Let’s talk shop safety! It’s an exciting topic, right? Not really. But it is a necessary topic to discuss. Before we begin know that I’m not an expert at any of this. I’m just someone who has been active almost daily in a woodshop of some kind for the past decade and I regularly have other people working in my shop with me. Many of whom have zero woodworking knowledge and safety training for working with tools. For that reason, I have many duplicates and have tried many options. I also get direct feedback from other people who do or do not like certain options.
So don’t take any of this information as instruction but rather my perspective. Also, I said before “we” begin. That’s because I want community involvement here. I’m sure there are a lot of things I forgot or simply overlooked. If you have any comments to add PLEASE DO SO! You will help someone out there. The video is an hour-long because it is more of a discussion, including why instead of just what. This article is the condensed version. This article does contain affiliate links.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Eye, ear, skin, and lungs…
You can hold stuff with a wooden hand and walk on a wooden leg but you can’t see with a wooden eye. That’s a saying that has stuck with me for many years. Bottom line, your eyes are delicate and when they are gone they are gone. Protect them! In the following image I give the two on the left a thumbs down and the two on the right a thumbs up.
The red pair is a cheap-o style you can get just about anywhere. I bought a bulk pack on Amazon a while ago just to have extras in the shop. I paid $15 for a 12 pack. Better than nothing, I suppose. Too bulky and rigid. They hurt the back of my ears after a while. 4th place, thumbs down.
The black and yellow pair is from Harbor Freight. They were $6 if I recall correctly. The nose area is too narrow for me. Maybe I have a big nose. They sit really high on my nose which causes a big gap above my nose and below the lenses by my cheeks. Third place, thumbs down.
The blue pair is the 3M Virtua CCS. I like these and so has everyone else who has tried them. They come with a clip-on foam gasket that I don’t use. The sides are a bit bulky but they don’t hurt my head after hours of use. I’ve used these for the past couple of years. Second place, thumbs up.
The black and green 3M SecureFit pair on the right is my favorite. The best of all three to the left and still inexpensive than most. They resemble the red pair but have an adjustable nose piece and the sides are super thin and flexible. No more sitting high and no digging into the side of my head. And because the sides are thin they work great with earmuffs. First place, thumbs up.
Once I find a well-fitting pair of safety glasses I looked for a tinted version. That way I can keep getting the same pair over and over if they get damaged and know I’m going to get a pair that I like. It’s a better, and cheaper, strategy than getting cheap-o sunglasses at the gas station. Of course, tinted versions are available in both styles. Just like the safety glasses, the secure fit is now my go-to.
Hearing protection is also a must. Unless you want to walk around saying “Huh?” and “Huh?” and “Huh?” prematurely. I’ve gone full circle with preferring earplugs vs ear muffs and also regular hearing protection vs hearing protection + music capability. I’m currently in the really inexpensive camp of corded foam earplugs. But first, let’s talk earmuffs.
The black pair on the left is the Howard Leight 1030110. I had these for a long time and while they are feature-rich, the noise reduction rating is only 25db. They have a 3.5mm input jack so you can use a Bluetooth adapter or a 3.5mm cable to your phone. I’m a bit neutral on these. I liked them while they lasted but the input jack wore out and the padding became too hard and comfortable to be used as a daily driver. I keep them for backup.
The pair on the right is from Harbor Freight. The noise reduction rating is only 23db and the strap on top is too small. These are good enough for kids or adults with a small head who won’t need hearing protection for an extended period of time. For longer needs, I’d recommend something with a better noise reduction rating.
The red and black pair in the middle is the 3M PELTOR Optime and by far my favorite earmuff style hearing protection. The foam padding is soft enough to be used with thicker safety glasses or with a hat. And the strap on top is long enough that I can wear them comfortably with a hat. These have a great noise reduction rating of 30db. Huge thumbs up.
For quick cuts or convenient hearing protection earmuffs are usually what I grab. But when I know I’m going to be in the shop for extended periods of time I now prefer earplugs. I’ve gone back and forth on plugs vs muffs but the older I get the more I appreciate the best hearing protection I can find. The greater the noise reduction rating the better. Here are all of the earplugs I keep on hand in the shop.
Starting at the left is a cheap box of disposable foam plugs. I bought these a while ago and have held on to them as a backup. These have a noise reduction rating of 29 and you can find them just about anywhere.
Next is a bottle of The Ear Buddy foam plugs. These have a better noise reduction rating at 32db. Just like the cheap pack before, these are annoying to use because they don’t have a string to hang from the neck. It’s easy to set them down somewhere and accidentally lose one. I suppose that’s one reason why they are called disposable. I’ll give these a thumbs up because they work well but also a thumbs down because they lack a neck cord.
I tried the Elgin Ruckus music enabled silicone plugs as they are a cheaper option for music and hearing protection. The Bluetooth, sound quality, and battery life are all good in my opinion but I realized after a few months of use that I wanted greater noise reduction again. These have a 25db noise reduction rating. I’ll give these a thumbs up because of the features but also a thumbs down because of only a 25db reduction.
The blue string pair is another silicone style plug with a cord. While at the same 25db noise reduction rating I felt like these blocked noises better than the Englin Ruckus. They are cheap and you can find them just about everywhere.
And finally, the best hearing protection that I’ve ever tried. Foam plugs on a cord with a noise reduction rating of 33db. These are comfortable for long stretches and do a great job blocking the noise. Although not convenient for quick cuts as the foam takes a minute or os to expand, they are my preferred hearing protection because of how well they block noise. Huge thumbs up.
Gloves are great. Not only for protection against chemicals but also for added grip. I like to use thin nitrile gloves for added grip. Some people say you shouldn’t use gloves with power tools as they can get caught and pull your hand into the blade. These gloves are tight-fitting and if they get pulled into the blade then your too close anyway. These gloves will rip just like your flesh so the result will not be any different with or without thin gloves like these. Anyway, I recommend the AMMEX Gloveworks HD as they have bumps for increased traction. They are currently sold out on Amazon due to the COVID situation.
Sometimes changing the environment isn’t always possible. In those cases, we need to protect our lungs from the pollutants in the air. That’s where respirators come into play. Unfortunately, I’m writing this article during the COVID situation which means our typical supply chain for woodworking related stuff has been changed. Luckily I found a good woodworking source for respirators.
The 6000 series of respirators from 3M is probably the most common out there. The 6200 is the standard medium size mask, pictured left in the first picture. The 6300 is the standard large size mask, in the second picture. And the 6503 is the large size with a flip-up quick release, pictured right in the first picture. I do not recommend the flip-up feature. I never use it. If I’m in a dirty environment where a respirator is necessary why would I want to flip it down to talk? Even if I step out for safer air I’d rather take the entire mask off to talk. I don’t recommend the extra cost for this feature. I do recommend the 6200 and 6300. Thumbs up.
Regarding size, if you have facial hair I’d recommend starting at the large size. A medium will fit my face better if I shave but because I keep some facial hair the large seals better. It’s also important to make sure your mask is fitting properly.
Because these can be used in a wide variety of situations with different dangers to deal with they do not come with filters. For woodworking, there are two types of filters to consider. All of the filter options attach to the respirator in the same way. There is a three-tab twist lock system.
First, a particulate filter like the 3M 2091 pink filters is good for particulates in the air. These have a P100 rating, meaning they capture 99.98% of particles down to .3 microns.
Another danger to our lungs is harmful vapors, like lacquer fumes. Have you ever heard someone say they got high on paint fumes? That’s not a good thing. There are a lot of fumes in woodworking finishes that are hazardous to our health. That’s where an organic vapor cartridge comes into play. These cartridges protect against harmful fumes. There are a lot of different kinds out there for specific uses but a good one for woodworking is the 3M 6001i. I like this cartridge in particular because it has a service life indicator on it. The tab peals back to reveal the indicator. Put the tab back to keep the indicator from getting damaged or covered in overspray. FINALLY, a reliable way to know when the cartridge needs to be replaced instead of guessing.
So what about those situations where you need vapor protection as well as particulate protection? There’s a setup for that too. After installing the organic vapor cartridge an N95 filter can be attached with the help of a filter retainer. Then you have the best of both worlds. The N95 filter filters 95% of all particles down to .3 microns. N95 filters even filter out COVID-19 particles.
For woodworking first aid I’m thinking about the tools we use and how we can hurt ourselves with them. From basic cuts from chisels and saws to extreme situations like possible amputations from cutting off body parts. Writing that sentence even makes me shiver slightly. We hope we never see or experience those situations but it’s better to be prepared if possible.
For the basic stuff, I have a basic first aid kit. Bandaids, bandages, gauze, antiseptic wipes, alcohol wipes, cold pack, and some other generic stuff.
I recommend a few additions to the standard first aid kit. First, a pack of waterproof bandaids. These aren’t because we swim in the woodshop but because they have adhesive on all sides of the bandage part. This prevents dust and debris from getting under the bandaid while in the dirty and dusty environment. These can be found pretty much anywhere.
I also highly recommend picking up the most amazing pair of tweezers I’ve ever used. These are the Uncle Bill’s Sliver Grippers. They are sharp and allow you to firmly grab anything that gets stuck in your skin. They do a GREAT job. I keep mine outside of my first aid kit and in a large paper pouch because I use them so frequently.
Lastly, prepare for an amputation. Again, I never want to see or experience one but I’d rather be prepared. I asked around and found this particular tourniquet as the most common recommendation. It’s a velcro tourniquet with an aluminum windlass (bar to twist) that allows for greater tightening. I recommend researching how to implement these properly. I picked up a few of these. One for the shop, one for each vehicle, and one for my shooting range IFAK (individual first aid kit).
For the shop tourniquet, I keep it in a ziplock bag with an activated cold pack and the amputation bag that came with the tourniquet. That way I can put whatever was cut off in the original bag, activate the cold pack and keep both of those in the ziploc bag. Again, I hope I never have to use this stuff.
My neighbor is a firefighter. I asked him for advice on a fire extinguisher for the shop and he said that an ABC 10-pound extinguisher is what he would recommend. The ABC stands for the types of fire it can put out; wood and trash, liquids, and electrical. Regarding the size, he said if a 10-pound extinguisher can’t put the fire out then you just need to get out. I think that’s one of the best pieces of advice I could have heard. Where do you draw the line of trying to save stuff vs saving yourself? It makes sense. Try to put the fire out but if you can’t then get out of the danger area.
I happen to have 4 extinguishers now. I brought two 4-pound extinguishers from my last shop and bought a new 10-pound extinguisher for this space. Around the same time I got a new 10-pound extinguisher, my neighbor gave me another 10-pound extinguisher. So now I have four and keep them on each wall of the shop.
One tool I immediately think of regarding starting fires is the CNC machine. I worked at Ashley Furniture in their frame mill where there were a dozen or so CNC machines running at all times. I saw a few fires started by CNC machines while working there. Sometimes the program can go haywire or the person running the CNC makes an error and the spindle plunges into the material and sits there. A spinning bit buried in the material is a great way to start a friction fire. If you have a CNC machine please keep a fire extinguisher nearby.
So what happens if you can’t put the fire out? You get out, hopefully safely and quickly. Egress is something that shouldn’t be overlooked. A direct, unobstructed path out of the shop is a must. In my last shop, I moved tools around a lot and in more than one situation I found a layout that was great for working and horrible for escaping. I know the greatest limitation for everyone’s shop layout is the size of the space but keep egress in mind when placing stationary tools. It doesn’t make much sense to block exit paths.
Shop safety is just like maintenance in that it’s often not a high priority. With proper maintenance, your tools will continue to be prepared for use. With a little effort put into general shop safety, PPE, and first aid you will hopefully be prepared for unexpected accidents.
As I said, I’m not an expert in this field. I’m sure I overlooked some stuff in this article and video so I want your input if you have any. Leave a comment and continue the discussion below. Everything you add to the discussion will likely help someone else. Thanks!
Search redcross.org for training in your area https://www.redcross.org/take-a-class/first-aid/first-aid-training
Fine Woodworking cutting edge first aid https://www.finewoodworking.com/2010/10/28/cutting-edge-first-aid
Build an air cleaner cart https://jayscustomcreations.com/2016/05/mobile-air-cleaner-cart/
Dylos air quality monitor https://amzn.to/3aADJ5T
The dust explosion myth http://cliffsgarage.tv/articles/dustExplosion.html
Clean and maintain your respirator https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jp1XQ-7gtWc
A woodworker’s first aid kit by The Wood Whisperer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GF-iKbmQzFc