How to stay safe in the workshop




Well done! A good post. At my workplace they believe every accident is preventable and being safe is a process, not just an outcome of “nothing happened that time”.

So take two (minutes) before you begin the task to think about the inherent hazards in your task and how you could prevent an injury or accident, and have the stuff suggested here for when it is needed.

It’s when I thought I could just get something done quick or was distracted that I got (minorly) injured. And then I recommitted to being more thoughtful about safety.


(Since the decibel scale is logarithmic, 100dB is more than 200 times as loud as 85dB.)

Shouldn’t that be “about 30 times”? The logarithmic base for decibels is 10.


Beware of gloves. They have a nasty tendency to become containers of exactly what you want to keep outside. If the edges are not secured, you can end up with a glove full of something hot (e.g. molten asphalt) or something cold (e.g. liquid nitrogen) or something corrosive (choose from a wide palette whatever appeals to you the most) and you are worse of with than without.

Sometimes the effect is rather comical, though. E.g. when you break a piece of hot slag off a weld, it lands on your shirt, and you nonchalantly brush it off with right hand - right into your left glove.

Gloves are important for toxic stuff that absorbs through skin, though. But beware here, some kinds of gloves are permeable for some kinds of stuffs, how e.g. that dimethyl mercury using researcher found the hard way.

Glasses/goggles, rate them for the energy of the things you’re gonna encounter. Particles from an angle grinder have more energy than the same particles from a dremel wheel; both are rather negligible and anything will do. But then there are the bigger objects, e.g. fragments of the grinding wheels, that can sometime occur. The fine-grained fragile brown dremel cutting wheels are especially prone to breaking in service.


My traditional “house warming” gift I give is a nice ABC fire extinguisher, with the hope that they never have to use it.

And remember that they can expire due to various mechanisms and need to be inspected regularly.


Having sharp tools is a somewhat neglected safety issue. The times that I have cut myself have typically been because I was lazy and used a dull blade (or inappropriate blade) to cut something. (you need a lot more force; the blade is more likely to slip rather than dig in; etc)
Speaking of lazy, that can also be a big factor in injury when working outside of the shop… Try to make sure you have everything that you need – sometimes when you are up to your elbows in a project you realize that you forgot tool X, so you look around and see tool Y that just might do the trick (9 times out of 10 it might, but there is always the chance that it will bite ya in the rear).


That’s my worst foible with (regard to projects anyway), and almost always leads to creating more work for myself.


Also, think ahead. And when things do not go as well as they should, stop and think ahead again. And keep track of the energies involved, where is the source, where it gets dissipated, where it will go if the dissipation won’t go as well (e.g. when the drill bit or the saw blade seizes, in which direction it will tend to throw the object)…

Another thing to look at are combustible liquids. A full can of a solvent is way less dangerous than a can with just a bit of solvent; the latter is liable to be full of highly flammable vapors, while the former will have the vapors blown off to less than flammable concentration with just the ambient airflows.


Gloves can also become a snare dragging your hand into the grinder, drill press, lathe, etc. if they get caught on a bit.

One deterrent to a poor safety attitude is to visit a machine shop and count missing fingers on the operators.


My contractor friend always has a fire extinguisher handy when doing lots of sanding (like a floor). He says there have been incidents where a room full of fine sanding dust has caught fire from a motor spark.


I think for a disposable glove in a workshop you really want nitrile rather than latex. Latex gloves aren’t very good protection against chemicals. They are good for water based stuff, but solvents in particular can go right through.

This seems like a pretty good guide to gloves for various chemicals:


The snagging issue is a big one. The rule of thumb I use is: I will wear gloves if the tool is directly human powered by me, ie, hand tools. If there is a motor involved, I skip the gloves. Particularly on a lathe. There is no escaping a lathe once it has you.


Good article. well worth the reading, even if you know this stuff.

Following up on shaddack’s point about eye-protection chosen on the basis of the energy of objects flying at your face: I like a full face mask for (1) the wood lathe, (2) the table saw, and (3) the grinder. All have a possibility of throwing something macroscopic at you.


I heartily second everything in the list, but most especially to not do anything that doesn’t have your full attention, and to wear cloth or leather gloves when doing woodworking. I’m the proud owner of a fairly nasty scar on my palm caused by a chisel during a moment of inattention. Either (both!) of the above could have kept that from happening (along with the required ER visit for stitches).


That’s a good rule of thumb. Ahem. People should also consider loose clothing, especially as North America moves into winter. The loose, comfortable shop sweater will catch any number of edges, wether spinning rapidly or even sitting perfectly still.
Depending on the shop activity, rings should also be removed before work. I have seen a person jump to grab something off a high shelf, and when they came down, their wedding ring grabbed on the metal shelf and much blood and screaming occurred shortly thereafter. Body parts can be reattached but functionality is often impaired.
Last simple tip: always check your stance before putting lots of energy into a particular move. My hands bear more than enough scars from punching various metal bits because I didn’t think about how things might move if this [arbitrary thing] comes loose unexpectedly. Realigning the tool often removes the possibility of harm, but that calculation usually occurs after the pain and blood are flowing.


I have to second the jewelry on the hands bit. I’m just in the habit of removing my ring whenever I head to the shop. I don’t wear bracelets or watches, but for those following along at home: similar considerations for when to take those off.

I like short sleeves when using power tools for metal and woodworking, and long sleeves for welding and working on cars. (There are some exceptions: I don’t change my shirt when switching between grinding and welding.)

Your last tip is good advice, and I should think about it more often… (If I had a nickel for every time I skinned my knuckles when a rusty bolt finally released…)


re fire extinguisher placement…I recommend mounting the fire extinguisher next to the exit… You never want to have to make a choice of going to the exit or getting the extinguisher. And if it is next to the exit you won’t have the problem of “it just wasn’t enough” and now there’s a bigger fire between you and the exit. Consider having a switch at the door that will kill all the outlets in the room. Because that can turn a class “C” fire into a class “A” fire and a class “A” extinguisher of a give size have far more capacity than a class “ABC” extinguisher does.


Add wire brushes either on an angle grinder or a pedestal grinder to the list for full face masks. Those damn things throw wires no matter what you do. If you like the Pinhead look, you could just wear safety glasses.


I find one of the main benefits of safety glasses / goggles is keeping sawdust out of my eyes. Once you are halfway through a long cut and you cop an eyefull of sawdust shit gets real very quickly indeed.


be sure to add superglue to your first aid kit. it was especially important back before obamacare, when a set of stitches could cost a month’s wages (and, if you worked for minimum wage in a restaurant kitchen, was a recurring need). superglue is a painless way to close even fairly large tears in the skin. cleanliness and antibiotics are usually also necessary as well, though antibiotic salve applied locally is often enough.

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