Woodworking for Beginners Part 45 [2023 Updated]

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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.

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(Updated 2023)

Smoke Detectors

a-beginners-guide-to-woodworking-part-45Smoke detectors are commonly installed in most rooms in a house, and they make a noise when they detect smoke. This is an early warning system designed to protect you in the event of a fire that you do not see.

When you are in the shop, especially if you are deeply concentrating on something, you might not see a small fire brewing behind you. The smoke detector may be the early warning that you need to get out of the shop in time.

Small smoke detectors are inexpensive, and you can get one up and running fairly quickly. Install the unit according to the directions from the manufacturer, and make sure that you have enough of them to cover your area in the shop.

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Check the batteries often, and replace them as soon as you need to. It should be obvious that a smoke detector without a battery will not work, so a detector with a bad battery will not work either.

A properly placed set of detectors will warn you when smoke is noticed by the unit, and this can make a big difference in the time that you have to flee the area. If you are working safely, and you have hearing protection in place, make sure that the siren on the detector is loud enough that you will still hear it.

Test your detector in the worst of conditions. Make sure that you simulate everything just as if you were working in the shop on a normal day. If you have music on, play it the same way that you always do, and at the same volume.

Wear the same hearing protection, and turn on the loudest machine that you would ever use. Then, trip the siren on the detector, and place it near where it will be mounted. You don’t want to make the mistake of being able to hear it in your hand, then not being able to hear it mounted to the wall or ceiling.

Get the unit farther away from you than it will be when installed, and see if you can clearly hear the warning tone.

If not, then you need to think about going a different route, or incorporating some other method of warning you that there is a problem. There are solutions for this online, with blinking lights, or even more intense sirens.

You will have to look around, but don’t settle for a warning siren that you cannot hear.

One way that smoke detectors can help you is for cases when a small smoldering fire is created, but you don’t get any signs or symptoms to warn you before leaving the shop.

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This can happen on a sander, where friction and dust settle inside the machine, and over time a fire starts to build. You may already be in the house or away from the shop when this happens, and this is where the smoke detectors can alert you before the fire gets out of hand.

When the siren goes off, you might be lucky enough that you find the fire is very small, and something that you can put out with a fire extinguisher.

This can help you avoid losing property or life due to a small fire that was not apparent before leaving the shop. Smoke detectors are important parts of shop safety, you just have to use them.

First Aid Kit

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A first aid kit is a good thing to have in the shop, and also in the house. It should be stocked with the most commonly needed items, and you should replace anything that you use.

If something happens, first aid measures can help do things like stop bleeding, help prevent infection, and get the process started before professional medical attention arrives.

There are a lot of first aid kits on the market, so look for one that has the things you think you would need while working in the shop.

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Think of the most common injuries, cuts, abrasions, burns, bumps, etc, that can happen to you while in the shop. You want to pick out a kit that addresses those things, and avoid kits that have things in them that you really don’t need.

For example, a snake bite kit is probably not that useful in your shop unless you frequently run into venomous snakes while woodworking. If that’s the case, then by all means get that kind of kit, but for most people the more exotic first aid kit stuff is not going to be very useful.

Also, make sure that you study the contents of the kit really well when you get it. Open it up, and get an understanding of what is inside.

Read every label, and read the manual that comes with the kit. Familiarize yourself with the kit really well, so that you can identify the individual items by sight.

This way, you don’t have to read each individual label to find the gauze, you will just know by the shape of the package.

Instead of having to rifle through everything inside the kit, and read every last label, you will already know what you are looking for.

If there is ever a time when you are using the first aid kit in a bit of a panic, you will be very happy that you know what is inside the kit by sight. If you add the stress of not knowing what you have to an already panicked activity, it can make the entire experience really rough.

Another good idea is to get a nice size kit, maybe a bit bigger than you think you need. Most of the things in a first aid kit last a very long time if you keep it well, so it’s not like buying too many eggs from the store.

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As long as you familiarize yourself with what’s inside the kit, a bigger kit can give you more options and more tools to help yourself should you ever need it.

Most of the time, the only thing you will be using the kit for is to treat simple abrasions and small cuts. Do a little searching for the best way to treat things like this, especially if you are new to first aid.

Then, add a couple larger versions of those tools to the kit, so you don’t deplete the commonly used stuff too fast.

In my kit, I have a larger tube of antibiotic ointment, and a larger box of bandages. This way, if I get a cut, I can treat it with the ointment, and then cover it with a bandage to get the healing process started.

It’s also less expensive than replacing the individually packaged versions inside the kit when you use the more common products.

Phone in the Shop

Since you never know when you will need to call for emergency help, having a phone in the shop with you is a good practice. Should something happen, and you need to call an ambulance, the means for doing so is now really close to where you are.

This is one less thing that you have to do in order to make that call, and the seconds or minutes can make a difference.

If you keep a phone in the shop, and you are sensitive to loud noises especially, then turn off the ringer. The last thing you want is a device that you intend to make you safer cause you to have an accident.

You do not want your phone to go off and startle you, causing you to slip or make a mistake. It sounds odd, but under moments of very high concentration, even a softer sound can be extremely jarring.

For example, bending thin pieces of wood is an exercise in patience and in concentration. If you bend too fast, the pieces can snap. If you bend too slow, the pieces can dry out and still snap.

You almost have to hit a perfect window in order to get the bend without breaking the piece. On top of that, the pieces are typically several dollars each, and they are very thin strips so you normally don’t order very many more than you actually need for the project.

There have been times when I was concentrating so much on the piece while bending it on the hot pipe, that when it snapped it sounded like a gun shot and scared the heck out of me.

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Now, obviously it was not as loud as a gun shot, but when you are dialed in and it’s just you and the piece of wood, that unexpected snap and drop in pressure around the hot iron is enough to really startle you.

Make sure that the phone in the shop, which is to be used in case you need to call for help right away, does not end up startling you and causing an injury. Keep it on vibrate, and place it somewhere that it will not be a distraction, but will still be easy to find.

If something happens to you, it will already be difficult to operate the phone. If you have a very complex code to unlock your phone, or you have a long phone number instead of a three digit code to call for emergency help, it just got that much more difficult.

Most cell phones have an emergency mode that you can access without a code, just make sure that you know how to get there without thinking. It’s going to be difficult enough to make that call, so the less barriers the better.

Also, storing the emergency number in the phone and making it easier to dial is helpful too. Now, you only have to call that contact, or speed dial if possible. This reduces the number of buttons that you need to push, and makes the whole process easier.

Keeping a phone in the shop is a good practice for safety, and it can give you access to the means to contact emergency services much faster. Keep your phone close, and where it will not be a distraction. Also, make sure that the calling process is very easy should you need it.

Loose Items and Jewelry

While working in the shop, you will be surrounded by tools that spin and rotate, and they do so with a lot of force and momentum.

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All product manuals for these kinds of tools will clearly tell you that you should not have any loose fitting clothing or jewelry on your person, because it can get caught in the moving parts.

It’s a good practice to remove all jewelry, and also wear well fitted clothes that are not loose and hanging freely.

A router bit, or a saw blade can quickly grab on to clothing, and before you know what’s going on you can be dragged into the cutter or blade. Again, you do not have the strength or the speed to stop this in most cases, and it can end disastrously.

The bad thing about clothing and loose items is that they wrap so easily around the blade or bit that the tool does not have the chance to cut them before they wrap and cover the cutting edges.

The tool just turns too fast, so it gathers up all the loose material long before it can have the chance to cut it and free the person in the clothing.

Make it a part of your normal process to shed all jewelry before going in the shop. Also, wear only clothing that fits well, and does not hang loose where it can get caught in machinery.

You will be more comfortable in general, and you will also not have to worry about your clothes being the reason you became injured. You will be safer in the shop, and your fingers will thank you.

Safety Glasses

Of all the safety equipment that you will use while woodworking, your safety glasses are going to be used the most. For nearly every activity, safety glasses are a requirement, so you will go for long periods of time without ever taking them off.

It’s important that you have a good set of glasses, and that they fit well. Making a good decision when buying your glasses in the store is the first step towards eye safety.

The bottom line is that if your glasses fit poorly, and they are a pain to wear, you will not wear them. You may not stop wearing them entirely, but you will find reasons not to wear them for what you would consider safer woodworking processes.

In reality, nearly any process that creates shavings or removed wood should be time you wear safety glasses, but terrible glasses do not encourage themselves to be worn.

Safety starts right in the store. Pick up as many pairs of glasses that are in your price range and try them on right in the store. See what you like, and see what you don’t, then start whittling it down to a few pair.

Make sure that you really like the feel of the glasses, and that there are not any pinch points. You and these glasses are going to have a really healthy relationship together, so the more you try on, the better fit you can find.

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Next, check to be sure that the glasses have a good safety rating. After all, you are buying safety glasses, so don’t just pick up anything that looks like safety glasses and think they are going to do anything for you when it counts.

Safety glasses have a rating or certification stamped on them, and depending on the part of the world you live in, the governing body will be different, so the marking will be different.

The certification that safety lenses typically go through is a test of the product under different stresses that a safety lens would commonly have to deal with.

For one standard, they use a large metal ball that is dropped from a height, and then they use a small ball that is shot at a higher speed. In both cases, the glasses have to take the impact without breaking, cracking, distorting, or coming loose from the frame of the glasses.

This is a pretty well rounded test, and deals with weight as well as speed.

Most glasses that are rated for safety by some authority are going to have gone through something similar to prove their worthiness as safety glasses.

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Check for these markings, and don’t be fooled by companies that sell cheap glasses that only look like safety glasses. When it really counts, these will not perform the same way that real, tested safety glasses will perform.

Once you have found a pair of glasses that fit well, and that are rated for safety use, pick up a case.

Another reason some people stop wearing their glasses is they become scratched or damaged, and they are no longer enjoyable to wear. An easy way to stop this from happening is to buy a case while you are buying the glasses.

Purchase a good case, that has a hard outer shell for your safety glasses. This king of case will not be very expensive, and it will protect your glasses from being scratched or damaged.

Once you have the case, you actually need to use the case for it to be effective. Every time you take your glasses off, put them in the case.

It can be tempting to lay them out in the shop between uses, but every time you put them in the case you are taking steps to make them last longer.

If you always wear your glasses while in the shop, it makes this part of the process even easier. Simply put them on when you get into the shop, and then take them off when you leave.

When you take them off, they go right into the case, and you will not have to worry about damage.

Finally, pick up a cleaning cloth so that you can always see well through the lenses. A smudged up pair of glasses are hard to see through, and can alter what you think you are seeing.

This can be dangerous. Make it a habit to wipe down your lenses when they become dirty, and you will always be able to see really well.

If you treat your glasses well, it will almost feel as if you are not wearing them at all.

After a while you will forget you have them on. Start in the store, and try on several pair in order to find a set that are the most comfortable, and that have a safety rating. Then, buy a case and a cloth to keep them protected and clean.

This will encourage you to wear your glasses more often, and in turn give you a better chance of being protected when it counts.

Face Shield

A face shield is a piece of safety gear that covers the face with a full piece of plastic. The purpose is to block any flying objects from hitting your face, and it offers far more coverage than a pair of safety glasses alone.

When you look for a face shield, they will come in a number of different versions from different makers. The most common is a simple head mounted visor style product, where you have a headband with a small plastic cover for the forehead.

On that cover is a set of hinge points where the visor style face shield part can move up and down.

A face shield is a good piece of gear to have, and can offer you more protection than glasses. These are often times worn in conjunction with glasses, just make sure to follow the recommendations of the manufacturer.

If something were to fly off the lathe, or a mill, you have a much bigger area that you are protecting.

There are some processes, like using a wire wheel to add a rustic look to wood, where you can have more projectiles than normal. In a case like this, having more coverage of the face is really nice, because those little metal bristles can hurt when they hit you.

Since a face shield is so large, it can take a little extra effort to keep the clear visor part clean. Some of these are really smooth on the outside, so they shed dust really well, but over time you are going to need to clean them.

A good way to clean the lens is to blow it off. Sawdust might feel smooth and soft, but in reality it’s just as hard as the wood it came from, only smaller. If you wipe the dust off all the time, you will eventually develop scratches, and it will add a hazy look to the lens.

As with safety glasses, one of the reasons that people stop using them is when they become difficult to see through. A hazy, scratched up face shield is just the same, and will eventually end up not being used.

Instead of wiping the dust, try using your air hose instead. This will remove nearly all the dust particles, and you can carefully use a soft cloth to remove the rest.

In this way, you remove 99% of the rougher pieces, and only leave a fine film if anything that can be taken out with a micro fiber cloth.

Any time your shield gets dirty, clean it so you can see through the lens really well. Your gear should never make it more difficult to see, and if you keep it clean, you will not have to worry.

If you are working with a tool that causes more flying debris, or you just want to take your eye safety to the next level, then consider buying a face shield. These are a little more cumbersome to wear than glasses, and they are heavier.

However, a face shield offers more protection for a larger portion of your face than glasses. A good shield can protect you from forehead to chin, which is a large area to cover. Keep the shield near where you will use it, and cover it when not in use.

Ear Protection

Woodworking machines are really loud in many cases, and you should think about protecting your ears before you don’t have anything left to protect.

Especially for those that spend a lot of time around loud machines, the exposure over time can significantly reduce your ability to hear. Thankfully, there are several solutions, and one of them is bound to be comfortable for you.

The two main ways to protect the ears are with ear plugs that are inserted into the ear, and ear muffs that are worn over the head and cover the entire ear. There are pros and cons to each method, and you might need to try both of them out to see which one you prefer.

Ear plugs are sometimes uncomfortable for some people, and they can also block out a lot more sound. A box of disposable ear plugs can last a long time in the shop, especially if you wear a pair of these the entire time you are working.

Some people enjoy the extra silence that this brings to the craft, and others don’t like that they cannot listen to music. Taking out and putting in the ear plugs over and over can be bothersome too, and it can get dirty being out in the shop.

Still, ear plugs offer the lightest, and least cumbersome way to reduce harmful sounds.

Ear muffs are another way to prevent loud sounds from hitting the ears with as much force. These are sold as headsets, with a couple ear covers on a bar, that goes over the top of your head.

This is where you can really get into some interesting products and solutions for taking care of your ears.

On the most basic level, you can find these in discount tool stores for a few dollars, and they just pop on your head when you need them. The advantage to this kind of hearing protection is that you can put them on and take them off really quickly, without having to go through as much of a process as with ear plugs.

They are a little easier to store, and because they don’t get covered in ear wax, they blow off easily between uses.

The really cool thing about ear muffs is that you can solve the music problem really easily. Some people avoid ear plugs and ear muffs because they want to hear their music as they work.

Thanks to a little bit of technology that has come down in price a lot since it came out, you can have both.

There are certain styles of ear muffs that have a microphone on the outside, and a speaker on the inside of each muff. The headset takes batteries, or they charge with a cord, but what they do is really amazing.

The muffs listen to the room noise with the microphone, and transmit the sounds into the speaker inside the muffs nearly instantly.

When a sound happens that is too loud, the speaker is cut off, so the sound never reaches your ears. In this way, anything that is over a certain decibel level is not sent to the inside of the muff, but everything else is.

This is why wearing these is a little strange for most people for the first few times.

If you have never worn this type of ear muff system before, it can be a little strange the first time. When you put them on, and turn on the set, you hear everything, just like if you weren’t wearing any hearing protection at all.

It is a little odd feeling, because you can hear yourself move around, you can hear people talking at normal levels, and you almost feel as if they are not going to work.

Then, when a loud sound finally comes, and you hear the deadened version instead of the loud version, you end up smiling because it feels like a magic trick.

The first time I used a pair of these was when I was shooting with my father. With them on, I was a little worried about firing the first round, because I thought I would hear it.

The experience was really interesting though, because I could carry on a conversation with my father while shots were going off, and the only thing that was blocked were the shots.

If my dad was talking at the same time a shot went off I would miss that part too obviously, but a gun shot is so quick that you hardly even lose a whole word in a sentence.

If you like listening to music, or you want to hear more of the sounds that are in the safe range in your shop, consider trying out a pair of these ear muffs. They are more expensive than regular muffs, but they are not nearly what they were when they came out.

Just about anyone can afford a pair, and they are made by several different manufacturers. Either way you go, protecting your ears should be part of your general shop safety.

Dust Masks

Dust masks come in a large number of different styles, materials, and designated uses. You can find masks that are rated for organic chemicals, dust particles, and many other types of hazards. It’s important to know what you are protecting yourself from when you buy a dust mask, because they are not all created equal.

The last thing you want is to think you are doing yourself a favor, when in reality you are not as protected as you think.

First of all, unless they say so, dust masks are not designed to protect against chemical vapors and the sorts of things that you would encounter while applying a finish to your project.

Simple particle style masks are designed for just that, particles. This means they can help prevent dust form the table saw getting into your body, but they will let lacquer chemicals pass right through.

The issue at hand is the size of the particle, for chemical masks, it’s the nature of the chemical. This is why it is so important to buy a mask, or a couple different masks for the part of the project you are working with.

Thankfully, the price of these masks is pretty low, and you can find them in most places.

One advancement that has come along in the simple particle masks is going over to cloth. There are a few different makers that have a cloth dust mask, and they are washable.

This means you will spend a little more for the mask initially, but over time you can save because you clean it after you use it, and you don’t throw it away. Many of these also have small changeable filters that can add additional layers of protection while you work.

A simple Google search can reveal many different options, just read the reviews and the descriptions so you know what you are getting. Some of these are really comfortable, and honestly some of them look really cool too.

Fashion has come to dust masks apparently, but as long as they do the job and encourage people to use them, then it’s a good thing. There are a lot of masks that look as good as they protect now, and they encourage people to like wearing their protective equipment.

These nicer masks are so inexpensive now, that it almost doesn’t even make sense to buy a box of disposable masks anymore. The prices are so close, that you might as well have a nice looking, better made, and in many cases better performing mask in your arsenal.

Any way you decide to do it, when you are working around airborne dust, you are going to end up breathing in all of that unless you do something about it. With the advancements in modern dust masks, you really have no excuse for not protecting yourself.

Do a search in online, or on Amazon. There are so many offerings that you will surely find something that you like.

Also, check out your local woodworking store. They will have some of these in stock, and you can try one out before you buy it. Check the fit, and bring home another step towards safer woodworking.


The next step in respiratory protection is the chemical respirator. This is a higher level of protection than a simple dust mask, and can offer you a safer experience while finishing your projects.

While dust masks are designed more for suspended particles that float in the air, the respirator is designed for chemical fumes. These compounds and chemicals need a different filtration method to remove them from the air you breathe, and a dust mask without these things in place will not do that job.

As you browse for a respirator, think about the type of finishing that you will be doing and look for a model that protects you from those chemicals. You may want to take some pictures of the finishes that you use, and refer to the company’s Safety Data Sheet for direction on what to look for in a chemical respirator.

Either way you do it, you want to be sure that you are buying a product that will actually protect you from the chemicals you are using.

As with dust masks, respirators have come a long way too, and they also come in a number of different looks. Follow the directions from the manufacturer on storage and handling, as well as how often you need to change the filters and cartridges.

There is a recurring cost to a respirator, because the filtering and chemical absorbing elements eventually need replacing. Keep yours up to spec, and you will have a safer time when finishing.

Part 45 – Wrap Up

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I hope you liked Part 45 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. 

Happy building.

Continue to Part 46 of A Beginners Guide to Woodworking Here!

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