Are you interested in woodworking but concerned about safety? The good news is that following a few basic guidelines will help you stay safe in the workshop. I’ll give you a new way of thinking about woodworking safety and some practical steps to help you have an injury-free, rewarding experience making things out of wood.
I want to say upfront that this is by no means a comprehensive guide. Do everything you can to educate yourself about safe practices, including following instructions for the safe use of tools and machines. Anything involving sharp blades, powerful machines and spinning cutters is inherently dangerous, but safety in the workshop can be remarkably easy to accomplish.
1. Think of woodworking like driving a car
Driving is inherently dangerous, but if you pay attention to what you’re doing, follow the rules of the road, use available safety features and maintain your car, your chances of being involved in an accident are drastically reduced. Now let’s apply the same logic to woodworking safety.
2. Pay attention
For professionals who work in the shop all day and for hobbyists who do woodworking at night or on weekends, fatigue is a major threat to safety. It’s important to be conscious of not doing woodworking when you are tired or otherwise impaired. Fatigue tends to negatively influence our decision making, encouraging shortcuts and sloppy work. Don’t pick up a chisel or turn on a machine if you aren’t feeling alert and engaged.
Also, it goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway), your blood alcohol percentage should be 0.0000 when you do woodworking.
3. Follow the rules
There are a few basic rules to follow that will help you avoid most accidents. These include keeping your fingers a safe distance away from blades, keeping loose clothing and hair away from anything that spins, and avoiding practices that contribute to kickback on a table saw.
Even hand tools have their dangers. When using a chisel, never put one hand in front of the chisel to hold down the wood as you exert pressure on the chisel with the other hand. The chisel could break through and jump across toward your hand. Take care to avoid breathing dust and be mindful of safely handling chemicals as well.
Each tool has a set of rules that go along with it. Make sure you learn those rules and follow them every time.
How NOT to hold a piece of wood when using a chisel.
With the wood secured by a clamp, I can concentrate on controlling the chisel.
4. Use safety features
Safety glasses and ear protection are a must when using power tools. Murphy’s Law suggests the one time you neglect to wear safety glasses because they’re at the other end of your shop and you’re in a hurry is the time that something is going to fly up and hit you. Table saws come with safety devices like riving knives and blade guards. Featherboards, which help prevent kickback by keeping stock firmly against the fence during cuts, are available commercially and can be made in the shop. Remember, a safety device or feature is guaranteed not to help you if you don’t use it.
5. Maintain tools and machines
As the saying goes, a dull tool is a dangerous tool. The reason this saying is true is that dull tools are unpredictable. With experience, you learn how a sharp chisel shears wood fibers. (See also our post on how to sharpen a chisel.) A dull chisel tears the fibers, which leads to tear out, breakage and loss of control. And with a dull tool, you have to exert more force to get the tool to do what you want. The more force you exert, the less control you have. With a table saw, making sure the fence is parallel to the blade will help to prevent kickback.
6. Listen to your fear.
Fear is your friend in the workshop and your best defense against something that doesn’t feel right. The safe use of tools and machines takes knowledge, skill and experience. The sum of these things is confidence. If you don’t have confidence with a tool, don’t use it. Take the time first to gain your confidence.
Keep these woodworking safety tips in mind in the workshop and you’ll enjoy years of injury-free woodworking.