Woodworking is a lot of fun, as long as you don’t hurt yourself.
You have one set of lungs to last your life, and dust does nothing but harm – even destroy – them. Most dust ends up on the shop floor, but the smallest, most damaging, dust, stays airborne for a long time. Get a dust mask rated to N95 or N99, and wear it whenever you’re in the shop (even though it might be uncomfortable) to avoid lung damage in the future.
Like dust, finishing vapors get into your lungs and can do major damage. This is less important if you’re wiping on finishes, especially if they are low in VOCs, though you can never be too careful. A mask with organic-vapor cartridges is what you’re looking for.
It’s surprising how easy it is to seriously damage your eyes. A basic pair of safety glasses should be nearby at all times. If you think getting a high-end pair that are very comfortable and good looking will help you put them on, then I’d say that’s money well spent. For the turners, a full-face shield might be the answer.
Using push sticks when required will go a long way to ensuring your fingers stay where you want them. Use or make push sticks that are comfortable, specific to the operation and hold the workpiece precisely and properly. Don’t be afraid to make a push stick whenever you feel one is needed – they are usually quick and easy, and a good one makes a tough job much easier and safer.
I’ve seen someone get their sleeve caught in a jointer. If you wear a shirt with sleeves that dangle, you’re risking getting them caught in one of many machines while you’re working. A T-shirt is great for a warm shop, but a sweater is sometimes needed. If that’s the case, make sure your sleeves are rolled up while working on machinery and that they fit on the snug side.
Slipping is one thing, but dropping an 8′ long board of 8/4 hard maple board on your toes is another. Wearing approved footwear will protect against slips and drops. I used to think that because I was only working in a small shop, I didn’t need to worry about really heavy things damaging my feet, but after a few very close calls I have changed my way of thinking.
Like your lungs and sight, your hearing needs to last a lifetime, and is quite easy to protect. I have a set of hearing protectors that are easy to grab whenever I use a louder machine – my routers and planer mainly. I used to machine without hearing protection and found I was always tense and couldn’t focus well. With ear protection I’m not only saving my hearing, but am much more able to relax and concentrate on the operation at hand while working. Ear plugs are okay, but I prefer the earmuff-style units, as they are very easy to put on, even for a short operation.
It goes without saying, but a clean shop is a safe shop. I have temporarily lost tools underneath heaps of shavings. Obviously not good for production, but also poor for safety.
If your spouse is always home, and is constantly keeping an eye on your well-being, a phone in your pocket is likely overkill. But if your time in the shop is spent in the country, far from a neighbour, a phone is your lifeline if something goes really wrong.
A sharp tool is a safe tool. To many this sounds crazy, but a sharp tool will require less effort to use and will act predictably. Dull tools may not be initially dangerous as they lay on your workbench, but as soon as you pick them up to use them they become accidents waiting to happen.
Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.