Mark ( on May 4th, 2009

safetyweek09Another year has passed and once again it’s time for Woodworkers Safety Week. The idea for this week dedicated to woodworking safety came from Marc Spagnuolo of The Wood Whisperer fame.  Each year during this week, many of us who blog about woodworking take time out to share stories and methods highlighting safe practices in the workshop.

With my pending trip to the Marc Adams School of Woodworking, I thought that this year to do my part for Woodworkers Safety Week 2009 I would share a couple of basic safety principles that Marc Adams espouses and that I have followed in my shop for many years.

The 12″ and 3″ Rules

These rules are extremely simple in concept but following them in practice will do a tremendous amount to keep you safe in the shop.  Simply stated these rules are as follows:

  • The 12″ rule says that you should avoid machining any piece of stock that is that 12″ or less in length.
  • The 3″ rule says that you should always keep your hands at least 3″ from any guard on a piece of machinery when using it.

To me any piece that is 12″ or less in length is a potential accident waiting to happen.  Whether you want to joint, plane or rip it, if it’s that small you would be well served to find a non-powered way to do so. Here’s why:

  • On a jointer, a 12″ piece either on edge or on its face could easily tip into the cutting head and be kicked back.  If the piece is kicked back your hands can easily be directed into the cutters with disastrous results.
  • On a planer, kickback is rare.  However, depending on your planer type, the distance between the pinch rollers on the machine is about 12″.  As a result, problems can occur if a piece that is too short is fed into a planer and is in contact with the knives but not restrained by the rollers.  Unless you back up the shorter piece with a longer one of equal thickness, it’s best to bring it to desired thickness using another method.
  • On the table saw, a 12″ piece can be hard to control when ripping.  Because of its size, it may have the tendency to move away from the fence and into the rear of the spinning blade causing a significant potential for kickback.
  • Similarly, when crosscutting using the miter saw or table saw, a piece this small is very difficult to control (unless you are just trimming an end) and can put your hands too close to the spinning blade to be safe.

The best way to avoid contact with the blades and cutters on our machinery is to keep our hands at a safe distance.  Following the 3″ rule is actually very simple in practice.

  • On the jointer always use push blocks between your hands and the stock. Avoid placing your hands directly on the wood so that they will pass over the blades when using the machine.  When edge jointing, ride the rear (pushing) hand on top of the wood and along the top of the fence.  Move the other (clamping) hand around the blade guard to the outfeed side to maintain clamping pressure against the fence.
  • On the planer keep your hands more than 3″ away from the infeed and outfeed sides of the machine.
  • On the table saw always use a push stick to rip stock that would cause you to come closer than 3″ from the guard.  Similarly, when cross cutting never crosscut short stock that would cause you to violate this rule unless it is safely clamped to the miter guage or cross cut sled.
  • On the router table use push sticks or blocks to operate on narrow stock.  Feather boards and or auxiliary fences and guards are also helpful to keep your hands away from the spinning cutter.

While there may be rare exceptions when a 12″ piece of stock could be cut without issue (for example on the bandsaw) I rarely find the need to.   I can almost always plan my work so that I am working with larger stock.

Obeying these simple rules in the shop has kept me fairly safe and trouble free over many years.  So, when that voice in your head tells you that something you’re about to do isn’t safe, don’t do it because it probably ins’t…if you analyze the operation you’ll most likely find that it is probably violating one of these rules!

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6 Responses to “Woodworker’s Safety Week 2009: The 12″ and 3″ Rules”

  1. Thank you for spreading the word about the 12″ & 3″ rules. They both simple to remember and effective. Not only in safety, but in avoiding dammage to your stock & machinery. Accuracy is about proper control. There are ways of working with pieces smaller than the rules. It basically means using some jig, fixture, or hold down that makes the small piece behave as a larger piece would.
    At MASW one of our senior assistants Zane Powell, even has a class dedicated to the jigs & fixtures we and our instructors have made over the 16 years the schools been open. But feel free to take photos of things like our favorite push sticks, router tables, etc. during your visit.

    Hope you have a blast there.

  2. Jeff,

    No problem spreading the word about such simple and effective rules.

    It sounds like you may work at the Marc Adams School, if so, in what capacity?


  3. Thanks. Always good to hear this important message on a regular basis.


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