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Safety While Woodturning

by Curtis Turner
Round Rock, TX

Note: Click on any picture to see a larger version.

Wishing for a happy and safe holiday season

We have arrived at the end of another year. This is the season for reflection and anticipation about the future. This is also a hectic time of year. I know many of you will be busy completing a few last minute gifts. It becomes tempting to take a few short cuts to save time. I want to take a moment to remind you that safety while turning is not an area for short cuts.

How this started

This article is a result of a conversation with a turner who I recently met. This new turner was showing me a large hardwood blank he had partially turned. He had turned the blank down to about 8-9" diameter by about 11" thick. A solid chunk of wood to say the least. He went on to explain he needed to remount the blank because the screws were sheared off! I examined the blank and found that he used brass screws to attach the face plate. The screws looked like a #6 screw. I hesitantly asked him if the wood had dismounted from the lathe. Fortunately, he was using the tailstock and stopped once the screws started to fail and the blank became unstable. He was extremely lucky this short cut didn't send him or someone else to the ER. I didn't miss the opportunity to point out how to avoid this in the future.

The issue here should be obvious to you, but just in case we have a few new turners I'll explain. First, the wrong type of screw was used. One should never use brass, sheet rock or low quality big box store screws. Secondly, the screws were undersized. This situation likely occurred because they were the screws that were readily available to this turner. He took a short cut with potentially dangerous and long term effects. One should only use good quality #10-12 screws. They should be of sufficient length to clear the thickness of the face plate and achieve a depth of about 1" or more into the wood. I have been happy using the Spax line of screws .

Face Shields

This leads me into my favorite safety soap box lecture. Face shields! This is another area where rushing to finish a last minute gift could result in taking a short cut - not wearing your face shield. I have heard it all before, "I am only sanding", "I was just taking one last small cut" or the classic sight of someone turning wearing a face shield left in the up position. This is a very simple step you can take to protect yourself. The cost of a face shield is a bargain . I teach my students to leave the face shield hanging on the tool rest or tailstock when not in use. This requires the face shield to be picked up to use the lathe.

There is no point in hanging your face shield on the wall at the other end of the shop. This just makes it too tempting to turn without it.

I hope in the new year that you set a goal to be more safety conscious. This will help ensure you can enjoy this craft for a long time. I also hope you try something new. Perhaps a new technique, tool, finish or surface embellishment. A few suggestions I would offer include:

  1. Mahoney Walnut Oil Finish . This is something I waited years to try. It leaves a very warm and pleasing finish. I am disappointed I waited so long.
  2. Foredom Grinder . I absolutely love mine. This can lead you into adding carving to your works or you can use it to sand just about anything.
  3. Turn green wood. If you have never turned green wood you owe it to yourself to seek out fresh cut material. It is just a fun experience. And here is a book on how to do it: Turning Green Wood .
  4. The best way to try something new is reward yourself with a class. This could be a class at a local store, school or through a turning club in your area. Highland Woodworking has some great classes!

I hope you enjoy this holiday season. It is the time for sharing and giving. Please consider sharing your love of turning by introducing someone to the craft. You have more to share than you may realize.

Curtis was a former President of Central Texas Woodturners , is a member of the American Association of Woodturners , and a member of Fine Woodworkers of Austin . Curtis teaches and demonstrates nationally for Lie-Nielsen Toolworks. He also teaches for TechShop. He owns a studio where he teaches and works. Curtis lives in Central Texas with his wife and four young children. Take a look at his website at .

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