Health and Safety in the Shop

Your health and safety in the shop should be a paramount concern when you are working in your shop. We all love being in our shops. But your shop is a potentially dangerous place. If you are spending any amount of time in there you need to make it safe. There are lots of things in there that can cause you harm like sharp tools, dangerous equipment, hazardous chemicals and dust. You have heard the old adage an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Nothing can be more true in your shop. Dust can be very harmful. Do something about it.

As I said in the storage section the first safety measure you need to take is to get everything off the floor. Arrange everything the way you want it before you begin to work. But before you pick up a tool or turn a machine on you also need to put some safety measures in place. Most of this stuff is common sense. But its amazing how easily intelligent people can push common sense aside and make some potentially dangerous decisions. I have a list of my shop rules below.

Finishing is the bane of every guitar maker and woodworker. Finishing puts you in contact with some potentially hazardous chemicals. Some of these chemicals can have profound effects on your health. I developed a sensitivity to most finishing products by not protecting myself years ago. Back then people weren’t as conscious about things like that.

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Shop Rules

health and safety in the shop - using a push stick on band saw

Everyone should have some rules about what goes on in their shop. You should also have the discipline to stick by them. And no matter how inconvenient they may be,  always stick to them. Remember they are designed to help prevent injury and promote safety. Design them around your weaknesses. Your health and safety in the shop may depend on these rules. Here are a few of mine:

  • No machines after 3 in the afternoon, or if I am tired. Most accidents happen when you are tired.
  • No machines when I am in a big hurry. After being tired being in a hurry is second.
  • Use push sticks or push pads with machines whenever possible ( homemade push stick in photo on right)
  • No drinking in the shop. If someone drops by with a bottle of wine and I have some, my day is over.
  • Nobody smokes in the shop.
  • Rags used with Danish oil are put  in a jar filled with water and sealed after use.
  • Tools that heat up, such as bending irons and the like, cool off on a metal surface.
  • Clean the shop and electrical outlets at the end of every day.
  • Never store anything on the floor unless its up against the wall or under a bench.

Dust Collection

health and safety in the shop - dust collectorHealth and safety in the shop begins with dust collection. The number one cause of health issues from woodworking is dust inhalation. If you have machines you should have a dust collector. For small shops with only a few machines a dust collector on wheels will suffice. These units are cheaper than wall mounted units.

You can even use a shop vac with the right adapters but some machines will choke a shop vac because they cannot handle that amount of dust.

If you have a good sized shop with more than a few machines a wall mounted dust collector is  best.

Air Filters, Dust Masks & Respirators

Machines and power tools send tiny particles of dust in the air even with dust collection. These particles remain suspended in the air for quite some time after you are done cutting. You need to protect yourself from these.

Always wear dust masks when using routers and sanders. These things fill the air with particles. Also where dust masks when using machines as the dust collector gets most but not all the dust.

Air filters will remove dust particles in the air. They have a motor that sucks air in and passes it through a filter. The exiting air is clean. For small shops these things will clean the air in no time. Do not make your own out of furnace filters. These don’t work  very well. Do not trust your health to one of these to save a few dollars.

Besides creating lung problems you can develop allergies to certain types of wood dust. Wear a dust mask when using machines or power tools. It will protect you from lung issues. There are also air purifiers that you can hook onto your belt. The pump clean air into your mask. IF you have an allergy these help.


health and safety in the shop - a fire extinguisher Any woodworking shop is a potential fire hazard. You’ve got dry wood, chemicals and electric machines. This can be a recipe for disaster. There are precautions you should take to minimize risk of fire.

  • Make sure your electrical outlets are up to code
  • Have any electrical additions like adding 220V for machines done by a licensed electrician.
  • Have a first extinguisher in the shop at all times.
  • Ground the dust collection conduit at every machine. The dust moving through the conduit produces friction which has caused fires.
  • The dust collector should be turned on and off no more than three times an hour. If you need to do a bunch of milling leave it running while you set up the next machine.
  • Store all hazardous chemicals in cool places preferably in cabinets designed to store chemicals

First Aid

health and safety in the shop - a first aid kitIn your shop you are working on potential dangerous machines and power tools. Your hand tools are razor sharp. In the event of an accident its a good idea to have a first aid kit. Mine has gotten a lot of use over the years. Thankfully only for minor cuts and scrapes.

If you work in a remote location a first aid kit is very important, especially if you work alone. I worked alone for many years and was always conscious of the risks that come with working alone in the middle of nowhere. Be careful and be prepared. This is the reason I came up with the shop rules in the first place. Your first aid kit should contain:

  • Band aids and bandages
  • Iodine
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • Tweezers for splinter removal
  • Eye wash

Keep up to date on your tetanus shots. These prevent certain types of infection from getting cut with metal.

Protection from Chemicals

Your health and safety in the shop can be severely impacted by how well you deal with the chemicals you use. Just about all finishing products contain something that is harmful to your health. Protect yourself from these as they can cause irreparable nerve damage and they are carcinogenic.  These things can get into your body in a number of ways including your skin and eye membranes. Here is a list of protection from chemicals:

  • Use proper ventilation such as an exhaust fan, or do it outside.
  • A respirator (preferably a full mask with eye protection) designed to protect you from whatever you are using. Check the specs.
  • Gloves designed to protect you from whatever you are mixing or handling. Check the specs.
  • Cover you skin as well while spraying. Where a hat, long sleeve shirt and gloves

Hearing Protection

The machines and power tools in your shop make lots of noise. Use hearing protection. Your spouse will thank you. Its no fun talking to someone that is hard of hearing.

Hearing protectors are rated by decibels. Decibels logarithmic are units of sound. Get the highest decibel rating there is. Decibels are logarithmic units of sound. Small increases in decibels equates to large increases in sound that get larger faster as the decibels increase.

Eye Protection

Power tools such as routers create small and sometimes large wood chips. Most machines and power tools create some degree of chips and dust. Eye protection is no joke.

Years ago I got a chip in my eye using a router. I did not have eye protection on. It hurt like hell and I could not see out of that eye. I had to go to an ophthalmologist to have the chip removed. I was lucky that I had no permanent damage. Do yourself a favor and get some eye protection.