Woodshop Safety: eZine Readers’ Advice and Experience

In last issue’s eZine, Rob spoke about some of the shop accidents he’s experienced in 40 years of woodworking, and asked readers for their experiences and first aid preparations.

Some of you wrote in with your own injury experiences. – Editor

“I have also had my share of injuries. Fingers dragged into the router bit, a circular saw that jumped back and did a dance on my thumb were the worst. But I haven’t had a bad one in a long time, because I’ve learned a very important lesson: rehearse the operation. If it seems at all scary or dangerous, rethink it. Think of another way that is safe. It’s saved me a lot of blood. But just in case, I do have first aid equipment and both a cell and land phone available.” – Barry Saltsberg

“Though it is embarrassing to admit, I have had my share of incidents in my woodshop also. Most of the time I have simply tried to put too much equipment and supplies in my work area, then try to work around it. Housekeeping could have helped me prevent almost all of my accidents. Distraction and inattentive moments take it to 99 percent of the risks. Over the past few years, I have outfitted my wood shop with a commercial first aid cabinet including bandages, ointments and creams. I never let the cabinet run out of eye wash bottles. Even with safety glasses, I regularly get sawdust in my eyes. My spouse is very good to remind me anytime she knows that I am heading to the shop, to take my cell phone and turn on the vibrate function. That way if she needs me in the house for any reason, she can reach me.” – Michael Thomas

“As a survivor of a couple serious shop injuries, I am very careful and keep a well-equipped first aid kit as well as a landline in the shop. I don’t usually work in the shop if there is no one nearby to turn to for help. One time, my wife had to take me to the emergency room. The second time, the gentleman washing the windows in the house did the honors. Fortunately, there was only a loss of the tip of one finger through all of my woodworking. Now, I stop before performing any operation and analyze to make certain that I am being as safe as possible. Interesting how accidents make us more aware of how we perform our work.” – Gerald Jones

Others talked about how they have prepared their shops for safety. – Editor

“I have a first aid kit readily accessible, which means I can open it one-handed. There is normally a large clean rag close by as well.  Check the first aid kit periodically to be sure you have what you need. But the main thing I do is to triple check that I am working safely, especially the table saw. I find a way to use my GRR-Rippers if at all possible.  If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.” – Norm Nichols

“Something to keep in mind: it might be good to have both phone and first aid kit shelved/mounted somewhere you can safely find with eyes closed and reach from the floor, to cover a few more of the worst cases. Ditto fire extinguisher, perhaps. And while it makes much less sense in a one-person shop, Emergency Power Off buttons or equivalent might be a good investment for the tool (not lighting) circuits, as might GFCI/AFCI. If working alone, you might want to consider a Man Down alarm, or one of the panic-button transmitters normally marketed to the elderly. Plus the obvious: plan ahead for emergencies, make sure egress paths are clear, and do an informal fire drill or equivalent once in a while just to make sure you haven’t created new hazards. And be especially careful when tired or when there are finishing fumes around. I don’t have to mention safety goggles and respirators, do I? I’ve never done more to myself in the shop than superficial cuts and burns. And I’m a new enough woodworker that I’m still safety paranoid about the more aggressive tools.  Statistically, I’m told, the folks most likely to injure themselves are actually the pros, who have started taking the tools for granted and who are more likely to be working to deadline.” – Joe Kesselman

“I have a first aid kit (always having to add more Band-Aids®), two phones and a fire extinguisher.” – Thom Spillane

“I have a first aid kit including some highly absorbent bandages. In addition to my cell phone, I have a land line. If things really go south, there is the panic button on the alarm keypad. So far, all I have had to use is the occasional Band-Aid. Knock on wood!” – Lee Ohmart

“I’ve had my own shop since the 1960s and have been doing woodworking since I was in my early 20s. I’ve always made a point of having fire extinguishers by the door and a first aid kit and extra Band-Aids handy. I’ve also had a phone in the shop as well. In 60 some years, I’ve only had one serious accident  —  due to laziness  — which resulted in removing part of my left thumb about the width of my table saw blade. I won’t go into details but the moral is: Use a push stick!

“When my sons were small, I used to have sessions with their Indian Guides (pre Cub Scouts) and Cub Scouts groups in the shop, for projects that involved the band saw, stationary sander and hand tools. I’m proud to say that we never had an accident. As the boys entered the shop, they were required to stop and read aloud the shop rules, which were posted on the wall. There was a strict adherence and any infractions meant leaving the shop immediately and waiting for the rest of the boys in another part of the house. We always had plenty of adult supervision and I supervised the adults.” – Chuck Baker

“I have a land line in my shop and my first aid kit consists of thinking through every cut, etc. before turning on the tool. So far, several close calls except for a cut finger when a chisel slipped; knock on wood.” – Bob Weaver

“First aid kit. Extra Band-Aids and gauze. Always have my cell phone attached. Neighbor who is always home on speed dial as well as 911 service if, God forbid, I ever need it.” – Bob Farris

“Yes, I do have a land line phone in my shop, but do I have any emergency phone numbers other than 911 … no. Maybe that is something that I need to do. I actually have a first aid kit buried somewhere, but the fire extinguisher is hanging on the wall in plain sight.” – Jeffrey Murray

“When I was a beginning shop teacher, I attended a retirement dinner for another shop teacher and about 10 of his retired shop teacher friends. About halfway through the dinner, I looked around and noticed that most of the attendees were missing a digit or two! Now that was an eye-opener, to say the least. I vowed then and there that I would retire with all my body parts still in their original location. Well, I taught for 37 years and I do indeed have all of my fingers, etc.
I do have a few scars, almost all on my left hand. I’m right-handed and I’ll admit to a few times of stupidity when I have taken a tool in my right hand and somehow applied it to my left. I’m really pretty good at wearing eye protection also after getting a speck of stainless steel in my eye from grinding. (I did know better; I was just in a hurry). It really gets your attention when the eye surgeon comes at your eye with a scalpel. My lungs and hearing aren’t as good as they used to be so I preserve them as best as I can when I’m working with noisy, smelly things. I was very fortunate that the kids I taught never had more than a Band-Aid accident, and that rarely. Most of the time when I handed out a Band-Aid it was because of something they had done being a crazy kid elsewhere. I constantly taught safety and was not shy about yelling at them if they were not following safe procedures. And this was not artsy craftsy shop either. Over the years I taught woodworking, automotive, automotive machining and precision machining with real cars, table saws, milling machines, lathes, etc,. Safety was always stressed first. We had fun and we stayed safe doing it. That trip to the hospital really slows things down because you were in a hurry.” – Jim Lewis

Many find mental safety preparations to be just as important. – Editor

“Awareness:  I promote my own scare every time I power up a tool. Scared to be injured has so far slowed me down and helps to be cautious. I also have Band-Aids in shop.” – Phil Zoeller

“I’ve also had about 40 years of woodworking, though not as involved as you. I started out with a drill, handheld sander, hand saw, circular saw, router and a radial arm saw. I’ve had my share of minor cuts, splinters and bruises but nothing major. I can’t say it won’t happen, but I have a habit of approaching the power tools with a respect for their capability of doing to me what they do to wood (or other material). When I turn on the radial arm saw, miter saw or table saw a wave of terror runs down my back. Consider what can go wrong and where the wood or blade might fly if not properly controlled. I’ve seen the radial arm saw throw wood into a solid wood door, leaving a considerable dent. The router seems relatively benign; however, the high-pitched whine reminds me that it can also throw wood and the active bit can chew through flesh and bone easier than through wood. Blade guards, push sticks and featherboards are essential. I do not yet have a first aid kit in the shop but intend to  place one there. The environmental conditions in my shop (animals and temperature/humidity extremes)would require me to check and replace it often.” – Doug Mansor

One reader had a different perspective on whether having a land line telephone in the shop is a safety measure – or not. – Editor

“Funny you should mention a land line in the shop. My experience is exactly opposite of why you should have a landline. Late night in the
shop, land line on the wall. Routing rails and stiles. Phone rings…scares the poo out of me. Dropped my finger into the bit; took some nail and some meat. No more phone in my shop.” – Don Borgerding

And a couple of readers had some interesting recommendations for products to add to the safety arsenal. – Editor

“Neosporin® came out several years ago with a small key ring magnet holder that holds their small tube and a few bandages. I keep those on every stationary tool with a small bottle of hand cleaner in it. For the bigger boo-boos, I have an old plastic tackle box that fits everything one would need to staunch bleeding In the fridge, whole milk in case I cut a digit off.  Learned that trick when I worked at a moulding company in northern California. Just drop the digit in the milk (small bottle, must be still in date), take the milk and digit along with the digit-less human to the ER. Where I worked, it was faster to drive into town then to wait for the ambulance to come from town.  Someone always called the ER to let them know. And they could always sew it back on.  In town, I’d call 911. So the landline is a must. I believe the landline has to allow you to call 911 even if it’s not connected. Oh and use the old type that doesn’t require charging!” – Elaine D.

“I’d like to suggest to your readers to add to their first aid supply cabinet a jar of kerosene. Some people know of this, but most won’t. Whenever there is a shop accident, the first thing you need to grab is the jar of kerosene and put the injured part in it as quickly as possible. It will not burn the injury at all. The results will amaze you.I was putting a biscuit in the end-grain of a board. (Yeah, I know. Now.) The board flipped and my middle finger went into the router blade, which chewed up the end of my finger. I immediately grabbed the jar of kerosene and put my fingers in it, then I grabbed a rag, wrapped it around my finger and headed to the hospital.

“When the doctor looked at it, he could smell the kerosene and he asked about it. I asked him if he knew why it worked and he said, ]No, but I just know it does.’ The end of my finger was a mess! I asked him if he could sew it up, and he said, ‘I could, but it would be like my trying to sew up hamburger.’ Results: Believe it or not the end of my finger is completely normal. The feeling is still there. There are no scars. The nail grew back normally. Even my fingerprint remains unchanged.

T”his is an old family treatment. It has been used for years for every kind of cuts.
Kerosene can be purchased at some hardware stores, maybe even a big box store – not sure about that. Many folks have told me they’ve heard of doing this but never tried it.” – Larry Hooper

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  • Ignatgius

    Besides the powerful tools, pay attention to the smaller and seemingly benign ones. When I first bought a scroll saw it almost resembled a toy that was entirely safe compared to my table saw etc. However after setting it up and seeing how I could easily cut throughout 1.5 inch hardwood, I became appropriately vigilant about finger safety. Also scroll blades are very thin and when they break fly through the air at a high rate of speed. Eye protection is mandatory. Even if you have a dust collection system that vacuums in the dust while cutting, don’t forget that You have created a lot of fine dust that continues to circulate in the air.