Woodworking: Protection When Working With Wood - Ignoring
Could Potentially Harm Your Health Or Kill
Woodworking: Basic Safety Tips
Woodworking can be a dangerous undertaking if you are not
careful and choose to disregard safety guidelines. A circular
saw, router, or other piece of power equipment can disfigure and
even kill if not used properly. Even hand tools, which must be
extremely sharp to provide best results, can cause serious
injuries. In addition, the sawdust and fumes from wood can be
harmful to the lungs if inhaled on a regular basis, especially if
the wood was harvested from an orchard or tree farm where
pesticides were used to control insects.
Fortunately, the advances in equipment and safety products
have made it much more easy to have a safe working environment.
Many tools come with built-in safety features like blade guards
or emergency shut off switches. Other items such as feather
boards and bench dogs can be made or purchased very
inexpensively. And other parts of woodworking safety don't cost a
thing, but draw instead on practice and common sense.
There are several key aspects of safety when it comes to
woodworking, and they apply whether you have an advanced shop
with many different power tools or are working with basic hand
tools in your basement or den.
Protecting your body from accidents is a key aspect of
woodworking safety. Unfortunately, people get lazy or too
comfortable or they feel that the safety equipment gets in the
way. A vast majority of shop accidents and injuries occur because
people were not using their safety equipment.
One of the main concerns when working with wood is eye
protection. Wood chips can fly off when sawing, drilling,
hammering, or any other task that penetrates the material. It
usually happens far too quickly to be able to close your eyes or
look away. Safety glasses solve this problem. In addition, if
tools should break or a part comes loose, your eyes and forehead
will be protected. Too many accidents have happened to just brush
away this safety concern. It would be very difficult to pursue
any woodworking interests with only one eye.
A good pair or safety glasses should be on everyone's list of
safety equipment and should be used any time you will be cutting
or removing wood with force or power tools. A quality pair of
glasses will cost around $12 and could last you your entire life
if properly cared for and put away when not in use. Those who
need vision correction can even purchase safety classes with
bifocal inserts in different strengths for under $20.
Some power tools can be quite noisy and can damage hearing. Even
repetitive hammering produces loud sharp noises. Many of us know
a longtime woodworker who has difficulty hearing due to exposure
to equipment over the years. Protecting your ears from the loud
decibels is important, especially if you use noisy power
equipment such as saws, on a regular basis.
Earplugs work well, earmuffs work even better, and a
combination of the two is ideal when working with loud equipment
that produces sound in the high decibel range. Earplugs cost just
pennies, and a set of earmuffs runs about $15. You can get them
with a radio and antenna built in for around $50.
Over the past decade or two, extensive research has been done on
the hazards of inhaling wood dust and particles, and the results
show that it can cause respiratory diseases. Treated lumber or
wood that came from commercial orchards is especially volatile.
It is important to capture and remove these particles from the
air or protect yourself from breathing them.
A work area with good ventilation will help, but even if you
are working in an open area, you will be breathing in the dust if
you are standing over the machine while it cuts the wood. If you
plan to do a lot of cutting, drilling or sanding, it is best to
have a machine that keeps the particles away from your face and
prevents you from breathing them in.
There are several methods available, with the most basic being
a dust mask. These lightweight masks made of filtering materials
fit over your nose and mouth and are typically held in place by a
rubber band. Innovative designs improve breathing and deter
fogging of safety glasses. A box of 10 high quality dust masks
costs around $10. They do not filter out toxic materials with
You can also purchase a dust collection system or respirator
that you wear on your head or strap on your body. These systems
are battery powered and allow you to move around freely. Some
people feel that they are uncomfortable and impair vision, but
they can be a critical way to protect your long-term health if
you plan to spend a lot of time woodworking. Prices range from
$50 for a basic system to over $250 for a system that also has
head and eye protection.
Another option for dust collection is to use a localized unit
that mounts under your worktable, saw, or other equipment and
plugs into an outlet. They range from $50 to $250 depending on
size, power, filtration system and other factors. A complete shop
dust collection system, with a 1- horse motor and large dust
ports averages around $300.
Control Your Environment
It is also important to prepare your work environment before
starting a project. Be sure to put unneeded items away and pick
things up off the floor. The less clutter, the less likely that
something will get in the way or cause you to trip or be
In addition, good lighting will help you to see your work (and
your fingers) better. Positional lighting such as a shop lamp
will allow you to move around more and to direct the lighting
exactly where it is needed.
Try to find an area where people will not be coming in and
out. This is for your safety as for theirs, and is especially
important when children are present. Be sure to unplug your
equipment when you are done working and put away dangerous items
such as utility knives and saw blades.
Avoid clothing that hangs loose, including long sleeves or
apron strings. Long hair should be pulled back as well. Most
power tools have a rotary motion that can grab and wrench a loose
piece of fabric or strand of hair. Even if you are just making
one cut or a quick drill hole, all it takes is one second for
things to go bad. If you get in the habit of following these
steps every time, you will develop good safety skills.
As one woodworking expert described, "Safety is like using
your turn signal. If you do it every time you go to make a turn,
even if it's just going out of the driveway, then you will
remember to do it in every situation, especially when it counts
But don't get so comfortable with your work and surroundings
that you forget to think about what you are doing. Even though
you may have done the same technique many times before, it is
important to be conscious of the motions you are making and the
movement of the tools.
One other environmental factor mentioned by several of the
woodworkers was to have a phone nearby in case an accident does
occur and you need to call for help. If you use a portable phone,
be sure to put it in the same spot each time so you can go
directly to it if needed. It is also a good idea to keep a first
aid kit in your work area, just in case.
Take Your Time
As we all know, when we rush to finish something, mistakes tend
to happen. In woodworking, this could be disastrous. Take your
time, double check your clamps, footing, hand placement, power
cord location, and other variables before you start the
equipment. Even with hand tools, it is important to make sure you
aren't going to saw through something electrical or nail into
Don't force a saw cut. If a blade gets hung up, back it out
and start over. Also, wait for a tool to stop completely before
taking your eye off of it or moving it away from the wood. Most
drills, saws and other power tools take a few seconds to quit
spinning after the power is stopped.
If a task feels uncomfortable, don't do it. You might get a
tiny jitter in your belly the first time you start up the
circular saw or feel the screw tighten down as you drill, and
this is normal. But if you are overly apprehensive and can't hold
your materials firmly or concentrate on what you are doing, back
off and take a few breaths or find someone to help you with that
Another important aspect of woodworking safety is to know your
tools and use them appropriately and safely. To learn more please
refer to the newly published "Woodworking Beginner's Guide"
mentioned at the end of this article. It describes many tools
that beginners are likely to need and offers information about
how to use and care for them.
Copyright © 2005 by Ferhat Gul. All rights reserved. You
may redistribute this article in its unedited entirety, including
this resource box, with all hyperlinked URLs kept intact. Ferhat
Gul is the publisher of the brand-new "Woodworking Beginner's
Guide - Tips From Experienced Woodworkers to Help You Get
Started", made just for people who love woodworking. This
comprehensive, yet compact woodworking introduction for beginners
is easy to read and helps to save time, money and effort.
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