The most important safety device

The market for woodworking safety devices is huge.  Seriously.

Safety GearDust masks.  Eye protection.  Hearing protection.  Powered dust respirators with built in hearing and eye protection. Aftermarket splitters for your table saw.  Safety covers for router bits used in router tables.  First aid kids.  First aid kits with tourniquets should something get hacked off.  Dust collector ports.  Push sticks.  Push blocks.  Emergency shut-off switches.  Small part holders.  Hold down clamps so you can build your own safety devices…

You could go into serious debt buying a selection of woodworking safety devices – before you even buy a single tool. And these safety devices can help reduce the likelihood that you will have a woodworking accident, or make that accident a lot less traumatic should something happen.

But, unfortunately, they are not a substitute for the most important shop tool in your arsenal – your brain.

Before I get accused of encouraging people to give up on safety equipment, hold the phone.  The truth is that you really do need many of the basic protective devices and first aid products should the worst happen.  But, let me draw you an interesting parallel.

Many of us have vehicles and drive them daily.  Of those who don’t have their own cars to drive themselves about, I’d be willing to wager that many of you get a lift with friends of relatives when you have to go somewhere.  Let’s face it, cars are an important part of life.

Wearing a seatbelt
And, when we get into our cars, one of the first things you should do is buckle your seat belt.  In many areas, this is the law of the land – click it or get a ticket. While this may be the case, I’m sure the other main reason you wear seat belts is to help prevent injury should you get into an accident.  By wearing your seat belt, your odds of surviving a crash increase 45%, according to a study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

But, even with a seat belt buckled and air bags in your vehicle, you still take the necessary precautions to prevent getting into an accident in the first place.  Stopping for red lights, using your brakes to prevent plowing into the car in front of you… ya know, the basics.

A crosscut sled can make cutting safer

In much the same way, woodworking safety is an exercise in engaging your brain.  Think before you cut, route, chisel or do something else which can harm you.  Is the area clear of obstructions? Does the board have a warp in it that could bind the table saw blade?  Will the routing operation bring my hands too close to the bit?

Listen to the little voice in your head.  If it’s screaming “Danger! Danger!” before you turn the table saw switch on, see if there might be a better way to make that cut.

Don’t rush through your work.  Unlike a lousy score on the back nine of your favorite golf course, rushing your work in the shop could lead to a nasty injury.  Take it easy, and safe those tough cuts for when you are feeling fresh and rested.

Finally, you need all of your brain with you when you are working with tools.  If you just had a fight with your spouse, are upset after a lousy day of work or are under the influence of alcohol or drugs – illegal or prescription – maybe you should make any shop time more about cleaning up and selecting boards for the next project instead of trying something you might regret later.

Just remember to treat your brain right – the rest of your body will thank you.

2 thoughts on “The most important safety device”

  1. Are you aware of any videos that are specifically dedicated to unsafe practices, and give safer alternatives? Particularly regarding the table saw and the router, but as has been demonstrated by many posts here and elsewhere, almost anything can be unsafe, given the proper circumstances.

  2. Oh, man, there are dozens of videos out there on woodworking safety. If you can get to You Tube, many woodworkers post ’em there….

    Just search for woodworking safety, and you should have a bunch to work with!

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