Canadian Woodworking

Shop safety

Author: Michael Kampen
Published: April May 2005
Shop Safety
Shop Safety

When planning a new shop (or upgrading your current shop) it’s a good idea to consider both safety and convenience.


In this article I will outline ways to enhance shop safety and make it more user-friendly, without incurring substantial costs.

Install a Sub Panel

If you are setting up your shop in a partially finished basement, you might consider installing an electrical sub panel. Supplying the circuits for your power tools this way offers several advantages. When you use tools in the basement, particularly power hungry stationary machines, there won’t be voltage sags in the rest of the house. You will avoid momentary drops in brightness of incandescent lamps, as well as potential serious damage to sensitive electronics. Another advantage is that it allows you to effectively lock out the power in your shop.

Protecting Tiny People

Children may enjoy watching you work, and might wander into the shop on their own. The easiest way to protect them from unsupervised visits to the shop is to lock the door and keep the only key. However, that’s not always practical. You may wish to let children have access to the shop, but not to your power tools. While some power tools have keyed ‘ON’ switches that prevent children from turning them on, others do not. With a sub panel in your shop, all you have to do is place a locking door over the panel. When you leave the shop, shut off the breakers and lock the panel door. Most manufacturers offer locking door kits for their panels. If a separate panel isn’t feasible, most manufacturers also offer lockout devices to fit breakers as well. Using these on the main panel would still allow access to the house circuits, but restrict your shop circuits.

The Dangers of Dust

You can deal with dust during the initial wiring of your shop. Many woodworkers have become aware of the health effects of long-term exposure and are making dust collection systems priority purchases. Some of the new high-end dust collectors come with remote starters; after-market units are also available.

Since the dust collector should be on its own circuit, wire in a properly rated switch for it at a convenient location. This will allow you to control the receptacle and the dust collector from a central location. Even if you prefer to use a wireless remote, it will allow you to turn off power to the outlet before leaving, avoiding unintended start-up.

These principles can also be applied to a circuit supplying an ambient air cleaner. Most of these units are designed to hang from the ceiling; a ceiling outlet can be controlled from another location by a switch or timer. Using 14/3 wire between the switch and receptacle leaves you the option of switching only one side of the receptacle, leaving the other one for another power tool, shop appliance, or even the garage door opener.

A furnace is effective at distributing dust all over the house, but it can still serve to heat your shop if it is in a room that is sealed from the rest of the house. Seal the area thoroughly, including any ductwork. Install a bathroom fan in the shop ceiling and run the ducting outside the shop to another area. Construct a frame to hold a quality .1 micron furnace filter over the fan to filter out the dust. If the room has been sealed too well, you may have to provide a source of air. If you do, place another filter over this opening to prevent dust from leaving the shop. With this fan wired to a switch, or controlled with the lights, you create negative air pressure in your shop, pulling clean air in through the cracks and sending filtered air out.

Regularly blow out electrical equipment and any receptacles located behind saws and motors beyond the reach of effective dust control. I take the cover off my main electrical panel annually to check the interior and blow out dust that may have settled in there.

ambient air cleaner
Ambient air cleaner

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