Workshop Safety Tips

Safety must always be the NUMBER ONE PRIORITY whenever we're working in a shop.

Here are some excellent thought-provoking ideas about safety submitted by our readers.

(Do you have a safety tip you always keep in mind when you are in the shop? Share it with us , and we'll send you a $25 Highland Woodworking store credit if we feature your tip in our monthly newsletter.)


The Time When Accidents
Are Most Prone to Happen

Several years ago, I read an article in a medical journal in which the authors had conducted a study of workplace accidents. They tracked injuries through several emergency clinics and found the time of accidents seemed to cluster in the 2 to 3 PM time period. In their conclusion they deduced this might be a result of rising blood sugar levels following the noon meal affecting a worker's attention. [Editor's note: Others have also suggested this phenomonen may relate to the "crash" in blood sugar level that may follow the lunchtime spike.]

Perhaps mornings would be the ideal time to get machining done and then switch to hand tool work, sanding, finishing, sharpening, repairing, etc. Still, one would have to remain vigilant. Even though you might not be using a tool that could sever a limb, a moment of inattention or poor planning could result in screwing up a project. After reading the article, I became aware of a slump in my own attentiveness at 2-3 in the afternoon in my working life I am a pharmacist. To compensate, I made sure my lunch was high in fiber and relatively low carbohydrate with a modest caffeine boost. My afternoon slump disappeared.

Lee Ohmart

Young Visitors in the Workshop

My granddaughters, ages 8 and 11, like to come into my workshop when they arrive at my home. They know that when they come down the basement stairs, they are to stand at the door until the machine I am running is shut off...then they knock.

They know that I don't want them in the room when I am running machines that could kick back or be dangerous to them, and I don't want them surprising me.

My wife knows to do the same when she brings a treat or has a question.

And of course, they all wear safety glasses when we work on their projects.

The recent story in the news about the young college girl that was killed when her long hair got caught in a lab machine prompted me to make sure the girls (long haired) understand that long hair in the shop is dangerous. They know to respect spinning, turning things by wearing hats and pulling their hair back.

John Beatty

Keep Safety Equipment Conveniently Located

The safe way has to be the easy way.

I have several push sticks hanging around my shop: one right above the tablesaw, another next to the router table and a push paddle by the jointer.

The proximity between the safety device and the tool to be used has to be very close to ensure use. I don't waste any steps looking for these critical shop aids.

Likewise, my primary power tools are arrayed around one side of my bench. In the middle of that arc, I hang a pair of safety glasses and my hearing protection. I use plugs in conjunction with muffs as my shop is in the basement and the sound seems to be amplified by the concrete and low ceiling.

Lastly, I have a separate pair of ear muff hearing protectors that I hang on the handle of my miter saw. Its located out of the arc of most of my tools so I save myself some steps by keeping the extra muffs handy.

Tom LeRoy

Knowing When to Quit

The very second you hear your inner voice say, "Just hurry up and finish", quit right there. Go no further. Turn everything off and leave the shop. There is always tomorrow.

Lindsay Frost

Shop Visitor Distractions

A few years ago I purchased a new miter bit to use on my router table. While I was installing the bit into my router, a friend of mine stopped by. I continued to put everything together while we were chit-chatting. All was going well until I turned the router on. In an instant the router fell out of the table, destroyed an expensive router bit, and chewed up the power cord.

Because I was talking and not paying 100% attention to what I was doing, I had forgotten to tighten the clamp sleeve that holds the router. Since then every time I have company in my shop, I turn everything off, sit down and enjoy the visit. After they leave I can safely resume doing whatever it was I was doing before the visitor arrived.

Dave Aikens
Warner Robins, GA

Staying Vigilant Against Inattention

There is little doubt that inattention is the power tool-user's biggest enemy.

Carelessness is its very close second cousin.

However, I'm writing this to tell all of my fellow woodworkers that overconfidence is an enemy just as dangerous. This project was going too smoothly and I was guilty of having too much fun.

A couple of hours ago I was cutting poplar for drawers to go in the paired bedside tables I'm making for my wife's birthday.

Ironically, as I worked I was thinking of a friend who, when I last saw him, told me he was recovering from an injury from a table-saw kickback. I thought of calling him to find out whether he had resolved the cause of the kickback, and asking if he would like for me to stop by and have a look at his setup.

Carefully standing out of the blade's path, I sized the boards with my Forrest WoodWorker II as it proved why jointer manufacturers tremble at the sound of its name. Edge after edge came out true, when, literally on the last board of the last drawer, I reached for the offcut piece and saw my future. Scrap in hand, I suddenly realized that the drawer piece had not fully cleared the blade. Instantly I knew what was about to happen, and that it would happen before I could move: the board would be thrown in my direction. Fortunately, I had my right side turned toward the saw. Ninety degrees clockwise and I'd be giving my wife bedside tables for her birthday, but having no other reason than somnolence to be in bed with her. On the other hand, ninety degrees counterclockwise and the bruise would be in the soft part of my behind instead of my right hip.

It seems (I blacked out momentarily from the pain) that the board hit me, then bounced up to the fluorescent light, breaking the bulb and knocking the fixture to pieces.

I limped around the shop to clean up, then finished the last board. It was when I turned it over that I discovered the huge gash you see in the photo.

The drawer will be assembled with this very board, leaving the defect visible. It will serve as a reminder that vigilance must never be allowed to take a vacation, no matter how much fun we're having.

James W. Randolph

Minding the Red Zone

Band saw safety is a real problem.

To keep my fingers away from the dangerous blade zone, I paint a coat of red paint 2 inches on either side of the blade.

I always remember to keep my fingers "outside the red zone". The red is a visual sign of danger and shows up very well when I concentrate on making that delicate cut.

If cuts have to be made inside the red zone, I use a jig to hold the material.

Maurice Clabaugh

Four Words: Unplug Your Power Tools

All of my machines get unplugged from their wall outlets when I am done using them. This ensures two things:

  1. Nobody can accidentally power them up when just "checking out" a machine
  2. Power surges are never a problem.

Maurice Ungaro

A Note About Storage and Fire Safety

I had set up my basement workshop so that all of my bench top abrasive tools and materials were located and stored on one workbench with drawer storage underneath. On the top of this bench I had positioned a bench grinder and a 1" belt sander.

I was minding my business sharpening a chisel when I felt some heat near my groin and simultaneously smelled smoke. Looking down I realized that some sparks from the grinder had entered a partially open drawer and ignited some steel wool!!

I quickly shut off the grinder, yanked out the steel wool (HOT!!!) and drowned it in the quenching pan for the grinder and shoved the drawer closed. I then grabbed my fire extinguisher before re-opening the drawer and checking the remainder of the drawers to be sure no embers remained.

Lessons learned (or at least driven home!):

  1. Steel wool is coated with oil and will burn vigorously. (In fact the Boy Scouts show its use for starting fires with batteries!!) Thus it probably should be stored with your flammable materials (my choice) or at least away from the potential for sparks or flame!
  2. Make sure you have fire extinguishers available!! (They should be positioned near the exit(s) to your shop so if you go to get the extinguisher and then realize the fire is too big you are close to the exit) You obviously don't want to be in a situation where you need to reach over a fire to grab the extinguisher. This applies also to your kitchen area. Extinguishers also need to be of the proper size and category for your hazards.
  3. Another reason for keeping water available for the quenching tub.
Greg Taylor

Tips from a Safety Pro

As a professional firefighter, I have seen numerous woodworking and industrial accidents resulting in very serious, life-changing injuries.


1. Have a telephone within the immediate vicinity THAT YOU CAN REACH FROM THE FLOOR. If you are injured, you may not be able to stand/walk. Have a telephone nearby that you can crawl to, reach, and dial with one hand if necessary to call for help.

2. Have a well stocked first aid kit nearby. Again, something that you can reach from the floor if you have to crawl to it. This is not something with a couple of Band-aids in it. This is something that contains a variety of items to try to control a serious amount of bleeding until professional help arrives. A good kit would have a variety of gauze pads in it: 3x3's, 4x4's, etc. It would also contain some type of material to wrap the gauze pad with, i.e. "kerlix" (a brand name). You should also have plan B in this kit; meaning a tourniquet capable of controlling blood flow to an entire limb.

If you are having a bad day, can't concentrate on what you are doing, or are distracted mentally in any other way, take that as the last warning sign you will get before a serious accident. If you have a woodworking tool accident, the chances are your body will never be the same. Walk away to work another day!

Dennis Horton

Rotary Tool Safety

I was relatively new to rotary tools a few years ago, and I found myself sitting and thinking about my project with the Dremel still running.

I have long hair and it didn't take but a second of inattention to manage to catch some in the front and twist it around the spinning drill.

I now wear a Foredom Helmet for good respiratory protection AND full-face protection. I also braid my hair back so that it doesn't get caught any more. Between the braiding and the helmet, I don't think it will happen again. Also, if I am going to stop and think about the piece for a while, I shut the rotary machine down.

I so love foot controls on my Foredom and Super carver because after years of sewing, it is natural for me to remove my foot when I complete a job.

Sometimes, I just have to take extra measures to avoid my own bad habits from causing problems. Be Safe!

Jeanne Kent

The Safety of an Old Comfortable Chair

As I grow more "antiqueish", I have found an old comfortable chair to be one of the safest tools in my shop. Whenever I get puzzled over the next step or feel at all frazzled, I shuffle over to my deerskin covered chair and take a few minutes to close my eyes. Then I talk to myself about the problems I might be having with my current project, how to solve it, and then think about my next steps. I take a few bites out of my apple, and get back to work. These breaks don't take many minutes out of the day and are cheap insurance against a missing digit or two.

Bill Peterson

(Do you have a safety tip you always keep in mind when you are in the shop? Share it with us , and we'll send you a $25 Highland Woodworking store credit if we feature your tip in our monthly newsletter.)
Note: Please remember the most essential rule in woodworking is SAFETY FIRST,
so review our collection of Woodworking Safety Articles.

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