Work safe and stay safe.
There are unfortunately many injuries associated with woodworking or more accurately the incorrect practicing thereof. These injuries can be as a result of a range of controllable situations like incorrect use of power tools or even poor housekeeping. For everything else, there are a great many, often inexpensive, safety controls and equipment available for the safe practice of woodworking. Using the correct safety equipment for woodworking can go a long way in preventing injury so hobbyist can keep practicing their beloved craft.
Personal protective equipment
PPE is a woodworkers friend. Gearing up for the task at hand can save you from a world of pain.
Personal protective equipment that should be found in the average wood shop include:
- Respirator – To be used when working with volatile compounds and high sawdust producing practices. These might include spray painting, sawing, sanding, wood treatments, paint stripper, etc.
- Safety Glasses – Glasses will be your eyes final line of defense against any potentially damaging projectiles while wearing a pair of safety goggles over your glasses will add protections against dust and vapors also.
- Gloves – To protect your hands against a wide range of injuries from splinters to cuts. Keeping in mind some power tools like table saws are not to be used while wearing gloves. Refer to the owners manual of individual tools to find out if it is safe to operate while wearing gloves.
- Face shield – Similar to safety glasses but instead protect the entire face against projectiles. More often for grinding but can be very useful for a variety of practices.
- Hearing protection – To be worn during any practice producing more than 85dB. There are many power tools in a woodworking shop that far exceed this threshold and should therefore only be operated with hearing protection intact.
- Steel tip boots – Boots with steel caps protect against injury when dropping anything on your feet while some safety boots also offer a mid sole plate to protect against puncture from below.
How to protect yourself against the dangers associated with a woodworking shop.
1. Power tools
One of the more immediate dangers in a woodworking shop would be power tools and their incorrect use. Your first defense against injuries sustained from power tools would be to use the tool only as instructed by the owners manual.
In addition, thanks to the competitive nature of the power tool industry, many power tools offer some sort, if not a range, of safety features and accessories.
Features that may include but are not limited to:
- Blade guards on saws – To prevent operator contact with the blade.
- Riving knives on table saws – To minimize the possibility of kickback.
- Dead man’s switches – This will automatically switch off equipment if the operator becomes incapacitated.
- Trigger switch release buttons – Requires releasing the trigger switch with the actuation of a second button to prevent undesired startups.
- Electric blade brakes – An internal component that brings a spinning saw blade to a halt after the button is released.
Features like these mentioned above should receive strong consideration when purchasing a power tool.
2. Dust and fumes
Wood cutting and sanding can produce a fair amount of sawdust that has been found to be a health and safety hazard.
Sawdust from wood is known to be a human carcinogen and can also cause severe allergic reactions due to the toxins found in certain woods and their dust.
In addition, in a woodworking shop, you will also be exposed to fumes from wood treatments like paint or compounds like paint stripper and lacquer thinners.
To protect yourself against these and other potentially dangerous airborne particles, respirators should be used.
Note that dust masks are not approved to protect against toxic fumes and particles.
Dust collectors are also very useful to minimize dust in a workshop and operate by sucking up the dust, collecting it in a container and expelling clean air.
While alone it won’t be very effective, an extractor fan can also help clean up the air in your workshop.
An ever present danger in a shop is noise and prolonged exposure can lead to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) or ailments like tinnitus.
Noise levels exceeding 85dB is considered harmful and hearing protection should be used in these cases.
Many woodworking power tools are known to exceed even 100dB of which table, miter, and circular saws might be the most notable.
Protecting yourself against noise related injuries is as simple as wearing the appropriate hearing protection.
- Ear plugs
- Ear muffs
Which to use is really just a matter of preference. Both generally offer a noise reduction (NNR) of approximately 25dB but while ear plugs tend to be cheaper, ear muffs are more convenient.
Poor lighting in itself does not pose a direct health risk but can be the cause of many workshop related injury causing accidents while also contributing to poor craftsmanship.
Making use of quality LED lights in your shop will increase visibility and assist with observing any potential obstructions.
5. Fire Hazard
Wood being flammable and many compounds used for woodworking being combustible, investing in some manner of firefighting equipment would be advised.
A simple fire extinguisher can go a long way in preparing for the worst.
A few additional safety tips
- Always read and adhere to the instructions set out in the owners manual for your power tools.
- If a situation feels unsafe, don’t do it. Step back and re-asses the situation.
- Make use of a mentor if possible – Learn from other people’s mistakes.
- Practice good housekeeping and so minimizing the potential for trips and slips.
- Always use your PPE where applicable.
- Use tools only for their intended purpose.
An injury can turn a well-loved hobby like woodworking into a nightmare. Always work safe and stay safe.
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