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10 General Workshop Safety Tips

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Workshop safety is important. Most of us knows the basic safety requirements in a workshop, but very little of us always enforce it. We are always in a hurry and don’t see the need to take proper precautions before operating a machine. Workshop safety is actually more important than setting up your workshop.

How many times have I heard “I was in a hurry ” or “It was a small quick job, following the correct safety procedures would have taken longer than doing the actual job”

The saying “Speed kills” does not only apply to our roads, but also in our workshops. Thousands of unnecessary accidents could have been avoided if people only made time to think about workshop safety

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Most of the equipment and tools used in the workshop can be very dangerous in the wrong and untrained hands. Every machine and tool is made for a specific job, and care must be taken not to use it for something it wasn’t intended for. Proper training must be given to a aspiring woodworker before he/she handles dangerous machinery.

This is not a comprehensive manual on how to stay safe while woodworking, but it does cover most of the important rules. I’m sure that I missed some important rules by writing this article.  If you feel something is missing, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

It only takes common sense and adhering to basic safety rules to make your woodworking experience a pleasant and enjoyable one for many years to come. By keeping your mind on the job at hand, and concentrating on what you are doing there is no reason for injuries in the workplace.

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1. Dress For The Occasion

One seldom think of the importance of wearing the appropriate clothing when working with machinery. As the sign above states, a machine has no brain and getting tangled up in one happens very quickly. Do not wear baggy, loose, and otherwise ill-fitting clothing in your workshop. Do not wear jewelry or any other loose hanging items.

Nothing should be hanging down when you bend over to work on a machine. Tuck your tie into your shirt, but it is better to remove it completely. Long sleeves should be rolled up. Some people likes to wear gloves, but this practice is very dangerous. It can get caught up in a machine’s moving parts very easily. There is nothing wrong with wearing gloves when moving boards or timber, but please remove them before operating a machine.

General Workshop Safety Tips

2. Vision Protection

Some rules simply state “wear safety equipment”. Safety glasses are very inexpensive and can save you a lot of money and heartache in the long run. I’ve gone a step further and specified that you should wear safety glasses when working.  This is because wood chips & debris can fly up in your face and eyes at almost any time when cutting, sanding, etc.

You should wear your safety glasses at all times, even when not working on machinery. The risk is simply to high of damaging your eyes. Hitting with a hammer, mixing varnish or solvent based stains or sanding a piece of wood by hand can cause something to enter your eyes. These days you get stylish safety glasses with different coloured frames for you to wear if you really need to look pretty in the workshop. LOL

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safety glasses image

3. Keep Your Workshop Clean

First of all I am going to mention one of the things that I hate the most, loose, tangled electrical extension cords lying all over. This is the cause of many unnecessary workshop injuries. I know that one needs to make use of extension cords on a regular basis, but you can do it in a much safer way by making use of square tubing coming down from the ceiling. In this way you make it more permanent, and you can have power anywhere in your workshop without the danger of tripping over, or damaging the cable.

The workshop floor can very quickly get cluttered up with different obstacles like timber, sawdust, hand tools and  yes even power tools lying around. Believe me, I have seen it many times in workshops and even large factories when I still used to have my woodworking business. People very often forget the importance regarding workshop safety.

Having a vacuum system in place comes in very handy for two reasons, firstly keeping the workplace clean and tidy and secondly getting rid of another safety hazard. Having an air duster attachment that you can connect to your compressor is a must. You must clean out all electrical contactors on your machines on a regular basis, not only to prevent a fire hazard but also ensuring malfunction. It happens quite often that fine sawdust clogging up the contactors and switches is the main reason for machines not starting up.

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4. No Drugs, Alcohol Or Other Impairments Please!

Just like you are not supposed to drive while under the influence, you are not supposed to work on machinery while having a few. This is common sense, and while I’m sure there are plenty of guys that like to have a beer or two while they are working on a project, it’s generally not recommended.

Know your limits, and don’t do anything stupid that will impair your vision or coordination putting yourself or anybody else in danger.  This includes working while taking medication that dampens your ability to operate machinery properly. I know you want to show off your project to your buddies while standing around the braai having a few beers. Stay away from the workshop, just now you get the urge to mabe show them how it’s done. Bad idea

operating manual

5. Please Read The Book

This is definitely a big part of workshop safety. For each machine in your workshop there should be a operating manual. If not, you will be able to find information on Google or Youtube. There are thousands of videos on Youtube of machines in action and various reviews. Know how to operate each and every machine and make sure that your employees knows them as well. Make sure that all operating manuals are on hand for your workers and yourself if you need to refresh yourself on the workings of a specific machine.

Knowing the workings and capabilities of every machine will not only prevent injury, but you will also be able to get optimum production out of them. Even if you have a operating manual on a machine it is still a good idea to watch videos on Youtube to see how other people make use of them. I have learnt a lot over the years by searching on the net.

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6. Keep Tools And Equipment Sharp

This is important in more than one way.  Firstly, you should keep all of your blades sharp and performing well.  If something starts to dull, either scrap it and get a new one or have it professionally sharpened. Dull or blunt tools will cause poor performance and can result in dangerous situations. 

For example, a dull router bit can break apart or disintegrate because it gets too hot or damaged during operation.  A router bit can spin at up to 26,000 rpm.  As the diameter of a bit increases (the bigger the bit), so does the speed at which the outside is moving, and it can reach speeds beyond 160 km/h.  If it disintegrates, the flying debris will cause damage or serious injury.

The other way I mean to keep equipment and machinery sharp is to keep it clean and without broken or missing parts.  Be sure it is oiled and set properly. Q20 Lubricant Spray or WD40 is good examples of lubricants to use. Also, it needs to be grounded correctly.

If the machine makes funny noises, smokes or you smell something burning, switch it of immediately and investigate.

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7. Avoid Unnecessary Distractions

This should go without saying, it is one of the basic rules. but with the prevalence of cell phones and other distractions, you should be aware of how this affects your safety.  Each machine requires your utmost and full attention when working on them.

Your phone may ring or get a text message, but make sure to finish what your are doing. before you respond.  I generally like to have music on in the background.  This may even be frowned upon in some circumstances but it is not distracting to me, as long as it is not overwhelmingly load.  The key is to always consider what you are doing at any given moment, and not letting your mind wonder off.

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8. Use Safety Tools To Assist You

Make use of tools that keeps the workpiece steady and keeps your hands away from the cutter blade (this includes making sure the equipment has its safety features in place). Do not operate machines without their safety shields and covers that came with them originally. I know that sometimes it is a pain but they are on the machines for a reason.

Make use of tools that can help you to work easier and more safely. This includes push sticks, miter gauges, custom built sleds, featherboards, and push blocks. They can be bought off the shelve or you can make it yourself. These tools are meant to keep your hands away from the blade and hold the workpiece in place.  A sled on a table saw can hold a panel steady and also prevent kickback.  Featherboards hold boards steady against the fence of a router table or table saw.

You need to use these mediums on any tool or machine where you move the timber as opposed to the tool or machine.  Sometimes the saw or router/spindle cutter can grab the workpiece and throw it or jerk your hand into it quicker than you realize.  Using these tools can help prevent that from happening and increase workshop safety.

man removing nails from timber

9. Inspect Timber For Nails, Knots Or Any Imperfections

Inspect the wood that you are working with. It can have imperfections that can cause it to kick back, get stuck or bind on the blade, etc.  It is important to inspect your workpiece before you do any cutting or machining.

If you work with some reclaimed timber this is even more important because it can conceal nails, bolts and other objects.  You can usually cut through nails, but it may damage the blade or the router bit. I would not recommend it. You can normally see these objects sticking out on the side of the timber, but sometimes it is concealed deep into the center of the plank. Get yourself a cheap metal detector from any good hardware store, they are not that expensive and easy to operate and understand. Spending R200 to R300 will be a good investment that you will be glad you made.

The moisture content in timber can also be a factor of timber binding to the blade, especially when ripping planks lengthwise, the thicker the piece, the bigger the problem. I recommend buying a inexpensive moisture meter, also from you local hardware. It will not only limit accidents but also help with the quality of your end product, wet timber is a no-no. The acceptable moisture content inland in South Africa is 12% and less, obviously it will be higher at coastal areas and areas with a sub-tropical climate.

Knots in timber usually do not create issues if you are patient and prepared for the cutting to take longer.  Just keep all blades sharp and you should not have problems. Loose knots may be a issue, so remove them before cutting or machining.


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10. Electrical Extension Cords

I know that I mentioned this earlier under “Keep Your Workshop Clean”, but it is worth talking about this issue again. Ideally you will not have  the need for extension cords.  This can be done by installing wiring overhead and in the floor, along with putting tools along the wall.  Obviously this is not possible in all instances.

Because you will most likely have to use an extension cord, you should not have them strung and tangled all across the floor. Using ONE extension cord is the best.  This way you will only have one machine with power to it at any time.  Also, you will minimize the tripping hazard in your shop, not to mention damage to expensive power tools falling on the floor because the cable got caught up on your foot.


Always use the correct machine for the job that it was designed for.  Don’t try to make something do it wasn’t intended to do. Always think about workshop safety.

If you follow the rules above, you are well on your way to a safe work shop environment and piece of mind.  It is not totally inclusive, meaning there are still some rules and guidelines that I didn’t list here or even thought of.

Accidents do happen, even to experts all the time.

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