Top Ten Turning Safety Tips
"Just remember: them tools is always hungry, and they'd rather eat you than wood. You gotta outthink 'em all the time."
With this simple advice, ("you gotta outthink 'em all the time ...") my grandfather taught me to look for problems and dangers in the shop BEFORE they got their teeth into me. His was a time of "line shops" with no equipment guards, and flat, powered belts running everywhere. He retired with 10 fingers; an unusual thing among his peers. His lesson translates thus: if something feels dicey, DON'T try it. Stop and think of a safer way.
Tip #1: The wood lathe is a reasonably safe tool, and it's fun to use ... but it will bite you if you're not careful.
Common Sense Safety
Tip #2: Anything that can wrap up in the lathe will do so sooner or later.
Start your turning session by removing your rings and watches, tying back long hair, and getting shirt sleeves out of the picture. A turning smock with a tight collar and half-sleeves is a good investment, and will keep chips and dust out of your street clothes. Wear a face shield and a dust mask whenever you turn wood (see Proper Equipment below).
Tip #3: Look everything over before you spin it.
|Check the rotation of a workpiece (especially an eccentric one) before you start the lathe. Check the speed setting before flipping the switch.
Check the rotation of any workpiece before you start the lathe, and always check the lathe's speed setting before you flip the switch. Improper initial speeds and work hitting the tool-rest account for a lot of accidents. Also double-check your mounting job before trusting a bowl blank. Use the tailstock whenever possible to help keep work secure. When using a chuck to remount work, be sure you have aligned the new mounting concentric to the old axis and slow your lathe's speed before starting newly mounted pieces. Inspect all turning stock carefully for hidden flaws and cracks. Having a
knot or a checked spindle or bowl blank suddenly letting go at 1,000 rpm can be like a shrapnel bomb.
Tip #4: An off-balance piece can jump out of the chuck and pay a call on your nose.
Be wary of intentionally out-of-round or out-of-balance work as well. Many fascinating effects of turning are achieved by doing off-center or multi-axis turning, but these are techniques that demand extra attention to safety.
Tip #5: Irregular pieces are more dangerous, and deserve respect.
Keep your fingers behind the tool-rest. Many turning injuries are the result of a finger caught between the turning and the rest. Natural edges can be especially dangerous this way, as they are irregular, can drag stray fingers into the "gap" and then act like a saw blade! In this instance, what you can't see can really hurt you.
Tip #6: Sanding on a lathe can hurt you; don't take it lightly.
Sanding is another danger spot. Lots of jammed fingers and twisted wrists happen when a turner gets caught in jammed abrasive while working inside a bowl. Be sure you can let go quickly if the paper catches. Keep the tool-rest completely out of the way when sanding. Try using a foam rubber 'finger' to hold abrasives in bad spots; it may help you keep your real finger intact.
Tip #7: See that your chisels stay sharp.
A clean cutting edge creates less drag, and leaves a better surface. It's also less likely to catch and cause an accident. Use the right chisel for the job; don't fake it if it's not safe.
Tip #8: Be extra careful when trying new techniques or ideas.
Many of the things we see the best turners demonstrate at symposiums or on videos are the result of years of experience. Just because you see a pro do something with ease doesn't mean it's easy to do. The laws of physics are always at work on the lathe, so be sure to keep that "…equal and opposite reaction" firmly in mind! The best safety device you have is between your ears. Use it.
Two major areas of concern can be addressed with proper gear: sawdust or other inhaled contaminants, and impact protection. Sanding on the lathe raises LOTS of dust in a hurry. Deal with it by wearing a good HEPA (Hi-Efficiency Particulate Air) mask that fits you. Use it any time you are raising dust, and you will keep carcinogenic and pneumococcal exposures to wood particulates down. Rigging a vacuum pick-up where your lathe lives is a good idea, but it won't do the whole job. You have to protect your lungs. Paper masks won't do; buy a good mask and use it. Look for an industrial safety supply outfit to get what you need. Be sure it fits well and doesn't leak.
Tip #9: Wear an impact visor.
We spin wood at varying speeds all day, and there is no telling when a seemingly safe workpiece will decide to come adrift, bounce on the tool-rest, and then visit your forehead. You can do everything right and still have an unforeseen problem. An ANSI rated impact visor should be a regular part of your turning gear. Made of polycarbonate, these visors will stop a 3/8" ball bearing fired at 60 MPH in tests. They are available at "wood boutiques" and industrial safety supply stores, inexpensive, and essential.They will stop the small pieces of a shattered bowl, and may help prevent a heavy bowl blank from putting your ear where your nose used to live.
Tip#10: Even better, wear a visor with a built-in respirator.
|The author recommends Powered Air Purifying Respirators (PARR's) that combine lung safety with a protective visor and helmet.
PAPR's The Best of both worlds: Powered Air Purifying Respirators are devices that incorporate both dust protection and an impact visor. They consist of a helmet with visor attached that delivers filtered air to the wearer. A blower system, which runs on NMH or NiCad rechargeable batteries, will work for up to 8 hours. While often $300.00 or more for the better ones, these systems are great.Considering that one case of bronchitis from dust exposure can cost more than that in medical bills, they're a bargain, especially for a pro turner.
In the end, you can buy any number of fancy tools and gadgets to make turning wood easier and faster. Some actually help to make things safer. Hollowing systems that are prevented from twisting by rest bracket designs and gel gloves designed to help with vibration are good ideas. But your best bet is to concentrate on working safely, and protect yourself from the obvious dangers. Do that, and woodturning will remain an enjoyable pastime for years.