This is a section from A Beginners Guide to Woodworking: Helping New Woodworkers Make Better Projects, which is available on Amazon. Over the next couple months, you will be able to read the entire book, and I hope that you like it enough to get tour own copy. Enjoy.
Use Safer Tools and Methods
One way that you can make yourself safer in the shop is by making safer tool buying decisions. Even with all of the things that manufacturers do to make tools safe, there are some tools that are just safer to use than others.
By using these, and avoiding the rest, you can get your tool on board to help make you as safe as you can be. You can also apply this to your methods, and choose processes that are less dangerous, and have a lower penalty for making mistakes.
The Saw Stop Table Saw is the flagship item when anyone talks about safety in the shop. Most shops have a table saw, and the table saw can cut through your hands even faster than it cuts through wood. Since so much happens around the table saw, it makes sense that the Saw Stop has become the benchmark of tool safety.
The Saw Stop is a table saw that has a mechanism inside to stop the blade, and retract it below the table top when it makes contact with a person’s body. The tool makes a loud sound, and the blade disappears instantly into the cabinet below.
Most of the time, the person only has a very tiny cut on their body, and sometimes it’s hard to find where the blade made contact.
This is a great example of a tool that is safer, and does the same thing as others without the same features. If you have a regular table saw, you are not going to have the same benefit that the Saw Stop has when you contact the blade.
Since most table saws are about the same price for the quality, it just makes sense to choose the safer model when you are buying your saw.
Another way to be safe is to choose a safer method when you have the choice. For example, you can use a router table rather than a handheld router, which frees up both hands, and secures the tool without you needing to hold it.
Getting the tool into a housing makes it easier for you to work, and you now have both hands free to manipulate the wood.
Another example is to use a sanding block instead of an edged tool when possible. A slip with an edged tool can cause quite the cut.
On the other hand, it would be very unlikely that you could sand all the way through your skin without feeling something early in the process. Sanding is slower, but it is also safer.
In general, though hand tools can still be dangerous if used the wrong way, they are not as quick to hurt you as power tools. You can enjoy the unplugged workshop and still be safe by using less power tools.
The processes will take longer, but in general you will have a safer experience, and most injuries will be less extreme.
Choose safer tools and methods over more risky methods when you have the choice. These seemingly small decisions will have a big impact on your overall safety as a woodworker, and may even save you from an injury that you never know about.
Make good decisions in the shop, and keep safety at the top of your mind.
Clamp Things When Possible
Any time that you can clamp something down instead of holding onto it, you are taking a step towards making yourself more safe.
Not only is it easier to control a tool with both hands, you also reduce the amount of energy spent holding onto the piece, and decrease the fatigue you feel while working in the shop.
You were given two hands, and it’s much better for you to have both of them while working.
Things are just easier when you can use both hands. Even simple tasks like sanding, or planing are easier and less energy wasting when you can use both hands.
Sometimes you will use both hands for the entire duration of the process, other times you can switch off from hand to hand to allow one of your arms to rest. Either way, when you have both arms, you are more in control.
Another thing that clamping down your pieces gives you is more energy. Spending time holding down a board with one hand and working it with the other is a waste of energy and effort.
Clamp the board, and you can keep that energy instead, and focus it through the tool. In this way, you reduce your fatigue, which in itself can be a cause of injury.
Take a second and clamp your project down while you are working. You will get both of your hands back, and you will waste less energy. This leads to more productivity, less fatigue, and a safer woodworking experience.
Tool makers and designers do try and make it easier for people to identify the danger zones on power tools so they can be better avoided.
On most newer tools, the areas near blades and bits are colored the same, either red or yellow, and are meant to draw your attention. It’s important to keep your hands out of these danger zones, and it can help you have a safer experience.
If you can keep your hands outside of the danger areas that are marked on your tools, it makes it nearly impossible for you to become injured from the blades or bits inside those zones.
For example, if you never put your fingers over the danger area around the band saw blade, you will never touch the blade, because it’s in the middle of that area. As you make your cuts or passes, think about where your fingers and hands are going.
Do everything you can to keep them out of the danger zones, and you will have a much lower chance of being hurt.
The farther away you are from a blade, the less likely you will make contact with that blade. Going inside the danger zones with your hands is an unnecessary risk that puts you very close to the blade or bit.
Instead, make it a point to stay out of the areas that the tool manufacturer specifically says to stay out of, and you will be safer. You can use this same idea for other tools too, and stay away from the parts that cut, slice, or remove wood. This will make you safer, with less chance for injury.
One of the best ways to stay out of the danger zones on your tools is to look into push sticks. There are a number of tools on the market that are meant to be assistance products for your bigger power tools.
There is everything from simple push sticks that you can make yourself, all the way to complex systems that keep your hands far away from where all the cutting action happens. Spend some time getting to know what is available, and select one or several of these to use.
The most basic method of keeping your hands away from the areas that are very close to blades and bits is to use a push stick. This is an assistance tool that looks just like it sounds.
It’s a long slender stick made from plastic or wood with a notch in the end, used for pushing a piece through a saw or into a power tool. It allows the user to keep their fingers and hands farther away, and still gives them control.
Most woodworkers make their own push sticks from scraps in the shop. If you like making things rather than buying things, look online for a couple good drawings and make some push sticks yourself.
They are easy to create, and can make you much safer. Next, you need to store them near the tools that you will use them with. A good place to put them is within reach of where you will be standing while operating the tool. This way, you always have one in reach when you need it.
If you are more interested in a system that can help you use tool more safely, then you have many options to choose from. There is an entire industry that sells add on accessories for existing tools.
Many of these have all kinds of different attachments themselves, and they can give you a much better grip on your material.
Making a quick search on the internet, or by popping into a woodworking store, you can find a large selection of tools that can give you more distance between your hands and spinning blades or bits. Some of these are more expensive than others, but all of them are less expensive than a trip to the hospital.
Depending on the tools that you use the most often, there will be an option that sticks out more than the others, and it will be easy to choose what system is the best for you.
For example, those working on the router table need different accessories and holding devices than people working on a table saw. While there is some overlap between the items, each tool will have some specialty devices that really only make sense for that tool.
Spend some time looking into these assistance tools, and pick up one that makes sense for the type of woodworking that you do. Get to know the tool, and practice a bunch without the machine running.
This way you can get the feel for how to use your new tool in a safer environment. Then, simply remember to use it as often as necessary, and your fingers and hands will be farther away from the danger areas.
Allergies and Dust
Woodworking creates dust and debris, which can be bothersome to some people. If you have a history of allergies to dust, or you have existing allergies, it’s a good idea to take some precautions so that your woodworking experience is safe and fun.
First, spend some time in a wood store and see how well you do. If you have an issue with wood and wood dust, you might get it to show itself in the store.
If you feel just awful from even standing around wood and wood dust, then woodworking might not be for you. However, if you see your doctor, they might be able to help you avoid those problems.
Some woods are more allergy causing than others, and some people react much more to certain woods than others do. You don’t really know how you will react to everything, and it may surprise you one day to find out that there is a type of wood that you really can’t be around without having a reaction.
Look for ways to reduce the amount of dust that you make, and to block the dust from getting into your body, like using a respirator. You should also work in an open area, with good ventilation so that any airborne dust has a chance of being blown out of the immediate area.
Use edged tools over sanding tools, and you will create shavings rather than dust. These are much bigger particles, and do not float into the nose as easily as dust.
Take a Shop Safety Course
If you want to get really serious about shop safety, look around for a shop safety course. There are many places that will teach a shop safety course, and they can be a great introduction to a lifetime of safe woodworking.
If you take one of these classes, you will be much better armed with the information you need to keep you in the shop longer.
Many times, woodworking stores offer classes, and they sometimes teach a woodworking safety class. They also tend to have at least a small safety section in the beginning of each class, that deals with the specific tools and equipment that they are covering in that session.
Ask the staff in the woodworking store that you frequent if they teach a general safety class. If they do not, see if they have a safety segment in a class on certain tool that you have, or a certain technique that you are thinking about trying.
Most bigger woodworking stores do teach about safety, and the nice thing is they also have the equipment right in the store. After you take the class, head over into the shopping area of the store and pick up the safety gear that you are missing.
This way, you have it right in the shop for when you need it.
Another thing you can look for is an online class, or an online course that shows you all about woodworking safety. The nice thing about a class like this is you can do the entire thing in front of your computer, and you can learn a lot in the comfort of your own home.
You do miss the hands on portions of the course, but you will surely learn things that you did not know. Again, if you can’t find a dedicated safety class that you like, start out with classes about the individual tools.
Email the course provider about whether or not there is a safety section in the class before you pay for anything, and if they emphasize safety enough, there will be some good instruction in that course. If not, move on to another course and do the same thing.
Though not as interactive as a live class, you can look for videos online about woodworking safety, and start watching them from home. They are a little different from a course, because they will not be interactive, but they are a good place to start before you jump into other classes.
It’s always nice to have a little information before you go into something blind. Watching safety videos is a good way to boost up your knowledge before you go into a more formal class or course.
This way, especially if the class does not stop very often, you won’t get lost right away. If this happens, you could end up missing out on a lot of information that you have already paid for. If you have to take the class a second time, you are doubling the cost of your safety education.
Either way you go, make sure that if you are new to safety, that you get some instruction in a course or class style environment. You will learn quite a bit, and you will advance your craft farther than all by yourself.
Every Time Philosophy
Being a beginning woodworker puts you at an advantage for starting out strong with safety, and not having to break as many bad habits. One bad habit that is hard to break is not wearing your protective equipment every time you should.
Sometimes, people skip their safety equipment because they think it’s only one cut, or it’s a really quick process. It’s times like this when you are opening yourself up to risk, and instead you should adopt a different philosophy for your safety.
The Every Time Philosophy means that every time you do something that requires protective equipment, you use that protective equipment. There is no cut that is too quick, no process too short that they are above wearing your protective equipment.
If you have to use a tool that requires safety gear, wear the gear every time, or don’t use the equipment, no matter the rest of the circumstances.
The truth is that one cut is all it takes to run into a problem. Mathematically it makes sense that you have a greater chance of injury making a hundred cuts than one. However, when your number comes up, you don’t know which cut that is going to be on.
Take the approach that Every Time you need to use a tool that requires protective equipment, that you will use that gear. If you start this in the beginning, you will create a habit that over time will just become part of you.
It will be as natural as breathing that you wear your gear.
There are a lot of manufacturers that take advantage of the fact that people want to do safety as cheaply as they possibly can. They think that if they toss a pair of $1 safety glasses over their eyes that they are going to stop a nail gun misfire from taking out their eye.
The sad truth in this practice is when you buy really cheap safety gear, you get exactly what you pay for.
Don’t think for a second that some safety gear isn’t better or worse than others. It absolutely is. When you see safety glasses for super cheap, you should be very skeptical of them.
The same goes for hearing protection, respirators, and anything else that you use to protect yourself. While you don’t need to buy $1,000 safety glasses, you do need to understand that a super cheap piece of gear is going to fail on you much faster than a good piece, even if it’s not in the way you think.
One of the biggest complaints from users of cheap gear it that it does not fit well, and it is actually a chore to wear. Over time, people tend to stop doing what is uncomfortable, and in a case like this you might end up not wearing your safety gear at all.
This is the hidden way that cheap safety gear can quit on you. It’s actually you that end up quitting on the gear because of the poor fit and the bad experience.
If your safety gear drives you to not wear it at all, then you might as well have not bought it in the first place. An investment like this is a complete waste of money, and you are left completely unprotected.
If this happens, you are now going to have to go back and buy equipment that actually feels good, and is a pleasure to wear.
If you actually ever find yourself that this point, which most people won’t because they will falsely believe that all safety equipment is uncomfortable, you are going to double spend on the gear you should have bought in the first place.
The worst part about cheap gear, besides the fact that it gives you a false feeling of security, is that you might end up thinking that all safety gear is cumbersome to wear, and you may never know how good it can be.
Woodworkers are notoriously frugal, but if you trick yourself into thinking safety is not fun, then you are going to have to wait until an accident sends you back to the store for more gear.
Wearing something is still better than wearing nothing, even if it’s not comfortable and does not perform as well as middle of the road stuff.
Don’t waste your time and money on cheap safety equipment. You do not need the most expensive version of everything, but you definitely do not want to buy the bottom shelf version either.
You run the risk of still being injured by poorly made equipment, due to the low quality, and you also run the risk of simply not wearing the gear when you need it.
Cheap gear performs like cheap gear, so do yourself a favor and avoid this stuff. It’s not worth the price at all, and you can do much better.
Part 43 – Wrap Up
I hope you liked Part 43 of A Beginners Guide to Woodworking: Helping New Woodworkers Make Better Projects.
As you can see, this is a different kind of beginner woodworking book, and I encourage you to get a copy for yourself so you have it all in one place.
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