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.
Buy Good Gear
Buy good safety gear. Look at the high end and the low end for pricing, and aim in the middle or above. Don’t even look at the bottom end, just pretend like they do not exist at all. You can do really well buying from the middle and up, and you will find that your gear is much better in a number of ways. The fit being one of the most important.
When you are looking for safety gear, make sure that you try the equipment out. Make sure that no matter what you do, you find a piece of gear that fits well, does not bother you, and is enjoyable to wear for possibly very long periods of time.
The better the fit, and the better the feel, the better the chances that you will wear it. The gear you buy will not work unless you wear it, so you need to take steps right in the store to ensure that you will wear it.
Safety glasses are the most commonly worn item for the majority of woodworkers. You can essentially wear them the entire time you are in the shop, especially if you are working with tool the whole time. You need to find glasses that feel so good it’s almost like you don’t even know you are wearing them.
Another common item is a dust mask. If you don’t want to breathe in soggy, humid, second-hand air, then you need to find a mask that makes you feel good about wearing it.
If you start to feel like you are breathing in the same air that you took in several minutes ago, the dust mask will end up on the floor, and what was in the air will end up in your lungs. Again, poor equipment leads to not using any equipment at all, and that’s even worse.
While you are at the woodworking store looking at the safety gear, take your time. Try on as many things as you can, and ask a lot of questions. Don’t let anyone hurry you, and don’t leave until you have found the best piece of gear for your body that you can.
Remember, you might end up wearing this piece of gear for several hours. If you can’t keep it on for a few minutes without being uncomfortable, you will never be able to keep it on for a long session in the shop.
The best gear is not necessarily the most expensive piece of gear in the store. It’s the most well made and the most comfortable.
When you pick out a piece of safety equipment that you enjoy wearing, you are taking steps towards an Every Time safety culture in your shop that might end up saving you from an injury one day.
Pick out gear that is from the middle range and up, avoiding the really cheaply made stuff. You might have this piece of gear for a very long time, so think about the long term price versus the immediate price.
A few extra dollars over a decade or more is nothing compared to feeling comfortable and protected in the shop. You will wish you spent the extra money when you are in the middle of a long woodworking session and you keep having to put your glasses back on your head.
Cheap gear gets annoying, and over time it’s a much wiser investment in yourself to get something better.
Wait Until You Have the Gear
I bought a lathe a long time ago, and I was really excited to get it home and try it out. The place that I bought it from did not carry face shields, so I knew that I had to make another stop.
Being so excited about the new tool, I sailed right past the second store and ended up in my driveway before I even knew what happened.
I was not about to go back to the store before I had the opportunity to play with my new toy, so I went right into the shop and started taking it out of the box. It took a bit longer than I thought to get it all built and ready to turn on, but I was very excited to use it.
Without thinking, I put on a pair of safety glasses, because I didn’t stop and buy the full face shield that I knew I needed. I then screwed a piece of Douglas Fir to the faceplate, and started making something resembling an ash tray or small bowl.
While I knew I was taking a chance, I was just so excited to have my new tool that I couldn’t resist playing around a little.
Then, it happened. I caught something in that piece of wood that caused the piece to explode off the faceplate and fly all over the shop. I don’t remember if I heard the noise first, but I felt like someone had punched me right in the face.
The thought that I just smashed the heck out of my face sent me running into the house to the bathroom so I could get a look at the damage.
I was extremely shocked to find that the piece hit me right in the glasses, and other than a couple dings where the feet of the glasses were on my nose, I had no real damage.
I narrowly avoided a really bad injury, and by some fate the piece managed to smash my glasses and not hit anything else on my face.
The chunk that hit the wall left a mark and an indent, and I never found all the pieces. Now that I know more about lathes, I had the speed on the headstock cranked up to full, which is far too fast for what I was making.
The inertia of the spinning sent the pieces flying away with a huge amount of force. The hit I took hurt quite a bit, and the piece that hit the wall made a really loud bang when it happened.
This experience made me think long and hard about the way that I skipped buying that face shield. From that point on, my philosophy has always been to wait until I have the gear before using a tool.
That simple little bowl should not have turned out like that, but it did. Had I been wearing a face shield, the same thing would have happened, but it would have been less of an event. The gear would have done it’s job, and protected my face.
Make sure that when you are going to use a tool, that you don’t even turn it on before you have all of the safety gear you need. Even better, don’t leave the store without the gear you need.
This way, you will not be tempted like I was to just give it a try before buying everything that I needed.
Don’t Modify Tools
As a general safety practice, don’t modify your tools unless you are doing something that the maker of the tool recommends or suggests. There is nothing on your tool that the manufacturer of the tool did not intend for you to use or have.
Manufacturers are in the business of making money, so they are not going to add unnecessary things to your tools at additional cost to them. When you modify your tools, especially when bypassing safety features, you are asking for an injury.
There are plenty of safety features on tools that seem like they are a nuisance, or just get in the way. They are there for a reason, and that’s because enough people hurt themselves that they needed to make a modification.
Again, manufacturers are not in the game of adding things to their tools just to raise their cost. They add things to the tools because they are necessary safety features.
Think about the warnings that you see on some items that sound funny or crazy. In order for some manufacturer to go the length of designing, printing, and installing a warning label, you have to know that there were enough people who made that mistake that it made the extra process worth the cost.
These features and warnings do not fall from the sky. It’s from real people just like you that made mistakes, and made enough of the same mistake to cause a change or an addition to a product in the name of safety.
There are occasions when you can modify your tools, but these are when the manufacturer recommends or sells the parts that you need. In cases like this, all of the safety information has been reviewed, and will be transferred through the design modification to the new version of the tool.
This is a known process to the maker of the tool, and a process that they agree is safe in the end.
For example, many smaller band saws allow a spacer block to be placed in the spine of the tool, which raises the cutting capacity several inches. Owners of these smaller saws look forward to being able to mill larger pieces, so they add these blocks and new fittings to make a much more capable saw.
In a situation like this, the maker of the tool knows that you are making the modification, and they even sell the parts and pieces that you need to do it.
They know and understand both machines, the before and after, and they know that you will still have a safe operating tool after you make the changes.
Unless you are doing something that is deemed a safe practice by the maker of the tool, do not modify your tools, or bypass the safety features. One of these features might end up saving you from a terrible injury one day, and the few seconds you saved by removing the guard will mean nothing.
Use all of your tools as they are intended, and do not take risks by altering them. You will have a much safer experience in the shop, and your tools will serve you better for longer.
Slips Trips and Falls
One of the bigger issues in a small shop especially is slips, trips, and falls. It can get pretty congested in a tight space like a small shop, and things can start causing you more safety issues than you might expect.
The last thing you want is to hit the floor, and you really don’t want to fall down on a bunch of tools, debris, and random objects that can cause real harm.
Shop safety starts with cleaning. If you have a clean shop, and a well tended shop, you will have less of an issue with slip and fall related injuries. If you do fall, you will fall on a clear floor, which reduces the chance that you hit something sharp, or end up with a second injury from what you landed upon.
Adding anti-fatigue mats to the floor will also cushion your fall, and you might even get up feeling just fine after a fall under the right conditions.
Start by cleaning the shop. If you have piles of things on the floor that you need to walk around, then find places for them.
Don’t think that you don’t have room. Either you do, or you need to toss some stuff that you never use. Build some shelves, or get a storage unit if you can’t part ways with anything. Whatever you do, make it so that you can walk around without jumping over things.
Once you clear the floor, you will have taken a huge step at reducing tripping risk, because there is nothing for you to trip over but your own feet. That can still happen, so the next place is the benches and shelves.
When you fall, your natural reflex is going to be to grab the nearest object to stop the fall. If you store all of your carving knives pointing up on the bench, you know where Murphy is going to have you grab.
It’s not worth stopping a fall by smashing your hand on something sharp, but again this is a reaction, so you won’t be able to stop yourself from doing it.
Turn your attention to your benches and storage areas once you have the floor cleared. Look for things that would really be awful to grab on the way to the floor in the event of a fall.
Either change the way you store these items, or change the location so that there is no way you can fall onto them in the event of an accident. Keep the benches as clear as you can, and work on storing items in ways that they cannot become dangerous if you grab them.
Once you are done addressing the benches and the table tops, take a look at the floor again. Make sure that you are cleaning in between processes, so that you are not leaving slippery sawdust on the floor.
If you use floor mats, these tend to be a little more sticky, so they will help you maintain grip better than on concrete. Either way, make it a point to clean the floor so that you do not slip.
A clean and organized shop is the best defense against slips trips and falls. Pay attention to your surroundings, and step with purpose in the shop.
Clean as you go, and make sure that all of your storage areas are well organized and not dangerous if grabbed during a fall. This way, your shop is working with you to be safer.
Electrical safety is important in the shop, and it also helps prevent tripping as well. Everything from where you plug your tools, to how many tools are sharing an outlet, to where you run your wires makes a difference.
If you set up the shop well from the beginning, it can end up being a much safer place to work for a very long time.
All of your power tools are going to need to be plugged into a power source, but most garage shops only have a couple places at most to plug things in. It can be a challenge to find outlet space, and even more of a challenge to run all of the wires.
Start by thinking about how much electricity each tool requires to run, and then think about how many tools are going to be running at the same time. If you are a solo woodworker, then you will likely be only using a couple things at the same time.
In reality, if you have a vacuum system, you will use the main tool, and then the vacuum system to pull away the dust. If you do not have an automatic vacuum, then you will most likely only be using one tool at a time.
In a case like this, you can plug more than one tool into an outlet, because you are only going to draw power for one of the tools at a time. If you have several in a single outlet, and you try to power them all at once, you may end up tripping the breaker, because the outlet cannot safely provide that amount of power.
Instead, follow the recommendations that come with the tool, and don’t overload any of your circuits by trying to power several machines at once. Simply run power to everything, but do not use more than one tool at a time.
Everyone has a little different setup in their shop, so it is impossible to recommend something that will work for everyone, but my shop runs off of a few outlets, and even though I have a couple things plugged in to each outlet, I only ever run one of them at a time. I work alone, so there is never a case where I run more than one thing at a time.
Another thing that you should do right away in your setup to prevent electrical issues as well as tripping hazards is to run all of your electrical cords properly. This means buy a packet of zip ties and start tying off your wires so they are not in places that you can trip over them.
Bundle up loose wires and tie them off, and conceal as many of the wires under and around objects as you can.
As you are doing this, you can pretend that you are trying to hide the wires from view, which will make you think of creative ways to run them and keep them out of sight and off the floor. This method of wire concealment prevents tripping over loose wires, and keeps your machines from being a safety risk.
Once you have concealed all of your wiring, do a final check to make sure that nothing is dangling in the walkway, and nothing crosses the walkway where you have to step over it. Properly concealed wires mean less tripping hazards, and a much safer shop as you walk around.
Something to consider when working in the shop is the room temperature. Some woodworkers will have an easier time controlling this than others, since some shops are outdoors, and others are in garages.
There are people that work in very cold climates, and others that work in very warm climates. Depending on your situation, you many not be able to do much, but you should do what you can to make the shop comfortable.
I live in Arizona, and my shop has always been in a garage. The temperature can get well over a hundred degrees in the summer, with many times that it has reached near 120 degrees.
When you are in a garage, there is about nothing that you can do to prevent the shop from getting really hot. Even after installing an air conditioning unit through the wall, the shop still only gets down into the 90’s with the air unit on for a while.
The problem with a really hot shop is sweat, and the problem with sweat is that it can be hard to hold into your pieces and your tools.
Handles become slippery, tool tables are harder to grab, and overall it can become a safety issue if you can’t hold something well. In a situation like mine, I have to just call it a day and get out into the shop earlier in the morning the following day.
Other than installing another air conditioner, and paying to have the garage fully insulated, the long, hot summers are just not the best time for woodworking in the American South West.
However, if I was not as seasonal in my woodworking, I would just insulate the shop myself or have someone else do it. In order to be safe, you have to take temperature into account.
If you work in a very cold area, you also need to look into making sure that the shop temperature is not creating an unsafe situation.
Cold hands can lead to improper gripping, lowered grip strength, and reduced control of your tools. This can cause problems while working, and lead to injury.
Think about running a small indoor heater to bring the shop temperature up to somewhere in the comfortable range. These small heaters have come a long way in technology, and are much safer than they used to be.
Make sure that you are doing everything you can to keep them from getting covered in dust, and follow the directions so that you don’t create an additional safety risk by running the heater incorrectly.
A shop with a nice temperature is more than just for comfort, it’s for safety too. When you are too hot, or too cold, you do not have the same control that you would normally have with your hands.
This can lead to making mistakes from a weak grip, or a slippery grip. Don’t take risks when you are in a situation like this.
Either fix the problem with the temperature, or go into the shop another time when the temperature is in a better range. Research methods of heating and cooling, and you might be able to solve your temperature issue without spending a lot.
Part 16 – Wrap Up
I hope you liked Part 16 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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