One runs the risk of sounding like Chicken Little when discussing woodworking and safety.
But one runs the risk of a lot more damage if one refuses to discuss it. And, much worse, even more, when not practicing simple, common-sense practices. Here a glimpse of what we teach our students here at Ebanista.
First of all, no one comes into the shop without earphones, earplugs just don’t cut it, and safety glasses. Eye protection should be obvious but hearing loss is a one-way street. Once the fragile cilia in your ears are damaged, there is no repairing them. Hopefully, no one needs much convincing about all that.
There are so many things one can do to ensure a long and prosperous and ten-fingered life in the woodworking shop. But there are quite a few you should never, never do. An example? Failing to leave a push stick on top of your table saw and then deciding to walk around and pull the board through from the backside. Before you know it, you have seven fingers. Of all of the woodworkers I have met over more than four decades in woodworking who have seriously hurt themselves, not only were doing something they shouldn’t have been doing, but they told me later that they knew as they were doing it that they shouldn’t be doing it. We tend to be overly confident when we become well-versed or good at something, putting safety in the back burner.
I make sure I take all the safety precautions needed each and every time I approach the table saw: I never turn on the table saw, or joiner or any machine without making sure that the floor in front of it is swept clean. If you are leaning over to make a detailed cut, you want your connection with the ground to be sure. Next, I always blow or brush off the table saw surface. If you can rig an air hose to hang from above, this is great. Sawdust can act almost like a lubricant, and make you lose a bit of control of your piece. Next, check that fences are locked.
We also never turn on the saw without making sure there are two items on the non-cutting side of the fence. One is a push stick. Do not, for any reason attempt to push a thin piece of wood with your fingers between the blade and the fence. From a Darwinian point of view, this is not a winning formula for ensuring a long line of people with your family name. And I always make sure that there is a fairly new pencil within reach. Why new-ish? Because it will be longer, and the eraser will be newer and stickier and this makes a wonderfully safe extend-o finger to pull little pieces of falloff from the blade without having to turn the saw on and off every few seconds or flick them away as if they were hot embers at a campfire.
And the last thing we teach our students at Ebanista is to watch the fence, NOT the blade. The saw blade is not going anywhere. While watching it might be entertaining, it will provide you with neither safety or accuracy — two very important matters that almost always go hand-in-hand. If you are vigilant and make sure no shadow develops between your workpiece and the fence, you will be a very happy camper.
Does all this seem like an interminably long list of items to check off before getting to work on a table saw? Or a jointer, or shaper? I give you my word that after a very short time it will become so quick and automatic that you will not even notice it. And it will make you much more confident around your machines. And, although this seems unnecessary to have to bring up, the question begs asking whether you would rather spend a few extra seconds ensuring a long happy career in wood, or a painfully long time trying to figure out what went wrong, and why you might no longer be able to do this work you love so much?
I told you that this was going to, by necessity, have to be a serious discussion. On the other hand, two guys walk into a bar……………….