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Safe Woodworking: Protecting Yourself in the Shop

When woodworking is part of the job, then housekeeping, equipment maintenance, machine guarding, personal protective equipment and rigorous safety measures are all important.

A woodworking machine with a safety guard.

Machines used in woodworking are dangerous, particularly when used without proper safeguards. Workers operating woodworking tools and equipment are in danger of injuries like lacerations, amputations, hearing loss, blindness, headaches, and long-term health conditions.

Safety and health hazards from woodworking include:

  • Machine hazards from the point of operation, rotary and reciprocating movements, pinch points, kickbacks, and caught-in dangers
  • Wood dust can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat and is a carcinogen (in excessive amounts)
  • Chemical hazards from exposure to coatings, finishings, adhesives, and solvent vapors
  • Struck-by hazards from flying chips or other material
  • Electrical hazards that can cause shock or electrocution
  • Fire and explosion hazards
  • Loud noises that can cause hearing loss
  • Excessive vibrations

Personal protective equipment for woodworking may include safety glasses or goggles, a dust mask or respiratory protection, and hearing protection.

Gloves can protect hands from splinters and rough edges when handling wood, but do not wear loose gloves or clothes, long hair, neckties, bracelets, or lanyards near rotating blades or other machine parts where they can get pulled into the equipment.

Personal protective equipment.

Only use woodworking tools and equipment that you have been trained to use properly and safely. Use the equipment that is right for the task.

Before use, you must understand the purpose and function of all the controls on the machine, and you must know how to stop the machine in an emergency. If you don’t know, ask first!

Confirm equipment is properly grounded before use. If not properly grounded, the metal framework of a saw (or other equipment) could become energized and electrocute the operator.

Before using any tools or equipment confirm that all guards are in position and are in good condition. Check and adjust all other safety devices. Ensure that all cutting tools and blades are clean, sharp, and in good working order.

OSHA Standard 1910.213(s)(1) Dull, badly set, improperly filed, or improperly tensioned saws shall be immediately removed from service, before they begin to cause the material to stick, jam, or kick back when it is fed to the saw at normal speed. Saws to which gum has adhered on the sides shall be immediately cleaned.

The floor space around equipment must be sufficient so that it can be used safely without bumping into the wall, other workers, or nearby equipment. Make sure that you can stand balanced and steady during operation. Avoid awkward positions where a slip could cause you to lose your balance or your hand to hit the blade.

Check that keys and adjusting wrenches are removed from the machine before turning it on. Inspect the stock for nails or other materials before using any tool or machine on it. Clamp down and secure all work pieces when drilling or milling.

Do not startle machine operators or distract them while they are working with powered tools. Horseplay is never allowed in the work area.

Do not saw freehand. Always hold the stock against a gauge or fence. Freehand sawing increase the likelihood that your hands will come in contact with the blade.

Keep hands out of the line of the cutting blade. Use a push stick or push block to push material into the cutting area.

OSHA Standard 1910.213(s)(9) Push sticks or push blocks shall be provided at the workplace in the several sizes and types suitable for the work to be done.
A woodworking machine.

Woodworking tools require regular preventive maintenance. Regularly clean and maintain woodworking equipment and guards. Remove dull, badly set, or improperly tensioned saws from service.

Ensure that blades are sharp, properly adjusted, and secured. Remove any cracked or damaged blades from service. Keep circular saw blades round and balanced. Immediately clean saws to which gum has adhered.

OSHA Standard 1910.213(a)(10) It is recommended that each power-driven woodworking machine be provided with a disconnect switch that can be locked in the off position.

Do not leave any tool or machine unattended when it is still turned on (unless it is a machine that is designed and intended to be operated while unattended).

Do not walk away from any machine that has been turned off until the machine has come to a complete stop.

Before inspecting, cleaning, adjusting, or repairing any power tool or machine make sure to turn the power off and unplug the power cord (or lock out the power source). NEVER try to free a stalled blade before turning the power off.

Use a brush or stick to clean sawdust and scrap from a woodworking machine. Never clean a saw with your hands or while the tool is running.

A line drawing of a worker using a woodworking machine.

Maintain proper housekeeping in the work area especially near powered tools and equipment. Workers can be injured by tripping and falling into blades.

OSHA Standard 1910.213(s)(6) Emphasis is placed upon the importance of maintaining cleanliness around woodworking machinery, particularly as regards the effective functioning of guards and the prevention of fire hazards in switch enclosures, bearings, and motors.

Keep floors and aisles in good repair and free from debris, dust, protruding nails, unevenness, or other tripping hazards. Clean up spills or wet spots immediately.

Maintain electric power cords overhead or route them in a way to ensure they do not become a trip hazard.

Ensure there is good lighting in the work area so that visibility is maximized and there are no shadows, glare, or reflections.

Do not use compressed air to blow away chips and debris or to remove sawdust from machines or clothing.

Ideally, woodworking machines should be fitted with efficient local exhaust ventilation systems to remove sawdust during operation.

A man standing in a workshop.

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