Safety rules for a workshop can be summed up in one sentence. Treat your tools with understanding and respect.
1. Read instructions carefully, practice, and proceed slowly.
2. Do not be afraid of tools. If tools are correctly used, they will greatly increase your workmanship qualities.
3. Always concentrate completely on the task at hand.
4. Keep your shop neat and dry. A messy shop quickly becomes a hazardous area for accidents.
5. Always unplug power tools when not in use. Always unplug tools when changing bits or blades.
6. Most high-speed operations such as cutting with a tablesaw and routing produce wood chips and are very noisy. Safety glasses and hearing protectors protect against these hazards.
7. Do not remove or bypass the safety devices added to machinery such as tablesaws and jointers. Blade guards and splitters are there for a reason.
8. Keep a fire extinguisher in the workshop. There are different classes of fire extinguisher (A,B,C) to choose for wood and paper fires to chemical fires.
The second photo shows safety goggles and the third photo shows a variety of common safety glasses.
The next or fourth photo shows an overhead blade guard for the tablesaw. This safety feature serves to prevent the hands and fingers of the operator from entering the danger zone close to the saw blade. This blade guard is adjusted to be close to the piece being cut.
The fifth photo shows a tablesaw splitter. This safety device serves to keep any lumber exiting the blade from binding and causing kickback. It keeps the saw kerf open for the whole saw cut. The serrated pawls keep any lumber from kicking back.
Safety glasses are perfectly acceptable for the workshop since they provide shatterproof protection for the eyes. Ideally, safety goggles should be worn as they provide shatterproof glass protection for the eyes. Safety glasses and goggles should also be tight fitting and sealed against dust. Dust is second nature to a woodworking shop and it permeates almost every open surface, both vertical and horizontal.
Wearing sealed safety goggles ensures that dust will not coat the inside of the goggles and hinder vision at a critical time. Eye safety gear is fairly inexpensive, and this should be the first piece of safety gear purchased.
The substances used in the average workshop carry relatively few risks to health, especially if you are in contact with them for only a short time. On the other hand, many people are affected by wood dust. Some people are affected by dust from certain woods; others are instead affected by dust from woods in the form of allergic reactions. Allergic reactions can range from wheezing, shortage of breath to skin rashes.
Allergies can also be developed by constant exposure to wood dust, especially if the dust is very fine. The finer the dust is; the greater the likelihood of it being inhaled and aggravating the throat and lungs. Wood dust particles can be very fine, this fine dust floats in the air for a long time before settling. This dust is also called airborne dust. If you feel sick when working with a particular wood or woods, consider an alternative wood. You may be able to use an alternative method of working or matching the wood, for example planing instead of sanding.
Shown next is a photo of dust masks, which are used to prevent the inhaling of fine wood dust. The top dust mask is a regular paper dust mask, whereas the bottom mask is of the cartridge type which allows filtered air to enter the mouth area.
The dust mask or respirator is an equally important component of safety in the workshop. The woodworker should form a habit of wearing a dust mask when performing operations which generate much dust. The simplest dust mask is a paper mask which covers the nose and mouth and which is also disposable. The paper dust mask is very economical and can be purchased in large quantities. The dust mask is held on with an elastic band around the head. The next version of the dust mask also covers the nose and mouth, but has instead, a small air cartridge which can also be replaced. The benefit if this system is a better fitting dust mask and the provision for the woodworker to breathe easier, since air is expelled through a valve system.
At the other extreme, and for woodworkers who need maximum dust protection, is the air helmet. This is a helmet worn over the head, and is effectively a sealed chamber in which you breathe in. The actual air you breathe is transferred to and from an air pack which fastens to your waist or to your back. This is a self-contained breathing apparatus, with built-in dust and fume filtering.
Another fairly new development in shop dust control is the ceiling mounted dust filtration unit. An air cleaner unit is a self-contained 2-3 stage dust filtration system powered by a small, quiet motor which is sealed from the environment. This design effectively removes most airborne dust in a reasonable time frame. The cost is somewhat expensive initially, but only the bag filter unit needs replacement after a long period. The other filters can be effectively vacuumed or washed. Shown is a shop-made ceiling mounted three stage air cleaner unit. The shop-built air cleaner uses integrated squirrel-cage blowers and triple filter system.
A fairly recent innovation in shop dust control is the downdraft table. This table consists of a large blower assembly, typically a furnace fan and squirrel cage blower assembly enclosed within a sealed area. The blower serves to supply a vacuum to the surface or top of the table. This is accomplished through a series of holes equally spaced throughout the top.
The shop-built downdraft table in the photo is made to serve as an outfeed table and also to serve as a whole shop air filter. The whole shop air filter function is accomplished through a timer on the side which keeps the blower running for a period of time after some dusty woodworking operations such as sanding. This downdraft table is a good example of maximizing space within a shop environment. The downdraft table, outfeed table and whole shop air filter are combined into one unit.
Next photo shows a cartridge type dust mask. This dust mask utilizes a filter system, and is oriented to keep dust away from the opening. A dust mask and goggles or safety glasses should be mandatory safety items in any woodworking shop. Also shown is a photo of a series of different types of hearing protectors.
The noise levels generated by some power tools can reach upwards of 115db.The use of hearing protectors are highly recommended in a noisy workshop. Depending on the type of woodworking you perform, either completely hand-tool based or with the use of powered tools, hearing protection might or might not be necessary.
If you perform router or table saw work, the noise levels in decibels can be extremely high, slowly deteriorating and damaging your hearing. Some hearing protectors are more comfortable than others, and should always be tested in conjunction with eye safety gear. A low cost alternative to earmuff style protection are common earplugs.
These plugs can achieve a high level of noise reduction, upwards of 25db. These plugs are disposable, but ideally earmuff style protection offers the greatest protection, as the ears are then completely enclosed against loud noise.
It is sometimes best to get into the habit of wearing safety head and face gear.
Safety glasses and ear protection should be worn as often as possible while working in a woodworking shop environment. Certain woodworking operations can be grouped to use one machine, and the required safety gear can then be worn at that time.
Disposal of oily rags and rags soaked in finishing materials becomes important in a woodworking shop environment. The temperature of oily rags when bunched together gradually increases to the point of spontaneous self-combustion. This is directly related to the chemical drying action of the oily finish itself. All oil based finish containers utilizing chemical driers such as boiled linseed oil have large warning markings on the can to point this out.
As a precaution, all woodworking shop environments utilizing these types of finishes, or chemical finishes of any nature should have an oily waste rag container in the shop. The oily waste cans seal the rags from ambient oxygen and therefore keep the rags from self-igniting. Many woodworking shops have burned down when this relatively simple step has been overlooked. The photo shows a typical oily waste can container. The oily waste can container is used to contain and dispose of oily rags used to apply finish to wood.
It is critical to keep at least one fire extinguisher in the workshop. There are different classes of fire extinguisher (A,B,C) to choose for wood and paper fires to chemical fires. Most insurance companies mandate that woodworking shops have fire extinguishers readily accessible. In my own 2-level woodworking shop, I have a fire extinguisher located at the entrance to each of the levels. The area directly around the fire extinguisher is kept tidy so the extinguisher can be quickly grabbed in the event of a fire. A wall-mounted fire extinguisher can be seen in the last photo.