple logic and none of the solutions are complicated or expensive. We eggers produce some of the most unique craft and artwork on the face of the planet and manage to enjoy ourselves immensely along the way. Practicing safety measures will enhance that enjoyment.
Gary LeMaster is the editor of "The Eggshell Sculptor", carving teacher extraordinaire, and all round good guy. Check out his website, Eggzotica, for more information on his art, classes, tools, etc.