The top priority you should have at all times is woodshop safety. It doesn’t take much to reduce woodworking hazards and still be able to effectively work.
You’ve undoubtedly heard the stories of woodshop injuries, some even life-threatening. There are many woodworking hazards.
There’s a lot going on when you’re working on a woodworking project and thus many ways you or your visitors can be injured in your shop.
Safety has to be a top priority if you want to be able to enjoy woodworking and creating amazing things out of wood for a long time. Let’s have a look at 5 woodshop safety tips that you should implement.
Note: this is NOT a comprehensive list of all safety-related essentials you need to have. Later posts will cover power tool safety such as using guards and aids, as well as personal safety equipment you need to use.
Establish Woodshop Rules And Enforce Them
Having woodshop rules will help ensure that you and everyone that visits the shop know what is expected of them.
I’ve even seen these or similar woodshop safety rules posted on entry door(s) or on the workshop wall as a reminder to all visitors and the woodworker.
No one should interrupt you when you are using power tools. Even just the act of coming into the woodshop can cause you to look away at the wrong time, so the rule could be: if you hear a power tool in use, wait until it stops.
Getting distracted when you are in the middle of ripping a wood board in half or running pieces through a planer is the last thing you want. The moment you lose your concentration on the task at hand is when something bad can happen.
No food or drink in open containers
Even with good workshop dust collection and filtration, some dust will still be around. Some wood dust is especially toxic.
It’s best to restrict your eating and drinking to outside the woodshop. But if you need to drink something, get yourself a thermos with a lid. Don’t use a standard travel mug, as most of those don’t have a cover over the entire top where you put your mouth to drink (only a cover over the hole).
Everyone in your woodshop needs to have eye, ear and breathing protection including yourself! Refuse to allow anyone to help you or be in the space if they are not properly protected.
Make sure of course to have a set of personal protection items for your visitors. Disposable earbuds of course are best as well as disposable liners for a dust mask.
If you are moving rough lumber around, wear sturdy gloves. For finishing your projects have a box of disposable latex, vinyl or nitrile gloves on hand.
No one should be in your woodshop while impaired. Combining being under the influence of alcohol, recreational drugs or over-the-counter drugs with power tools is dangerous. Being tired or sick also will impair your judgement and cause your reaction time to be slower.
Proper clothing, hair, jewelry
Loose clothing, neckties, long hair or dangling jewelry is a recipe for disaster. Getting any of these caught in a power tool will have disastrous results. Just google “hair caught in drill press” if you have a strong stomach!
Clothing should be tucked in where possible, long hair tied up and jewelry and ties removed. I don’t even wear my watch or my wedding band in the woodshop, so they don’t get caught on something.
Have Enough Woodshop Lighting
You need to have adequate lighting. This will make sure that you can see everything you’re doing and that nothing will be hidden in the shadows.
Nowadays it makes sense to invest in LED lighting to save on your electric bill and have bright consistent lighting. There are formulas for calculating how many fixtures you need. You can retrofit older fluorescent fixtures into LED quite easily.
Keep in mind local regulations about electrical work. In most cases you will need to get a licensed electrician to run new circuits if your existing space doesn’t have enough to tap into.
You may also want to consider having emergency lighting if your space doesn’t have any windows or you are working at night. Then when the power goes out you can grab the portable light that automatically comes on during a power outage. Then find your way to the exit without tripping over something.
Keep A Tidy Woodshop
The last thing you want is to trip over something or slip on a patch of sawdust. Working with wood is inherently messy and keeping on top of the mess is crucial.
You should invest in an adequate dust control system. Even if it is just a shop vacuum that you move between tools as you use them. Regularly sweep your floor as well, either with a broom or a shop vacuum.
Keep wood scraps off the floor, so that no one will trip or step on them. You need to have a scrap box close to your saws that you can toss offcuts into easily. And have a wood storage system for those scraps that you are keeping.
Dispose of oily rags from finishes properly to avoid spontaneous combustion.
Put away tools on a pegboard or other storage system to keep them organized. Promptly pick up any dropped tools as stepping on them can be a trip hazard.
Also be careful of electrical cords, especially extension cords on the floor. You may want to consider hanging them from the ceiling, dropping down to your power tools.
Proper Storage For Materials and Tools
A good way to ensure you have an accident-free woodworking day is to store everything in your woodshop properly.
Make sure to store heavy materials and tools close to the floor. This avoids having them fall in case of an earthquake or when you are trying to take them down. You also avoid reach issues that could damage your back.
Store long pieces of wood on a lumber rack, either built by yourself or one of the many commercially available lumber rack systems.
Ensure that lumber racks are tilted towards the wall so that lumber doesn’t topple off or add some type of stop at the front edges of the rack to avoid having materials fall off.
Store all combustible and explosive finishes in a proper fire-proof cabinet or consider getting rid of these combustible materials and using water-based finishes, etc. instead.
While you are at it, you may find you have old cans of paint and finishes that you don’t need anymore. Bring these to your municipal hazardous materials drop-off location for proper disposal.
Ensure that your most frequently used tools and materials are within arms reach to avoid needing to use ladders or stepstools.
Arrange the sharp tools so that you don’t cut yourself while reaching for other tools. Ideally all sharp tools should either have individual blade guards or be put in a rack (which you can easily make yourself) that covers the sharp edges.
Be Well-equipped For Emergencies
Injuries may still happen, even minor ones such as getting a splinter in your hand or speck of sawdust in your eye.
First Aid Kit
Have a well-stocked first aid kit at the ready in the workshop.
And learn how to use it: take a first aid course so you know what to do in an emergency.
Make sure you have a phone in your woodshop, whether it be an extension landline phone or your cellphone.
Have numbers for emergency services (usually 911 in North America), poison control centre and other important numbers such as electrician, power utility and plumber handy.
However turn the ringer off on your phone (either landline or cellphone) to avoid distractions.
There are lots of opportunities for a fire to break out in your woodshop. Mix highly flammable sawdust and wood scraps with combustible wood finishes and brush cleaners and sparks from power tools and you have the makings of a fire or even explosion.
So have a fire extinguisher next to the major exits of the shop so you can grab one while heading towards the door.
Obviously if the fire is already out-of-control and the extinguisher is not enough to control the fire, leave and call the fire department.
Woodshop safety is achievable with some simple steps to make the working environment safer. The proper habits combined with proper safety gear will also help to increase safety without compromising your ability to create woodcrafts you can be proud of!