Plugging leaks (or how to stop blood going everywhere)

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Settle in folks, there is a back story which will take a while to tell.

When I was in my early twenties, I was crazy about windsurfing. We used to live minutes from the beach, so I would generally get two to three sails in per week during summer if the wind was blowing. After a winter where for one reason or another I didn’t get much sailing in at all, we went camping at Lake Cootharaba in the spring for a long weekend. Having not held a boom for many months, the usual calluses on my hands had been replaced by baby soft skin.

On my first sail of the weekend I developed blisters, and because of adrenaline, water numbed hands or youthful stupidity, I just kept on sailing, leading to the blisters popping, then the flaps of skin being torn off altogether. By the time I got back to the tent my hands were in significant pain from the exposed raw flesh.

Now we’ve all heard the tales of hospitals gluing skin together in surgery or the ER. As luck would have it, I kept a bottle of hardware shop super glue in my camping kit, and thought that it would surely create a new layer of skin affording me the capacity to continue sailing for the rest of the weekend. Sitting on a chair, I dutifully applied a layer of super glue covering each piece of raw flesh at the base of each finger, and allowed time for it to dry fully. My feelings of smug satisfaction at my brilliant scheme came to an abrupt end when I flexed my hands. It appears as though my super glue was not designed to flex. Instead it just disintegrated into what could be aptly described as a thousand shards of glass embedding into my raw flesh.

The next several hours were spent in agony, feeling sorry for myself as I sat with a pair of my wife’s tweezers picking out one shard at a time. My wife didn’t say much at the time, but I knew she thought I was an idiot. Actually I do recall her being utterly exasperated that I could assume a $3 bottle of hardware superglue was the same as what surgeons used.

Fast forward to eighteen months or so ago when I started doing lots of work with hand tools. I find that I get lots of nicks. Not big cuts or significant injuries. Think splinters, or the corner of a chisel catching me as I brush against it. Despite the small nature of the injuries, I leak. It doesn’t take much blood on unfinished timber to leave a mark that is very hard to remove. There are plenty of projects where I know where to look to find the familiar stain where I’ve signed my work with DNA.

The obvious solution is a plaster. Except that most nicks are either on, or near the tips of my fingers. Not only does this make affixing awkward, but it removes the feeling of finger on tool which provides a surprising amount of feedback which is sorely missed when dulled by a layer of gauze and material.

A month or so ago whilst in the workshop I nicked a finger, and as I walked into the house to get a plaster I was thinking that there must surely be a better way, when inspiration struck… that’s right, super glue! Surely it would work to hold a cut closed. Isn’t that how plastic surgeons use it?

I pulled it out of the glue drawer in the kitchen, but nothing would come out when held above my cut and squeezed. Ahh, it’s blocked. This is a common occurrence though, where a tiny crust forms at the tip of the tube, and is easy rectified with one of my wife’s sewing pins. Unbeknownst to me though, as I was inserting the pin, I must have been squeezing the bottle, because all of a sudden there was a wet sensation between my index finger and thumb where holding the pin.

I can reliably inform you dear reader that in the time it takes for nerve endings in a human finger to sense moisture, those signals to travel to your brain, the brain to find the correct neural pathway to sound the internal alarm, and the mouth to utter “Oh rats”, is one nanosecond longer than super glue takes to set.

I managed to pull the pin out from between my fingers and pull them apart as hard as I dared to minimise to surface area that would be glued together. I rushed to the shed where I fortunately have a very sharp marking knife, and proceeded to slice my fingers apart. It’s probably worth mentioning that at some point in this whole process my leak stopped bleeding all on its own, gah!

Over dinner that evening one of my kids commented on me holding my knife oddly due to my slightly skinnier fingers. I expected it would be a funny story, so I told them. What I didn’t expect was my wife’s memory and subsequent “One would think you would have learned something in twenty years about not patching yourself up with superglue!”.

Now I think it’s fair to say the thought was a good one, but realised that my wife’s favourable impression of me is worth more than my continued experiments with superglue.

None he less, there must be a better way than plasters, and dear readers, I am here to tell you that I have found it.

I keep a little jar of shellac mix behind my bench for quick brush jobs. Now when I get a nick, I simply open the jar, dip my finger in, blow it to evaporate the alcohol and set the shellac, and I’m good to go within 60 seconds. Being non toxic and food safe, I expect it is fine for sealing over cuts.

I’ve patched several nicks to date, and it works magnificently. If my wife is around I mention it with a wry smile. She just shakes her head at me and walks away chuckling, which I think is code for “I think he’s amazing”.


March 2020


  1. Hey Lance. Great story. I have used cyno to plug leaks while working for years. The trick is to not use too much…. and also only use old cyno. The reaction while setting is exothermic and the fresher the cyno the hotter it gets. The moisture and salt on our skin acts as a catalyst so this makes it set off faster and hotter… you get the idea.
    I am going to have to try and find some shellac here because you are always talking about it and it sounds like amazing stuff. Though I don’t do much woodwork I am sure I will find it useful for something that needs to be glossy.
    On the subject of gluing yourself together with cyno… there is an industry term for that. ‘STP’ or Stuck To Prototype. The other day while assembling a model Mars rover with my kids, I got STP and my eldest son asked me how many times I have done that in my career. I thought about it for a bit and had to admit, …more times than I can count.
    Great site as always. Keep it up. Chat soon.

  2. Sorry Roger, I some how missed your comment.

    STP, I like that 🙂 I would assume most hardware shops would have shellac either pre-mixed or as flakes/buttons, which you mix with Methelated Spirits. It’s also used as a covering for nails and hard boiled sweets to make them shiny! Only buy a little though as it has a shelf life of about 12 months.

    I got a massive splinter a couple of days ago, and reverted back to CA 😀

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