The Anatomy of Workshop Safety

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If you’re a passionate woodworker, the workshop is a second home–its tools are old companions and the time you’ve spent there makes for fond memories. But accidents can still happen even with this level of familiarity. In fact, the Woodworkers Guild of America reports that over 60,000 workshop injuries occur each year. Since many of these accidents are caused by standard workshop tools, one wonders how big a role safety refresher courses could have played in preventing them.

The fact of the matter is: no matter how experienced a woodworker you are, it’s never a bad time to brush up on your knowledge of workshop safety. Here, we’ll break down the essentials of safety to help you keep all your parts intact.

Brain: Even though you may feel as though you can craft a masterpiece in your sleep, you need to be fully alert anytime you’re handling a saw, hammer, or even a chisel. Whether you’re sleep deprived, pressed for time, or emotionally distressed, it’s important to be realistic about your state of mind before you reach for that first tool. If you’re not up to par, the wood can wait until you are.

Eyes: Without these, you simply can’t visualize your next custom build (never mind all the other important stuff in life), so protecting them is extremely important. It’s a good idea to invest in a good pair of impact resistant glasses or a face shield to protect your eyes from sawdust and projectiles. Whichever type of eye protection you choose, make sure that it completely encloses the eye area (top, bottom, sides).

Ears: When you’re in the shop, you’re often exposed to loud noises for prolonged periods of time, so shielding your ears from harm is an essential precaution to take before starting any work. Depending on the tools you use and the level of noise they produce, you should be safe with a pair of good quality earplugs or earmuffs.

Lungs: In the shop, everything from sawdust to varnish vapors can cause less than desirable breathing conditions. To offset workshop air pollutants, you’ll need to have several lung protection options on hand. Standard dust masks will protect against particulates like sawdust. But if you regularly use varnishes, lacquers, and other finishes, then you’re better off with a respirator.

Hands: As a woodworker, your hands are likely your most prized possession, so taking precautions to keep them safe from harm is one of the smartest things you can do. This is especially true if you’re working with table saws, jointers, band saws, and router tables. Be sure to use push blocks or featherboards to put some distance between your fingers and the machinery. And never use your hands in place of a clamp or vice–after all, keeping blocks of wood in their appropriate places is what these devices are made for!

Feet: Even though much of your work is done with your hands, you still need to ensure that your feet will remain firmly planted to the ground any time you’re in the shop. To avoid slips and falls, it’s essential to keep workshop floors clean and spill-free. And it’s always a good idea to wear comfortable shoes, as being on your feet for long stretches of time may cause the kind of bodily discomfort that can distract you from the task at hand.

Tips to Keep in Mind:

  • Keep long hair tied back to prevent it from getting caught in heavy duty machinery.
  • Be sure to wear appropriate clothing. Loose-fitting clothes that dangle over tools and machinery should be avoided, as these can be cause for injury.
  • To further prevent lung irritation, invest in a shop vacuum or dust collector to eliminate sawdust at its source.
  • Do not leave machines unattended. It’s best to wait until machines come to a complete stop before moving on to the next task.
  • Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, always adhere to a tool manufacturer’s instructions. Even though your way might be quicker or easier, taking short cuts simply isn’t worth a painful and expensive injury.
  • If your shop is brand new, get to know it inside out. Having a clear picture of where everything is will help you avoid the clumsiness that often leads to life-changing accidents. In fact, knowing the location of the machine’s cutoff is especially important.
  • Inspect each machine before using it to ensure that all operating parts and safety controls are working correctly.

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