Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Woodworking Safety

When I left the US Army, I headed off to attend college. After my freshmen year, I needed to declare a major so I started looking at the programs around campus. My first love is woodworking and had seriously considered Industrial Engineering but the professor who ran the woodworking course was a real jerk. Needless to say, I only took one class with him and changed my mind. I was talking with a friend of mind at the Student Union and he suggested that I take a few Industrial Safety courses and see how I liked it. I did and quickly declared my major to Industrial Safety.

I learned a lot during those years. First, OSHA has a bible and everyone sins (they are pretty much self funded through the fines they impose) Second, Safety begins with the operator.

Every tool made today comes with a pretty good owner’s manual (I know many will disagree with that statement) and the first thing you should do is at least look through it closely. You will find all kinds of stupid warnings (Don’t use this electrical appliance in the shower or bath.) (The beverage produced by
this coffee maker is hot) BUT not all of them are useless. Things like, “Don’t cut the grounding prong off your power tools cord”, “Use the safety guards that come with your tool.” and my favorite Norm Abrams saying “above all, use these, safety glasses.”

Let me start this week with a few key items about one of the most popular woodworking tool, the Table Saw. This tool is infamous for causing major injuries to woodworkers. In reality, most of the injuries can be traced back to Operator error. Either the user had removed the safety devices from the tool or they were not using it properly.

The most important safety device on the table saw is YOU. Here are few key rules to follow.

1- Never make a cut without an edge support (Free hand.) Always use either serviceable fence
that is properly adjusted or a miter gage. A fence must lock down so it does move during the cut and it must be square to the blade.

2- Never turn the saw on when you are impaired. If you are tired or have had a few beers, leave
the saw turned off. It only takes a fraction of a second for your attention to fade for something to go wrong.

3- If at all possible, use the blade guards that come with the saw or an aftermarket replacement splitter.

Last year there was a law suit brought against Ryobi for an accident by a construction worker. In my humble opinion, Ryobi’s lawyers must have been idiots in presenting their case. The worker was provided a saw with no blade guard, not properly trained in its use and was attempting to use it for a purpose that it was never intended.

I know that there is a huge push for implementing the Saw Stop or equivalent technology on new saws. I have a few problems with that. First, it will drive prices much higher for entry level saws (Saw Stop’s own entry level contractor model saw is around $1500.) Second, it does not address the millions of saws already in the public’s hands. Table saws tend to be around a very long time, there are thousands of old Delta Unisaws still out there being used and many either did not come with modern safety features or have been lost long ago.

The key to reducing tool injuries is public awareness on their proper use and above all, common sense in their use. If it doesn’t feel right to do something, don’t do it. Ask for help. There are many woodworking forum out on the internet and most of the people on them would be happy to help.

Remember Safety begins with you. In homage to Smokey the Bear “Only You can prevent Shop Injuries”

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