Personal Workshop Safety

February 6, 2024 | 6 min read | By: Len Smith

Safety First

I first got interested in woodworking by watching Norm Abram on PBS every Saturday morning.  Like me, I believe that Norm did a great job explaining the basics of a given project.  Before the start of any project, Norm would pause for his well-known safety pitch.  My kids knew this pitch by heart, even though they weren’t the least bit interested in the show.  Come on, say it with me….

“Before we get started I’d like to take a moment to talk about shop safety. Be sure to read, understand, and follow all the safety rules that come with your power tools. Knowing how to use your power tools PROPERLY will greatly reduce the risk of personal injury. And remember this. There is no more important safety rule than to wear these…safety glasses.”

Safety is as important in our home workshops as it is in a professional woodworking environment.  Each year, U.S. hospitals see thousands of workers with injuries caused by woodworking tools land in their emergency rooms. In fact, there is a National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) that tracks and publishes statistics on woodworking injuries.  In this Shop Notes article, we want to pass along some important considerations when it comes to personal workshop safety.

This is by no means an exhaustive list and we offer this as a courtesy to our valued customers.   The most important rule when it comes to workshop safety is that we all practice what I call an “attitude of safety.”  By that, I mean that whenever we’re doing anything in the workshop we should first take a pause and ask ourselves, “Am I doing this in the safest manner possible?

Tool SafetyBoth power and hand tools can be a source of injury if we’re not careful.  Many of these safety tips will also lead to improved tool performance.  Below are a few tips to keep in mind:

Personal Safety – It’s too easy to let our guard down in our home shops and this is when accidents happen.  Here are a few simple precautions that we can take to safeguard our safety in the shop:

  • Yes, do read the manuals that come with your power tools.  They include important safety information.
  • Perform the required periodic maintenance on your tools and be sure to keep your tools clean.
  • Periodically check and if necessary, recalibrate the alignment of your tools, especially table saws, bandsaws, planers, and jointers. 
  • Make use of feather boards when feeding stock through a table saw.
  • Use the tools for their intended purpose.
  • Keep cutting edges such as table saw blades, plane blades, or chisels clean and sharp.  A dull blade is inefficient and a safety risk.
  • Never disable the safety mechanisms that come with your power tools.
  • Be diligent about wearing hearing and eye protection.  You can download free sound meter apps for your phone. 
  • Be mindful of your body position and posture when using a table saw,  Never reach over a spinning blade.
  • Make it a practice to rely on push blocks or sticks to keep your hands away from a spinning blade.
  • Understand that wood dust can be a carcinogen.  Be sure to wear a mask, especially when you’re producing fine dust, such as when sanding.  
  • Wear gloves when you’re pulling lumber or plywood for your projects to avoid getting splinters.
  • Keep beverage containers well away from any of your tools.

Shop SafetySafety can also extend to the shop itself, which can be easy for us to overlook.  Below are a few tips to keep in mind:

Additional ConsiderationsHere are a few additional suggestions that we can take to safeguard our personal safety in the shop:

  • Take the time to try and keep your shop tidy and organized.  A messy shop is not only inefficient, but it also can create a number of safety risks.
  • Be mindful of how you rack (store) your lumber and sheet goods.
  • Be sure that you have an effective means of dust and chip collection.
  • For many reasons, ensure you have adequate lighting.
  • Ensure that the electrical power that you rely on is appropriate for your tools in terms of voltage and amperage.  When in doubt, consult a licensed electrician in your area.
  • Wood dust is combustible, so consider keeping a personal, rechargeable, multi-class fire extinguisher in your shop, mounted in an easy-to-access location.  
  • Ensure that any flammable materials, especially those used for finishing, are stored in a fireproof or at least a fire-resistant cabinet. 
  • Keep a small personal first aid kit in the shop.  Infinity sells one specific for woodshop.
  • Be mindful of children around the shop.  Depending on the age of your children, it may make sense to take steps to make it more difficult for young ones to enter your shop and explore when you’re not around.
  • On a similar note, most larger power tools now come with small keys on the power switch that when removed, disable the switch.
  • When working with finishes, be sure to properly dispose of any cloths or shop rags that contain finish.  Check out this FWW Article for more details.
  • Empty your shop’s trash regularly, especially if your shop will be idle for a while.
  • Periodically clean your dust collector’s dust filter.  It will not only help with the shop’s air quality, but a clean filter will greatly improve your dust collector’s efficiency.
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Sale runs until February 24th!

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