Safety is my highest priority. Sure, I like to joke around in my videos and have fun in my shop, but when the power tools begin to run, I give them my full attention. Woodworking is a perfectly safe hobby so long as you understand and stick to a few safety procedures.
1. Position your body safely.
- My number one safety rule is this: If you are about to cut a board or perform another procedure that feels awkward or just doesn’t feel right, stop. Figure out a better way to position your body or hands. Figure out a more secure way to hold the wood. Listen to your gut or that little voice in your head that is warning you.
- Know where a piece of wood will go if you lose your grip on it. Position your body away from that potential projectile.
- Beware of table saw kickback. The most common cause of injury with a table saw is kickback – that is, when wood is thrown backwards, in line with the blade. Always position yourself to the side of the blade, not behind it. Always be on the lookout for trapping wood between the spinning blade and the rip fence that guides the wood as it’s being cut. To learn more, watch my Table Saw Basics video.
- If you lose control of a board while running it through a machine, let go of it. Don’t try to “save it” by grabbing the wood. Otherwise, you risk serious injury to your hands.
- Always do a test run without the tool powered on. Figure out where your body and hands will be positioned throughout the entire process, from turning the machine on, to sliding the board through the tool, to removing the wood and shutting the machine off. Go over it in your head each time. I do an imaginary test run every time I cut a board.
2. Protect yourself.
- Always wear safety glasses or goggles when using power tools.
- Protect your hearing with sound-blocking earmuffs. Noise exposure can lead to tinnitus – a constant ringing in the ears – or worse, to hearing loss.
- Protect your lungs from sawdust. I recommend a dust removal system with either a dedicated dust extractor or a shop-vac attached to tools as you use them. At the very least, wear a dust mask.
- Roll up long sleeves, tie long hair back, and remove dangling jewelry.
- Don’t wear gloves. I see some people doing this, but I think it is safer to control a piece of wood barehanded.
3. Make your shop safe.
- Keep your tools in good condition and properly tuned and aligned. For instance, make sure your rip fence stays parallel with your table saw blade to prevent kickback.
- Inform everyone not to come into your shop if they hear a tool running. It can be very unsafe and startling to have someone suddenly appear or tap you on the shoulder. Consider making a “Do not disturb” sign for your door.
- Use your power tools’ safety locks when they’re not in use. This is especially important if you have children.
- Unplug all tools when you aren’t using them.
- Lock the entrances to your shop when you are not in it.
- In case of an emergency, have a plan in place. We almost always work alone, so have your phone nearby, or even a loud air horn to summon help.
4. Be in the right frame of mind.
- Never drink alcohol or use any drugs while woodworking. Just don’t. Enjoy that cold beer after you have wrapped up for the day. You earned it!
- Never woodwork if you feel fatigued. Seriously, it can be as dangerous as driving while sleepy. At best you will make wasteful mistakes, at worst you will injure yourself.
- Get plenty of sleep, eat well, and stay in shape. Woodworking involves a lot of standing and mental focus. If you have a long session of standing, do some stretches at least once an hour. Learn a few good yoga poses!
- If you start feeling frustrated or angry because something isn’t working out, take a break. Force yourself to step out of the shop and take a walk. It will do wonders to your mood and project success, as well as helping you avoid accidents.
5. Follow safety instructions.
- Read and fully understand the safety precautions in the manuals that come with your tools. Believe it or not, they actually have very good information and advice!
6. Above all else, use common sense.
- Never operate a tool if you are afraid of it or uncertain how to use it safely.
By observing these safety rules, learning how your machines work, and protecting yourself from injury, you can use power tools with a sense of respect rather than fear.
Stay safe and have fun in your shop!