Mark (TheCraftsmansPath.com) on May 4th, 2008

safetyweek08_120.jpgAs you may already know, this week has been declared Woodworkers Safety Week 2008. This idea was the work of Marc Spagnuolo of The Wood Whisperer fame. Along with the declaration of Woodworkers Safety Week, the thought was that those of us who write, talk, or video about woodworking might focus some of our efforts during the week on the subject of safety in the workshop. The emphasis of this endeavor is, of course, to heighten every woodworker’s awareness of the need for safety in the workshop.

To do my part for Woodworkers Safety Week 2008, I thought I’d share a couple of quick stories about close calls that I have had in the workshop, the reasons for them, and what I learned from the experience. In addition to these stories, in a subsequent post I will also highlight just some of the things that I use in my shop that are focused on safety.

IMG_2962.JPGWhat you see in the picture is the sign that I have hanging in my shop. I got if from an old manufacturing operation that was closing down and I thought it would be perfect in my shop. It’s location in the shop causes me to see it every time that I enter. It may seem silly, but seeing it every day in the shop reminds me that the first thing I can do to be safe is to think clearly about what I am doing. If something that I am about to do does not feel safe, I don’t do it – plain and simple. This practice has never failed me. I will always spend extra time thinking about or setting up for an operation to make it completely safe. To me, the extra time is well worth the piece of mind I get as a result.

Having said this, I too have been through the “woodworking school of hard knocks”. When I first started out in the craft, I of course did not have much experience doing woodworking. On two separate occasions this lack of experience (and the lack of patience to try to research the write way to do something) resulted in a close call for me in the shop. One was at the table saw and the other at the router table.

The Table Saw Incident

The table saw incident occurred when I was first starting woodworking. I was using my father’s old Craftsman 7 1/4″ table saw. It had a very poor fence on it. I was attempting to rip a board but I had two things working against me: I was not using a splitter and I did not have the fence tuned to align itself parallel to the blade when it was locked down.

I started the ripping operation and the board started to become harder and harder to push. I could hear the saw straining but, I kept pushing thinking that there was only a little more to the cut and I thought that I could force it through. You can probably guess what happened – because the fence had locked down with the far end closer to the blade than the near end, and because there was no splitter to keep the board from contacting the rear of the blade, the board eventually rode up onto the rear teeth of the blade and kicked back with violent force. Luckily, I was standing in a position where it did not hit me but, the board ended up going through a paneled wall on the other side of my shop! Needless to say, I quickly shut down the saw and after I collected myself I finally did one thing right – I retraced what I had done and realized that the issue with the fence was the cause and that my forcing the cut and the lack of the splitter enabled an almost tragic result. The important lessons that I learned from this are:

  • On the table saw a well tuned fence is paramount. Until I got my own saw I was diligent to check and recheck that the fence was equidistant at both the front and back of the blade before any cuts were made.
  • Having a splitter on the saw could have helped this situation. Because this saw was old and the guard/splitter was long gone, I made a new insert with a wooden splitter attached until the saw was replaced.
  • Forcing a cut on any power tool is the last thing you should do. From then on, if ever in a situation where a cut is binding I always shut down the tool to investigate what is causing the issue before continuing.

The Router Table Incident

The incident that I once had with the router table was not because of an issue with the equipment but, rather because of an issue with my knowledge of an operation. I was using a straight bit in the router at the router table to plow a groove.

I had already plowed a groove in my workpiece using the fence on the router table to position the groove properly. I moved the piece from right to left over the bit to do this. However, the bit I was using was 1/2″ in diameter and I needed to plow a 3/4″ grove into the piece. I was not quite sure, but this seemed simple enough…I could just move the fence in toward the bit by 1/4″ and widen the groove with another pass against the fence, I thought. I went ahead with this operation and as soon as the piece was engaged by the bit, it shot out the left side of the router table and into the wall across the shop! This happened in an instant and I hardly knew what had happened. I shut down the router and tried to understand what had gone wrong. After a bit of thought, I finally understood the problem. Because I moved the fence toward the bit and still fed the piece from right to left, as the bit rotated counter-clockwise it was widened the groove nearer the edge of the piece that was against the fence. This caused the piece to be trapped in between the bit and the fence effectively creating a climb-cut situation. The important lessons that I learned from this are:

  • You need to always be aware of the rotation of the bit on the router table. All operations must feed the workpiece to be cut into the rotation of the bit – it is always worth a few extra minutes to walk through the scenario (and even draw a quick picture) to be sure that you completely understand what you are doing.
  • Never ever trap a workpiece between the bit and the fence on the router table. Always consider the rotation of the bit and if the orientation requires the cut to be between the bit and the fence, then the feed direction must be reversed. In the scenario that I denoted above, I needed to actually feed the workpiece from left to right to safely make the cut.

These are the two close calls that I have had that stand out the most in my mind. They illustrate that disastrous things can happen in an instant in the workshop. I hope that reading about them will point out something for you to work more safely in your woodworking. I would also urge you to visit the other blogs in The Woodwhisperer Network to see what others are talking about during Woodworkers Safety Week 2008.

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