Work Safe, Work Smart: Safety in the Workshop

The home shop can be a dangerous place; full of sharp objects, whirling blades and wood or metal fragments flying through the air. No matter whether you’re working with wood, plastic or metal, using hand or power tools; rule number one should always be “Safety First.” Tool manufacturers are required to install built-in guards where danger is inherent, but the first line of defense should always be self-protection.

Start With Your Eyes

Through several decades of shop work, I’ve had to make two visits to the emergency room with crud in my eyes; fortunately without serious damage either time. After the second time, I don’t even turn on a power tool without putting on safety glasses! You should even wear safety glasses whenever you’re using a hammer.
If you already wear regular glasses, you can’t count on them to protect you from flying debris unless they’re certified as safety glass. You’ll get used to wearing goggles over your glasses, and the first time an inch-long splinter bounces off them you’ll breathe a sigh of relief. If goggles aren’t for you, look into a full-face shield, but keep this in mind: my second doctor visit for something in my eye, I was wearing a full-face shield when it got there!

Protect Your Hearing

Power tools are LOUD! and you need to protect your ears from all their racket. You can use something as simple as disposable foam ear plugs, or buy hard-shell over-the-ear protection. Either way, you’re less likely to wander around the house saying “Huh? What’d you say?” in your old age.

Wear Gloves to Protect Your Hands

Whether the danger is splinters or chemical burns, protect your skin from the shop environment with gloves. You’ll want to have different types of gloves, depending on the task at hand: tough leather or leather-palmed work gloves are an essential for flinging around heavy lumber or working with masonry. Good work gloves have thick layers of leather in the palms and across the knuckles and finger tips to protect against splinters and pinches.
Fingerless gloves pad the palms for blister protection but unlike thick work gloves still allow “touch control” for detail work. They’re a good compromise between gloves and bare hands.
Disposable latex gloves can protect your hands when applying stains or other liquids. Most fit either hand and come in boxes of fifty or 100 gloves. Around our house, they’re used for everything from cleaning bike chains to applying flea treatments to the dog.
Chemical-Resistant Gloves are the big guns: they protect against the harsh acids and bases in many cleansers and other corrosive chemicals that could eat through thin latex.
Safety Hint: Be glove-smart: don’t wear sloppy gloves or other loose clothing when working with power tools!

What Goes In Might Not Come Out

You can keep dust and grit out of your lungs with a simple cone-style dust mask. Wear these when sanding, sawing or using any other tool that creates dust and shavings. They’re also essential when you’re working with fiberglass insulation. Before using them for more than dust protection, check the fine print: most aren’t much use for chemical fumes, including paint.
Spray painters and people who routinely work with volatile chemicals should invest in a respirator. Not only does a respirator seal more tightly to your face, it’s also impermeable to gases and ultra-fine droplets of spray paint.
Oh, and by the way? those dust masks don’t protect you from the flu virus: just so you know…

Protecting Your Fingers

A push stick helps keep your fingers away from sharp blades when you’re working with tools like a table saw, planer or router table.
Push sticks protect you at the end of the workpiece, but what about the sides? A featherboard puts pressure on the side of the workpiece to hold it against the fence of a table saw or router table while you feed it through. Many designs lock in place in a miter-guide slot. A good design can be used in a T-slot, such as you find on the face of a fence. This configuration holds the workpiece firmly against the tabletop. Not only do you keep your fingers away from the blades and bits, but you also get cleaner cuts. What’s not to like?

Just In Case

Splinters, blisters, and the occasional cut are all part of the workshop experience. Always be prepared, and keep a first-aid kit in your shop.

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