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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This article has 16 Comments
This is an awesome post! I have no clue about anything when it comes to using power tools, but I have been wanting to do a few diy projects. I now feel that I can at least know how to be safe thanks for the detailed post 🙂
Being informed with regards to safety equipment and procedures and using them correctly can and will prevent a range of injuries in most dangerous working situations.
Using PPE and other safety devices should become a second nature when practicing any potential injury-causing activities.
I’m glad I just read your post. We will be fixing some portions of our deck this weekend and your post has just reminded me to stay safe! I’m not so handy but the little fixing we are going to do this weekend is a big deal to me! I often overlook gloves and boots when cutting wood or cleaning and lifting heavy loads. Your PPE list will come in handy for me so I have bookmarked this page. Thanks.
As someone who has worked with power tools in often dangerous situations like heights and confined spaces, my entire professional career, I assure you that the use of gloves and boots are essential.
I’ve had a grinder cut into my boot and gloves before and without these, I would have been injured.
Another basic essential is safety glasses. Wearing them in any such situation is advised and considered good practice.
I have on two occasions, for about two weeks, suffered blurred vision due to flying debris hitting me in the eye.
Thanks for reading.
This website made me think about the chances I take. My daughter and I take on small DIY projects and we regularly use a power drill, and occasionally use a power sander and a power saw. I am not using the proper eye protection, and I did not realize that saw dust was carcinogenic. We will be changing the way we do things. Thanks!
A power sander can generate quite a bit of fine dust and if not being used in a well-ventilated area can become hazardous. I would advise always using a respirator regardless of ventilation. Better safe than sorry.
Wow, I didn’t realise how much protection you really need when you are doing this kind of work. I remember my friends and I during wood work class and the teacher didn’t even talk about half of the things you listed here! I wish I could have found your site sooner as it would have saved me a trip to the nurses office XD. Great article!
I have been working with power tools on job sites my entire professional career and have seen so many people get injured. Injuries that could have been avoided if proper precaution was taken.
Glad you found the article useful.
Thank you for this post. A lot of people don’t understand the concept of safety, especially when working with tools. Accidents happen daily to people being careless and not wearing the proper PPE for the job at hand. You are very informative and knowledgeable about safety, and I am actually taking away of a lot of information from this article. I may keep a limb thanks to you! 😉
This is very true. Accidents and carelessness go hand in hand.
This article is intended to instill a culture of safe working practices into those who have read it. I don’t want to blast people with images of the results of accidents like it was done to me but I can assure you it’s like the stuff of horror movies.
I am pleased that this article was informative for you.
Great post! My workshop could definitely use some additional lighting. Any recommendations for battery powered lights I can use?
Hi there DIY fan.
Coincidently, I was having a conversation with one of my local suppliers on a new product on their display which was a solar/battery powered floodlight. This, however, would obviously be overkill for a workshop.
If you intend on running lights from battery power I would assume the batteries would be charged using wind or solar equipment. If this is the case you would want your lights to have a low as possible current requirement as to get longer use from your light.
This being said, your best bet would be any 12V (if you are using a 12V battery bank) LED light.
Maybe try a few (depending on the size of your shop) 12V 7W LED light bulbs
Hope this is helpful.
Great post regarding the safety of the woodworker. Such tiny equipment but can save the great injuries. Glad that I visited this post. Thank you for the explanation of each safety measure and listing them together under one umbrella. Keep sharing.
My brother has just gotten into woodworking and I’ve been a little worried for him. I loved your analogy of woodworking being like driving a car mostly because my brother is one of the safest drivers I know. This has made me feel less stressed about him working with these tools.
Thanks a lot for another great information. This website has been my gateway to information 🙂
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