Woodworker’s Safety Week – Finish and chemical safety

There’s nothing quite like a satin-smooth finish on a woodworking project. A surface that begs to be touched. For smaller projects, it just seems natural to pick the piece up and turn it in your hands.

Applying a finishUnfortunately, making that finish can require the use of some pretty nasty chemicals and other products. Many of them are essential to the process, so that’s why safety has to be key when handling and applying them.

  • Always use splash goggles when handling finishes and chemicals.
  • Many finishes and chemicals give off noxious fumes. Apply these in a well-ventilated place and use a chemical rated respirator.
  • Watch out for flammables. Chemicals and finishes that have the potential to catch fire should be applied away from open flames (think about standing pilot lights and sparks).
  • If you plan on spraying your finish (a favorite method for lacquer), do so in a dedicated spray booth with an explosion-proof fan to draw the overspray out of the area.
  • Fuming wood with ammonia is a classic way to get an Arts and Crafts finish, but the ammonia used for this purpose is considerably stronger than household ammonia.  If you use this method, be extremely careful!
  • Rags soaked in oil-based finishes (linseed oil is well known for this) can burst into flame if left wet and wadded up.  Spread the rags out flat to dry and, once they are fully dry and hard, you can discard them.
  • Store your flammable finishes in a fireproof cabinet, and keep them out of the reach of children

One other option you might consider is trying some of the newer water-based  finish products.  The formulations have improved greatly since they were first introduced, and have become very common finishes in home shops.  They apply easily and clean up with plain water.

Similar precautions should also be used for other shop chemicals.  Pitch removers, lubricants and other  chemicals should also be used carefully.

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