When working with wood and operating the heavy-duty equipment necessary to manipulate lumber, there are certain essential woodworking safety tips you should adhere to, whether you’re a beginner or an experienced veteran. With all the safety equipment and best practices, it may seem intimidating to take up woodworking—but worry not. Here’s everything you need to know or consider when woodworking.
Wear Appropriate Clothing
A good woodworker understands that the clothes they wear are just as much part of their personal protective equipment as anything else. Woodworking dress code demands that you avoid wearing baggy or loose clothing because it can too easily snag in machinery and other sharp tools, leading to ripped clothes at best and injuries or even death at worst. The key is to find comfortable, close-fitting clothes that allow freedom of movement while also covering up your body. For example, a long-sleeved shirt and jeans will always be more effective than shorts and a T-shirt. Also, closed-toe shoes are a must when working in this type of environment.
Furthermore, you should remove all jewelry and accessories before entering the workshop. Similar to baggy clothing, dangling chains or hanging lockets can easily get caught on your equipment and cause jams in the machinery or injury to you. Removing these items will better guarantee your safety as you use the equipment.
Equip Yourself With Safety Gear
The other half of dressing for safety is wearing protective equipment to shield what your clothing doesn’t—the two most important of which will be eye protection and cut-resistant work gloves. As you cut and form the wood into the desired shapes, sawdust and other particles inevitably fly through the air and can irritate your eyes. Protective goggles remedy this issue and shield your eyes from the potential damage of such hazards.
As for your hands, they are perhaps your two most important tools—and also the most vulnerable to injury when practicing woodworking. As they’re always the closest to saws and other sharp tools, it’s not uncommon for clumsy woodworkers to lose a finger in the process. Cut-resistant gloves will be a tremendous help by giving your hands more protection against abrasions.
Other protective equipment you should have on hand includes ear protection and respiratory protection. Respiratory protection prevents you from inhaling sawdust into your lungs, while ear protection reduces the chances of hearing loss resulting from the loud, high-pitched sounds of machinery like table saws.
Never Operate Under the Influence
While it may seem obvious, this is an essential woodworking safety tip to mention because those under the influence of alcohol or medication may not necessarily demonstrate sound judgment. In your impaired state, it’s all too easy for your hand to slip or make other easy mistakes that will result in bodily harm.
Changing Blades or Bits
As ironic as it sounds, sharp blades are safe blades. Dull, worn-out, or damaged blades are dangerous because they don’t cut cleanly and will leave behind jagged, splintered edges. It also makes the process more difficult and potentially causes hazards like jamming if you must really struggle to get the blade to cut. It’s a similar scenario for drill bits, which will jam and bind if they become too worn. For your safety and the best final product, make sure to keep your tools and equipment outfitted with fresh blades and bits.
When you do go to change out the blade or bit, however, make sure to completely disconnect the machine or tool from its power source lest you accidentally activate it while you’re in the middle of changing the components.
Inspect Your Wood
While you spend most of your attention and energy taking care of your equipment, you also need to make a bit of time to inspect your materials before getting to work. For example, it’s not uncommon for reclaimed wood to contain leftover nails or other fasteners that your supplier overlooked. Trying to cut into these fasteners without knowing can cause some serious damage to your equipment or present an injury hazard as you handle the wood without knowing those sharp, rusty nails are still in there. If you handle a lot of reclaimed wood, a metal detector is a worthwhile investment to ensure a thorough inspection of your materials.
Work Against the Cutter
Experienced woodworkers already know to work against the cutter rather than with it. For beginners, what this means is that you want to feed the wood to the cutter rather than forcing the cutter into the work material to prevent any dangerous kickback.
This practice is always best but doesn’t seem like a natural or obvious method. If you’re new to woodworking, try taking it slowly at first until the process begins to feel more comfortable and natural.
Dangerous Practices To Avoid
Carelessness is but a symptom of a larger habit that you may accidentally develop during your time in the workshop. For example, it’s not particularly uncommon to see power tools strung together with multiple extension cords, but there are a couple of reasons why this is dangerous. Not only does this make the power tools unpredictable due to current drops, but the long, tangled extension cords also create a tripping hazard. Standard practice should always dictate that you use a single extension cord.
Another unfortunate but common practice is to reach over a running blade. It may seem like a small and brief thing, but why even put yourself at risk? The chance of slipping or making the wrong move and getting caught in the running blade is far too high. It’s simply not worth risking a life-altering injury when it takes mere seconds to avoid the blade.
Closing Up the Workshop
When your day is over, spend the time necessary to power down all your equipment and tidy up the workshop of sawdust and other debris. A clean workshop is a safe one because clutter and debris can clog up and jam machinery and tools. That same debris can also become a tripping or slipping hazard. After you’ve cleaned up the machinery and equipment, always place a blade cover on the saws whenever they’re not in use. This step is simply an extra preventative measure so that the saws aren’t sitting out in the open and presenting a constant hazard.