Bench Top Woodworking Safety – Tactics To Use Around Your Shop

Woodworking, whether for business or as a hobby can be a most pleasurable endeavor. Making something out of wood that is useful, attractive and even begs to be touched gets you excited to start the next project. We woodworkers love our craft but also realize that there is a degree of danger involved in shaping wood to a final result. It doesn’t matter if you are working with a power tool or a hand tool they both have the possibility of inflicting bodily damage and so woodworking safety must be paramount with shaping wood.

How do I know? Well, here’s what happened to me.

I was cutting a thin board into strips using the table saw fence and using my fingers to guide the wood. I had the blade retracted low just enough to clear the board surface) so (I thought) it would be safe enough to guide through the blade. I didn’t use a push stick because the couple I had on hand didn’t work well with the thin stock I was using so I just used my fingers. What happened was the stock started rising up on the spinning blade and my instinct was to push it back down with my left index finger. BIG mistake! Within a millisecond that nice sharp carbide blade did it’s damage. Luckily for me it was a flesh wound on the tip of my finger, no bone was involved but a carbide blade doesn’t slice, it chews flesh. Needless to say it was a trip to the hospital, stitches and a lot of pain (in more ways than one). I am hoping something like that (or worse) never happens to you. At the time, I told my wife (who wasn’t too pleased with the whole scenario) nothing like that would ever happen again. I was determined to make my woodworking as safe as I could from that point on. Here is my take on woodworking  safety…

Bench Top Woodworking Tools – Safety Breakdown

Whatever tool you have that requires a sharp edge, it’s important to have that edge as sharp as possible. Reason why, is a sharp tool is ultimately more controllable. The tool doesn’t need to be forced  in it’s usage and there is less chance you will make an uncontrollable slip with a dull tool injuring yourself.

Table Saw Safety
The table saw is a great workhorse for dimensioning material to it’s desired size or shape but it’s use can be dangerous if you are not paying attention while running it. Also spend the time to adjust your blade and fence to make sure they are parallel. Miss calculated mistakes happen almost instantly, ‘usually’ with no warning at all. I say ‘usually’ because you may hear an usual sound or experience a resistance where you feel you should push harder to make the desired cut. That’s the time to shut the saw down and re-evaluate your setup. Before you turn on your saw a good practice is planning out every cut and envisioning anything that may go wrong and always remember that the saw blade is spinning towards you. Whenever possible, rip stock to the left of the fence with the fence on the right side of the blade, using a zero clearance blade insert and splitter that is the thickness of your blade kerf. Always use a push stick when guiding the stock through the blade and stand to the left or right of the stock cut off.

Band Saw Safety
While the bandsaw is a safer machine to operate than a table saw it does have safety issues. 

Before turning on the saw there is a few things you should check:

  1. If the saw is on a mobile base make sure the wheels are locked so it won’t move while operating the saw.
  2. Check to see that the tension for the blade is properly set. Also make sure the blade guide blocks/bearings are set properly.
  3. The blade guard is adjusted to just over the height of the stock you are going to cut.
  4. If you are using an out feed table or rollers make sure it’s set to accept the stock as it leaves the end of the saw table.
  5. When re-sawing use a gripper of some sort rather than your hand to guide the stock through the blade and use a push stick to finish the cut.
  6. If at anytime the saw begins to bind while cutting, shut the saw off and find out why before continuing.

Lathe Safety
The wood lathe is a lot of fun to use and can get quite addicting once you get the hang of using one. It has some of it’s own special safety requirements that must be adhered to in order to operate it. Here is a list of safety precautions for the lathe:

  1. Before turning on the lathe double check that the speed is set to the safe region for the technique to be used. If you have a variable speed lathe start out on the low end, then increase speed if necessary.
  2. Never wear loose clothing while using a lathe. It’s a good idea to roll up your sleeves so the chance of getting caught by a spinning lathe is remote.
  3. Wear protective eye wear and ideally a face shield is best. Flying wood chips can become dangerous, especially if it’s large chunks breaking off of the stock. Believe me I know… it does happen.
  4.  Things happen fast on a lathe. You can complete a turning in a matter of an hour. Slow yourself down and enjoy what you are making, doing so, you will be safer because you will find your movements more calculated. Never be in a rush to finish a turning… that’s how you get nasty catches and can ruin a turning in a millisecond and get hurt in the process.
  5. If your stock is to be attached to a face plate or a chuck make it is secure before you are turning on the lathe. It’s a good idea to stand back until the lathe comes up to speed before approaching the turning stock.
  6. Keep the area around the lathe clean and clear of any tools that aren’t being used. Falling tools off the lathe bed can be distracting and dangerous if somehow the tool strikes the turning. Paying attention to the lathe’s immediate area is a good idea.

Planer Safety
A thickness planer is a nice tool to have, it makes it easy to adjust a boards thickness to exactly fit the way you want it to. While a planer is relatively safe to operate their are a few things to be aware of. Planers are loud and especially so if you are using a bench top planer so always use sound protection. Make sure the planer is securely fastened down and the area clean and no random tools laying near the planer during operation. Never try to plane more depth than necessary as it will only dull the blades sooner but the motor and bearings will wear out sooner. Light cuts are always better.

Drill Press Safety
Another tool that is quite safe to operate is the drill press. Use the recommended speed when drilling, the drill bits will last longer. Make sure what you are drilling is securely fastened down, especially when drilling completely through stock. This is especially important when drilling metal. Even though drilling metal requires a slow speed, once the drill begins to exit the stock the drill will have a tendency to grab the stock and violently rotate it. That is one good reason not to hold a metal plate with your hands, once it spins you will get your hands cut up quickly. Also make sure the drill table is securely tightened as it will move while drilling and can ruin a piece of work.