Basic Guide To Shop Safety
Hey all, thanks for taking the time to read this guide. No, this is not a tell all, end all, close-the-book-and-be-done-with-it shop safety guide, but I'm writing it mainly for the new DIY box builders (in particular those who have little to no experience with many of the common power tools you would find in a wood shop). Many accidents can be avoided by practicing basic safety in and around the shop.
A little about myself - I'm a lay-up/trim technician at a composites company here in S.A. Texas. We manufacture fiberglass/carbon parts for private business/pleasure jets, such as showers, headliners, sidewalls, light escutcheons, just to name a few. We provide custom tooling services as well. I've been here for two years and have learned and seen quite a bit that provokes me to write this.
Let's get to business:
Some Steadfast Rules of Shop Safety
1. The Most Important Tool Is - Right between your ears. Use it each and every time you step into the shop. Common sense can prevent many mishaps commonly associated with shop work. If it seems wrong, it probably is. If you're unsure about it, err on the side of judgement and don't do it.
2. Respect the equipment - No, you don't have to refer to them as Sir/Maam, I mean show respect in regards to the power of the equipment you're using. These tools are designed to make basic shop functions such as cutting, griding, sanding, etc. much easier for the operator but on the same coin it comes with a larger risk for causing injury if misused. At the risk of sounding corny I quote "With great power comes great responsibility"... think about it.
3. Use Safety Equipment as Necessary - Safety glasses are a must. I've seen a router bit snap off and hit a guy in the cheek, DA sandpaper pads spin off and cut someone's eye because they weren't wearing any eye protection. Use gloves as needed to provide the necessary grip on pieces of material when running them through a blade or otherwise. Also helps prevent many cuts/nicks/splinters you commonly get when working with raw materials. Wear a respirator when working with glues, resins, or other volatile material ESPECIALLY when you're in a confined space. Wear a dust mask when griding on wood, fiberglass, or otherwise to prevent inhaling the fine particles, which can cause a number of respiratory problems. Use earplugs to avoid damage to your hearing (it's funny I'd even mention that on a forum about Car Audio ). And any other equipment as necessary...
4. Avoid Distractions - All it takes is a momentary lapse in concentration for an accident to happen. Stay focused especially with tools like the table saw, and never use them if you're feeling drowsy, sick, or otherwise not up to par.
Now onto the meat and potatoes of the subject... the tools themselves!
Table Saw - One of the most useful tools to box builders, but also one of the tools with the greatest risk of injury if not used correctly.
Before operating the table saw, check the sharpness of the blade. Adjust the height/angle as necessary. Ensure that the blade is secured properly and there are no obstructions on the table.
When cutting, NEVER place your fingers where they would be in a direct path to the blade. This is self explanatory. If you're ripping a skinny piece, use a pushstick. It's better to lose a little plastic than flesh and bone.
For extraordinarily tall pieces, use a featherboard. This device keeps the back end of your material firmly up against the rip fence, which makes for a smooth cut and helps to prevent kickback (explained below).
ALWAYS unplug the tool before servicing the blade or otherwise.
What Is Kickback and How Can I Avoid It?
Kickback can occur in two forms... the material being jolted straight back towards the operator's midsection, or the material riding up onto the blade and being thrown high and back towards the operator.
1. Make sure your blade is sharp and free of built up resins, gunk, or other debris.
2. Adjust blade height about 1" higher than your material. Contrary to popular belief, the lower your blade is in your material, the greater the chance of kickback. For one, having the blade lower allows more teeth in the material at any one time which makes for greater torque, and secondly the direction of force is towards the operator when the blade is lowered as opposed to downwards when the blade is higher and cutting down into the material.
3. When cross cutting (cutting a piece that is significanly wider than it is long, for example, chopping a 2x4 into smaller pieces) use the miter gauge/crosscut fence. You can either premeasure the piece and place a mark where the cut needs to be, or if the end against the rip fence is FLAT, use the rip fence as a guide. Failure to use a miter gauge when crosscutting causes the material towards the back of the blade to "pinch" it, almost always will result in kickback/binding of the blade.
4. NEVER stop in mid-cut, NEVER pull the material back towards you, and ALWAYS follow through with a cut. Think of it like a basketball shot or golf swing... keep the material moving through the blade until it is COMPLETELY clear of the blade. If you let it go early it can very easily be hurled back at you.
5. When using the rip fence, place firm and even pressure forward and to the right with all of your fingers, almost at a 45 degree angle into the fence. This will keep the material flat up against the fence which makes for a clean cut, and more importantly, reduces the chance of kickback.
6. ONLY RIP PIECES WITH A FLAT EDGE! I cannot stress this enough... attempting to cut a piece that's anything but straight is only inviting trouble. Personal story... I once was ripping pieces of foam on the saw, and I figured since it was a fairly soft material I didn't have to worry about the jagged edge... the piece ended up binding and kicked back into my gut, which was VERY painful. This is soft foam we're talking about. Now imagine a piece of plywood, or god forbid, sheet metal.
Band Saw - Another very useful and common tool to find in a shop.
Before using the band saw, check for proper blade tension, tooth wear, and bearing adjustments. make sure nothing has fallen into the space where the blade runs to avoid jamming the machine.
1. Allow plenty of space behind the machine, depending on what you are cutting. I've seen an idiot at my shop try and cut a 10' panel when when he only had about 8' of space from the wall. He had to back it out and turn the saw around.
2. Keep lateral forces on the blade to a minimum. This tool is meant to cut straight lines, not complex curves. If you try and force the blade into bending too much, the combination of stress and heat can easily snap the blade.
3. Watch your fingers! The band saw might not seem as menacing as the table saw but it can easily part you from your digits! Never place your fingers in direct line with the blade - one slip is all it takes.
4. ALWAYS unplug the tool when servicing it.
Router/Table Router - It's loud, it's fast, and it's a great tool for cleaning up edges, routing circles, and many other uses around the shop.
Before using the router, make sure the bit is sharp, fully inserted into the collar, and is the right one for your application.
1. Feed the router in the opposite direction of the bit's rotation. Failure to do so can result in losing control of the router, causing damage to yourself and to your work piece.
2. Don't force the router. If you start to see smoke, stop and let the bit cool down for a few seconds before continuing. If the bit overheats the bearing can shatter, some part of it will fly off at a rapid velocity.
3. Let the router get up to operating speed (called "spinning the bit") before you contact your work piece . If you start it mid-cut it can kick and you will lose control.
4. With table routers, keep your hands clear of the bit! We had an accident at my shop not too long ago where the guy was in a hurry and was not paying attention, his hand slipped right into the blade and turned the tip of his finger into hamburger meat. Not good people!
5. ALWAYS unplug the router when changing the bit.
Belt Sanders/Disc Sanders - The stand-up models that are usually sold together in pairs.
Before using the sander, check for paper wear and replace as necessary. Make certain that the sandpaper disc is properly secured to the wheel to minimize the chance of it flinging off.
1. Watch your fingers! Get them too close to the belt or disc and you've got an instant manicure, or worse! When using the belt sander, avoid sanding too close to the area where the belt turns down into the machine. If you slip your finger/hand could get pulled down into it! I've had this happen with 36 grit and my fingertip... it pulled the entire layer of skin off. Not fun!
Handheld Saws - Circular Saws/Jigsaws - Useful tools for making cuts where the table saw or band saw isn't an option.
Before operating a circular saw or jigsaw, double check the tightness and sharpness of the blade BEFORE you plug it in.
1. Let the blade reach full operating speed before contacting the material, otherwise the tool might kick.
2. Make completely sure that the area underneath the material you are cutting is free of obstructions. With the circular saw, you could easily cut into the table, or with the jigsaw, the bottom of the blade could thrust into a solid object which would kick the tool directly back at you.