Safety in the Home DIY Workshop
Safety in the Home DIY Workshop
It matters very little whether you happen to be a beginning wood-worker or an experienced hobbyist — organization is the key to woodworking success. How you arrange your tools, your work, and your raw materials will determine whether you’ll enjoy yourself in the shop or will be constantly bogged down in retracing your footsteps, searching for misplaced tools, and moving things out of the way As a beginner especially, when your work goes smoothly without a lot of frustrating interruptions, you feel comfortable about pursuing it.
As you build up your confidence, your skills and projects tend to improve. Working with a core group of tools you feel easy around lets you start with the basics, and in due course become proficient with what you have.
A moderate tool selection can be fairly inexpensive and also takes up less room than a major collection. As you gain more experience, you can add tools to the lot as you find you need them, or as finances permit. You might want to budget in something new with each fresh project you tackle.
Try to avoid making major changes all at once. Something large like a stationary tool can really alter your shop’s floor plan, and deserves some serious thought as to how it will be used effectively and efficiently without becoming a white elephant.
Taking Stock of Your Space
Those who already have a DIY workshop of their own might want to just look through this section for fresh ideas — there is no telling what you might learn. If you don’t have an area set up for woodworking, now is a good opportunity to plan a workable space.
Contrary to what you might think, size isn’t necessarily the most important factor in setting up shop.
The quality of your space — and how well you recognize and work with it — is the really important ingredient in bringing your DIY workshop together.
The DIY workshop area should be dry to protect not only your tools and, but your working stock. Wood tends to swell in a damp environment, so any stock you store might be affected by moist conditions.
Ventilation is important if you don’t have dust-collection equipment, or you plan on doing a lot of finishing work. A dust collector won’t clear the air of harmful volatiles (the fumes that evaporate from a finish as it dries), but it will remove sawdust particles from around blades and sanders. A ventilating fan — even a window unit in a wall — will help to remove suspended dust and the fumes from drying finishes.
If your DIY workshop is terribly cold in the winter, you’ll be tempted to stay out of it for most of the season, during which your tools will go unused. One solution is a portable space heater, but there can be some risk involved with that, too. Floating sawdust particles and fumes from finishing work can be dangerous in the presence of a heater’s open flame. Here again, proper ventilation and dust collection will reduce the hazard
Lighting should be from overhead and fluorescent if possible. Diffusers — the grates or covers you see over fluorescent tubes — can be a problem because they collect dust, but they also protect the glass tubes from breakage by flying wood chunks. Natural light from windows is fine if it’s available, but most wood shops don’t have that much glazing, and wall space taken up by a window just means less storage space.
Your site’s electrical service should be adequate for the tools you have. If possible, tool outlets should be on a separate circuit from lighting, because even hand tools can draw a lot of amperage when they start. All breakers should be functional, and the circuits grounded. A large stationary tool such as a table saw will have higher voltage and amperage needs and may need to be on its own circuit. If you blow fuses or kick breakers on a regular basis, theis probably not heavy enough and needs to be upgraded. Don’t simply replace the fuses or breakers with the next-higher amperage — that’s how fires start.
Security in the home shop amounts to keeping doors and windows locked when you’re not around, as much for curious children as for tool thieves. Covering windows with blinds or shutters is also a form of cheap insurance because it lessens temptation.
Arranging Your Tools
Any woodworking job calls for a basic selection of tools, some of which will be stationary if you’ve gotten serious about your hobby. Even a modest shop will most likely have a table saw, perhaps a radial-arm saw, and a workbench — which is as important a tool as anything else.
Your work will send you from tool to tool, and this motion should occur in a logical fashion. Woodworkers move between three areas: tool and material storage, stationary tool locations, and the workbench. These elements should be arranged in a pattern that will allow an open space in the center so you can move freely from place to place.
The shape of your DIY workshop will determine the limits of these three points, creating a triangular work pattern. A square or rectangular shop is the most practical to work in. The workbench can be placed near the longest wall, and the standing tools against two adjacent walls. The remaining wall can be used for storage. Remember that both the table saw and workbench require some walking space around them to allow open access. A tool like the radial-arm saw or a band saw can be set up against a wall, with some working clearance at the sides.
A long and narrow space dictates a change from the triangular work pattern. In a situation such as this, a linear or in-line flow will function well as long as the workbench is centrally located so it becomes the focal point. Even if you put the bench against a wall, you’ll still be able to access it from three sides. And if you place the items you use most frequently — measuring tools, hand-held power tools, and clamps — at the workbench and the middle of the shop, you’ll save a lot of steps.
The Right Workbench
A sturdy bench provides a level surface where you can measure, clamp,, drill, and chisel — and it can provide some storage as well if there’s a shelf underneath.
One feature of a good workbench is its stability; the heavier it is, the less likely it will be to shift as you work. You can reduce any movement by placing the bench against a solid wall, but at the cost of not being able to walk completely around it, which is a benefit worth considering.
Another detail that becomes important with larger projects is a level top. A warped surface will throw off the accuracy of corner joints and anything else that’s meant to be square, because it’s the only reference there is.
A good-quality workbench includes a vice, a well or relief for setting down tools, steel dogs (pegs set into holes in the top and used as stops for clamping), and solid stretchers between the legs for sturdy support. The top should be at or about 34″, or close to hip height. Some benches come with adjustable legthat allows a bit of up-and-down movement in addition to the normal levelling adjustment.
- Power tools can be dangerous misused.
- Carelessness, haste, and ignorance are all the same to the saw — it veal cut whatever gets in its way. And don’t think that a tool must have teeth to be harmful, lust about any tool can cause injuries. The edge of a freshly sharpened chisel can quietly slice your finger. A shaper blade can launch a chunk of wood, and a sander can damage your respiratory system over time. Yet a carefully planned wood shop, treated with respect, can be as safe as your kitchen. The following guidelines will help you to establish that kind of shop.
- Keep your mind on your work and pay attention to what’s going on around you. Avoid distractions that can take you from the immediate task at hand.
- Unplug all power tools when making adjustments or changing blades and bits. This applies not only to hand-held tools such as routers and circular saws, but to the large stationary tools as well.
- Keep your DIY workshop clean and tidy. Work surfaces cluttered with tools, extension cords lying Wisely across the floor, and lumber supplies leaning here and there take time to manoeuvre around and invite trips and accidents.
- Dress sensibly for woodworking. Loose cuffs and shirt sleeves, long hair left untied, and hanging jewelry are risky business around moving parts.
- Leave blade guards and other safety features in place. It’s tempting (and sometimes necessary) to remove those parts to accommodate special jobs, but it’s better to learn how to work with them.
- Always wear safety glasses or goggles. Glass or polycarbonate lenses must be impact-resistant; goggles are better than glasses because they provide protection at the sides of the eyes as well as at the front. Full-face shields are especially safe. Ear protection too is important in a noisy shop. Over-the-head mutts that reduce decibel levels by at least 25 dB are recommended, especially when working with noisy tools such as routers, saws, planers, and sanders.
- Dust protection cannot be ignored. Disposable dust masks are better than nothing at all, but a quality mask can be comfortable while filtering particles down to the recommended .5-micron level. For finishing work, where exposure to solvents and vapours are of particular concern, a working respirator, complete with .3-micron-level filter cartridges, is reasonably-priced investment. Shop dust can be greatly reduced through the use of a dust collector connected by hose to each source, and kept under control by a window fan in the summer and a reasonably priced recirculating filtration system through the heating season.
- Avoid open flames in the wood shop. Cigarettes, pipes, and lighters are best left outside the work area. If you heat your shop with a space heater or room furnace (not through ductwork or radiators from elsewhere), keep in mind that flammable vapours from solvents, paints, and finishes are potentially combustible if left unvented. A 10-pound, A-S-C rated, dry-chemical fire extinguisher should be on hand at all times.
- Working on damp or wet floors can be an electrical, as well as a physical, hazard. All your tools should be double-insulated, and the ground circuit in your wood shop’s wiring should be complete and functional.