Woodworking is considered one of the most emotionally rewarding hobbies. But, as it puts you close to rotating blades and sharp cutters, it is important to know some basic safety rules to keep you from injuries. Read these important safety rules to make your woodworking an enjoyable experience every time.
Here at Dubai Makers Society, we love to keep our community engaged with quality articles about woodworking techniques, tips and tricks.
But to enjoy the art of crafting, it is essential to know the basic safety rules that every woodworker must know before touching any tool. And when I say tool, I mean everything, including hand tools!
Here are the 11 safety rules to know:
This is probably the most important rule, for as obvious as it might seem, it needs to be reminded to woodworkers from time to time.
Doing woodworking with the appropriate safety devices and the correct gear is the first line of defence we can proactively action to protect ourselves from accidents.
Too many times, I've seen people disrespecting these rules with the most unreasonable justifications: "it's only one cut", "I'm late",..." I need to have it done by tonight",...you name it!
There is no plausible excuse for this, as our health is the most important thing here.
So, always remind this:
wear your safety glasses every time you use a machine; you are sanding or operating on a piece of wood that is likely to have splinters flying around. This can save your eyes!
wear a sturdy pair of shoes, and, even more importantly, don't enter the workshop with sandals or shoes that would leave your feet unprotected from accidental falls. Just think of this...would you ever go to the gym with flip-flops? Probably not...and the same is for woodworking.
Don't wear jewellery... necklaces and bracelets are an extension over which your body has no control. It's normal for your brain to know automatically how far your finger is from a blade, but impossible to know how far that pending necklace is..and imagine the consequences..or better not!
Keep your long hair tight; as I said above, everything must stick to your body as much as possible!
Wear hearing protection when using a machine or power tools; this will save you in the long term from having hearing problems and, at the end of the day, from feeling more tired than you should. Noise has an impact on fatigue, so be mindful.
Use a dust mask with a good filter; your lungs will save you in the future.
This rule might seem a bit counterintuitive, as generally, people think that gloves will protect them from minor injuries, like, for example, splinters or superficial cuts.
As this is true when moving stuff around, lifting heavy planks or carrying other things, using gloves with machines is a dangerous practice. I've seen too many videos of woodworkers showing this habit, and each time it freezes my blood.
Let's assume that you are cutting a board on a table saw and that, for some reason, your glove touches the blade that is rotating at high speed.
What do you think is going to happen? A superficial scratch could transform into the full hand being pulled into the blade...with its consequences.
Using your hands without gloves is safer...removing a small splinter is never a big deal.
And working if tired, as these two get along well.
If you do woodworking, then do that and disconnect from your daily problems. We all have our daily issues and worries, and, most probably, one of the reasons we go to the workshop is to find a way to disconnect from them and relax!
Every action in woodworking should be deliberate, which becomes a MUST when we use machines and power tools. Not thinking of what we are doing or letting our minds wander when operating a machine is a very risky thing, and we all should be capable of recognizing the danger and stepping back until we are mentally fit.
A good quality woodworking machine should have a safety switch that prevents from an accidental start. A power tool has a simple on/off switch.
You might think that with machines is more difficult to have an accidental start when we are operating close to a blade, for example, when we want to make a replacement or do our routine cleaning.
But what if we unintentionally touch the start switch with another part of our body?
Think it's impossible? Well, it happened, and it WILL happen...it's called Murphy's law!
More importantly, when you operate a power tool to prepare it for a cut, ensure the power chord is disconnected.
Think of the risk of changing a router bit...it spins at 24.000 rpm, and your only protection is an on/off button?
Something similar happened to me, and, luckily, I was far from the router. I changed my bit with the chord disconnected; the router was an old model with the on/off switch made like a small lever with an up and down movement (think of those old-style light switches in the houses). When I rested the power tool on the workbench, the switch moved to the on position without me realizing it. Imagine when I plugged in the socket. What happened?
I was lucky that nobody was around, and the router stayed on the bench.
Don't laugh now...I know what you are thinking :-)) How the heck can anybody ever push a piece of wood in the wrong direction on a table saw, a band saw or even a planer?
Yes, true; chances are that even a layman would figure it out, but don't be so confident in assuming that everybody would be so sure.
Especially if it's their first time dealing with a woodworking machine, it's not a matter of stupidity but rather a need to be trained on a new skill.
But what if I start talking about other tools, for example, a router?
Can you still be so sure?
The thing is that when you use a router, you need to know on which side you need to move.
Left or right?
As a general rule, all the movements should be done against the direction of rotation to keep the tool stable and controllable.
When you move in the same direction as the blade rotation, it's called a climb cut and should only be done by woodworkers with some experience using a router.
This climb-cut practice makes the router more difficult to control because it tends to "fly away" from your hands.
This must be your mantra every time you step into the machine shop.
Repeat it with me (at least three times): "I must always use the machines with their protection."
Why spend extra money for a machine with protections and then not use them (or, even worse, remove them intentionally)?
I've seen videos of woodworkers using machines without a single protection, operating table saws without the riving knife.
And you know what it means to operate without the riving knife?
That the wood you are cutting will tend to close after passing the blade. Spinning at 4000 rpm, this blade will project the piece towards you like a bullet.
Or what about using a top planer without the knife's protection with the risk of moving your hands? over an unprotected surface?
There is no substitute for safety when it comes to woodworking, and every woodworker is responsible for operating using the best practices. That's why here at Dubai Makers Society, we teach our members the most important safety procedures, and we require them to observe them when they operate in the workshop.
A push stick is the extension of your hands and is the sacrificial tool that will be damaged in case you get too close to a spinning blade.
There is no exact rule on when a push stick is a must and when is just recommended. You should always use it when you operate close to blades and NEVER get your hands less than 10 cm from a rotating blade when pushing a piece of wood.
And remember, ALWAYS use the push stick on the right side of a blade.
If you push from the left, you are just waiting for an accident to happen; if it slips over the piece, your hand will go straight into the blade.
I already discussed quite extensively above the major risks of operating close to a blade spinning at thousands of rpm. Everything that gets rejected becomes a bullet that is thrown in our direction. Even a small splinter becomes dangerous, hence the importance of safety glasses, as I explained in point 1.
A potential danger comes when we decide to use reclaimed wood. There can be several reasons why we want to do so; for example, we have an unused pallet, and we want to save some bucks on a project, or we like the idea of a particular style.
Here, the threat comes from the possible presence of nails and screws that are not removed despite careful investigation. A possible solution can be buying a metal detector to find hidden nails.
Putting contact the blade with a piece of metal also has a negative effect on the blade can be damaged and needs to be replaced at a cost that can be substantial.
So far, I've concentrated on explaining why woodworking machines and power tools can be dangerous if not used with some fundamental safety precautions.
Some common belief is that staying unplugged is the definitive answer to safety.
If I don't do it, I don't risk it!
Well...let me tell you another important thing about hand tools: they have very sharp blades, did you know that?
And these blades can cut you very fast; you don't need much pressure. I remember at school: we were so much inducted into the safety precautions on using machines that none of us had the minimum problem. But we had a couple of guys who got minor injuries with chisels just because they didn't use them appropriately.
This is another reason why we teach our members how to use hand tools correctly during our classes at Dubai Makers Society. It's not difficult, you have to know how.
If you are a beginner or have had little woodworking exposure, having a mentor who teaches you some basics is probably the best way to fast forward your knowledge and get out of the initial steep learning curve.
It's like going to school or following an online course. Instead of guessing and learning by trial and error, you have directions that tell you the right thing to do and how to do it.
What seems to be an initial expense is an investment that will pay you off in the medium and long term.
If you are interested in woodworking classes in Dubai, you can see our offer and participate in one of them. It will help you to become a better woodworker.
It's as simple as it sounds. If you are unsure if something is safe to do or not, simply DON'T do it!
If you have an expert fellow close to you, stop what you are doing and seek help or advice.
If you are alone in your workshop, it's even more important that, if unsure of what you will do, you find an alternative solution or look for someone who can advise you.
Getting injured alone is even more dramatic because that's when you need someone by your side.
In this article, I discussed the 11 most important safety tips you must know as a woodworker. Whether you are a professional woodworker or just a hobbyist, these rules apply with the same importance.
Experience is NEVER a substitute for safety; on the contrary, people with too much experience might underestimate the dangers just because it's never happened to them in 30 years.
NEVER compromise safety for the sake of speed; this will guarantee you a very long career in woodworking with all your ten fingers!
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Dubai Makers Society offers a woodworking space to rent using power tools and heavy machines.
We also run regular classes for those who want to learn woodworking.