We all strive to make working wood as safe as possible, but we can never truly make it safe. All machines and tools should be respected, but be extra careful around these ten.
Partially because they’re everywhere, partially because there are so many ways to use them, a table saw likely accounts for more serious woodworking accidents that any other machine or tool. Do your best to learn how to use a table saw before flicking the switch.
A sharp tool is a safe tool. This goes for every hand tool, but I find is especially true for chisels. A dull tool needs extra force to use, and the moment it gives way the chisel will go flying. Chances are pretty good you’ve injured your hand.
Everything goes smoothly with these sanders, until it doesn’t. I’ve had workpieces kickback the moment I got too comfortable. I’ve also skinned my knuckles pretty bad a few times. Not fun.
A pretty innocuous machine, which is why so many of us let our guard down while using them. Small- to medium-sized workpieces are harder to control by hand, and if a drill bit catches the workpiece it can immediately spin out of control, injuring a hand.
Almost everyone has a router or two. Since routers rotate sharp cutting edges at such high speeds, and they’re often used freehand, things can get out of control very quickly if they’re not used with great care. This is especially true when you make a climb cut.
Though generally thought of as pretty safe machines, in the unlikely event that something does go wrong, it can be ugly. For one of many reasons, workpieces can be shot out the infeed end of a thickness planer. This usually isn’t the end of the world, unless you happen to be standing directly in-line with where the workpiece is being shot. Moral of the story: don’t stand directly behind a thickness planer.
It’s rare something goes wrong while jointing, but if it does the results can be gruesome. Forget hoping the doctor can reattach a finger, as a jointer will be all too happy to eat any that comes its way. Push sticks help keep hands away from the rotating cutterhead, but safe usage also plays a major role. Keep your hands away from the cutterhead at all times.
Oil-soaked finishing rags can be extremely flammable if not disposed of properly, and a fire can damage more than just your workshop. The simplest approach is to lay rags flat on the floor so they can dry out before they’re disposed of.
Most woodworkers don’t protect themselves from airborne dust created by random orbital sanders, even though they create some of the finest, most dangerous, dust around. Wearing a proper mask or respirator when sanding is always a smart idea, as they will protect your lungs for the long term.
Whether you happen to be using a wood power carving disk, or are grinding metal, an angle grinder sends debris flying. There’s also the potential, especially when working with a wood cutting disc, for it to kickback, so watch out for your hands. Also protect your eyes and lungs during usage.
Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.
Leave a comment in the section below.
I’d add two more things to the list:
Utility knives. Sharp or dull, we often use these to cut or trim things that aren’t adequately supported by a clamp or a vise but by a hand, and when the blade unexpectedly cuts through, that hand is the next thing the blade encounters.
Japanese saws. Damn, those teeth are pointy sharp. I can’t tell you how many times I have casually tapped a finger, hand or leg with the points on a Japanese saw as I’ve been moving the saw and not paying attention to where that blade is. I’ve done it enough that I now use dozuki as a verb, as in “Honey, I need a bandage. I’ve dozuki’d myself again!
I would like to add one more tool that in my humble opinion should be number 2 on your list. That is the 7-1/4″ circular saw. It has the same power as a table saw but you hold it in your hand. When that blade binds and starts to kick back, it is next to impossible to control. Often novice woodworkers use one of these because they go on sale every Father’s day and someone in the family thinks it’s a good idea to get one for Dad. Often people support a piece of wood on their knee and try to cut it with a circular saw leaving the thigh extremely vulnerable when this saw decides to kick back.
Two fair points, Jonathan!
I agree, John. Circular saws can be pretty dangerous if you don’t know how to use them.
table saw. Recently had a kick back, hitting me in the abdomen rupturing an artery. Result, emergency angiogram.
Very thoughtful article!! I also agree with Jonathan’s and John’s contribution. There are many ways, if not respectful of any tool, one can certainly injure oneself. Some years ago, I was kneeling on a piece of wood I was cutting with a hand saw and forced the saw. It binded suddenly and the blade bent towards my thigh on the down stroke. Luckily the ensuing injury wasn’t serious and was more embarrassing than life threatening. Although I still have the scar as a reminder!
Sorry to hear that, Douglas. Yes, a table saw is number 1 on my list. Thankfully the medical team help get you through that serious injury.
Even a simple hand saw can cause fairly serious injuries, especially when we rush, don’t hold the workpiece properly or use it in a less than perfect way.
Table saw is definitely #1. While waiting for the Doc to sew my fingers back together at the trauma center I was told they see table saw injuries every day. I was the 2nd that fateful day. KEEP THE GUARD ON, there are very few cuts that can’t be made with it on.
The most dangerous tool is the one which is not properly maintained. It’s the drill where the chuck is worn and the bits tend to slip or jam. It’s the mitre saw with the broken safety guide that makes the saw easier to work and afterall, it’s not dangerous like a table saw. It’s the hammerdrill which should be cleaned but you’re drilling into a concrete ceiling and it’s a dusty job anyways. It’s the paper towels used to wipe oil off the floor when you should be using a fiber shop rag – the kind your auto mechanic keeps handy. It can even be a hammer that you’re using to pound fence staples into that old twisted fence post, which slips and the claw cuts your finger.
Really, the most dangerous tool you can use is a sander – whether it’s electric or just a chunk of wood with sandpaper wrapped around it and you’re sanding oak or another hardwood that is TOXIC, but you don’t know it. As previously mentioned, dust is bad for your lungs, but some wood dust is carcinogenic. And while you will probably survive getting your fingertip nipped by a table saw, a bruised thumb when a small sharp piece of wood smacks your thumb when it goes UFO by the mitre saw blade and breaks your thumb, or the hammerdrill kicks back and gives you a nasty bruise, the survival rate of lung cancer is pretty poor.
this is a great discussion. I’d say the most dangerous tool was myself until I started taking safety and learning how to properly use the tools I had access to. now my attitude is completely different and I take every opportunity to learn how to be safer and more efficient with both power and hand tools.