Basics 1: Power Tool Safety

We all have gotten a new power tool once upon a time, but how many have read the instruction manual that goes with every new power tool? How many of us have turned the page over to the operation instructions and ignored the safety instructions? Let's review some of the safety concerns involved in handling power tools that are capable of removing limbs. Not tree limbs, I'm talking about your limbs. The ones you have looked after so well up to this point in time.

I've looked over my power tool manuals to see what is the first thing they discuss under their Power Tool Safety header:

Dewalt Power Tools: 1. Keep work area clean
Delta Power Tools: 6. Keep work area clean
Off shore import Power Tools: 1. Keep work area clean
Makita Power Tools: 4. Keep work area clean
Mastercraft Power Tools: 1. Keep work area clean
Skil Power Tools: 1. Keep work area clean
Delta Power Tools and Makita Power Tools rate, Know your power tool, as their number one pick for safety concerns.

Power Tool Safety Starts with a Clean Shop

Let's start with keeping your work area clean. Especially on table mounted power tools such as table saws, band saws, routers, etc. Clutter under foot is inviting an accident, a slight trip and a finger or hand can be cut or removed. The only time I have had an accident while using a power tool was during a reno and the homeowner was pulling the piece away from the table saw as I was feeding it. I was too concerned about watching his hands instead of my own and I nicked a finger. If your shop is anything like mine it seems to attract storage on the table saw and bench for receiving cutoffs from the table saw. I don't really have a choice in the matter when it comes to using a power tool. I have to clean up my work area to be able to get access to it. This includes sweeping the floor of slippery sawdust and wood chips. In heavy construction we had laborers that constantly were sweeping up and keeping our areas clean. A homeowner or renovator does not have the luxury of having a helper to clean up. We have to take a few minutes to clean up ourselves.

Know Your Power Tool

Knowing your power tools is almost a common sense rule. Take the time to review the power tool manual. Try different things with the new power tool and get familiar with it. Then go back and review the power tool manual again after using the power tool for a while. Usually you will find a use for the power tool that you missed the first time. Some power tool manuals show practical tips and short cuts for the power tool. Know your power tools.

Power Tool Guards

Keep power tool guards in place. I'm an offender of this one. I remove the guard and splitter on table saws. I don't recommend this until you have the experience of using your table saw. Guards on cutoff saws and circular saws are very important and should never be removed. Even wedging the guard up is a bad habit to get into. Any renovation to a power tool should be carefully thought out. Most manufacturers have a process to develop safety with their power tools. It doesn't make any sense to remove them. Keep those power tool guards on.

How Easily Things Can Go Wrong

Be aware of the environment in which the power tool is used. Don't use a grounded power tool outside in the rain without proper grounding. All outside plugs, nowadays, should be a GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter). All power tools used outside should be plugged into one of these receptacles with a 3 wire grounded plug on the extension cord on both ends. Be aware of the hazards of long loose clothing including hair or jewelry that can get caught up in the power tool. Also watch out for hazards around you such as flammable liquids or gases. I once was helping a friend of mine repair the gas tank in his car. He backed over a windrow of frozen ice and snow and punched a hole in his tank. I figured it would be a good idea to drill out the hole and put in a screw plug with rubber washer. I was draining the gas that was left in the tank into an ice cream container and my friend was laying under the car with an electric drill in his hand. He squeezed the trigger of his power tool without thinking and the liquid gasoline caught fire in the plastic pail. I ran for my garden hose, which was removed in the winter, so valuable time was ticking by as I hooked the water hose up. I finally had it running and saw that the flames had moved to the tires and a torch of flame emitting from the hole in the tank. I hit the hole in the tank which stopped the torch and most of the fire died down. In the mean time the fire department was called and on their way. Luckily we had it out before they got there, but felt silly answering their questions on how it all started. An electric power tool has brushes of carbon that ride against a commutator converting electrical energy to mechanical energy. When the trigger was squeezed the brushes arc'ed forming a spark which ignited the fumes leading to a real time special effects, Hollywood-type incident. My friend burned his hand a bit when pulling off a burning piece of tarp from my boat that was near the burning car, which was by our propane tank, next to my mobile home, along with our neighbor's home within spitting distance. No wonder someone called the fire department. Luckily, the incident never hit the local headlines nor caused anyone any damage or injury other than my friends hand and our singed pride. Be aware of what is around you! And, be prepared for things going terribly wrong.

Most of the above are examples of common sense.

Power Tool Safety Tips

Some incidents with power tools I have seen or been involved with are not a matter of common sense as much as pure accident.

When cutting a board, usually a large piece of plywood with a circular saw, I've seen operators let go of the saw to walk around the plywood to get a new grip to continue the cut. The saw was slowing down and he bumped the plywood causing the blade to dig in and bounce out of the cut damaging the plywood until the blade stopped. Hang onto the power tool until the blade has come to a complete stop. Most power tools today have a quick shut-off feature that stops the blade very quickly once power is removed.

I was on a roof cutting the sheathing and I put down the power saw without paying attention that the guard was jambed in the up position. The blade hit the sheathing as I was letting it go and skipped around, heading for over the eaves. My first reaction was to grab for the power saw, but realized that the guard was up and the blade was still spinning. I let it do its thing and backed away. Luckily in my case the cord was short and the saw was hung up with the extension cord without any damage. I found a piece of broken plywood had jambed the guard in the up position.

When cutting with a table or cut-off saw usually small pieces can be detrimental to your health. They can become jambed between the blade and the fence which usually means they go flying out of there, possibly hitting the power tool operator in the face or the body. Don't force the power tool or the material through the power tool or move the material in the wrong direction. Always feed the material into the blade against the rotation of the blade rather than with the blade causing the blade to take the material away from the operator and spew it out the other side. Make sure the trigger or switch is off on the power tool before plugging it into a cord or receptacle. Use proper safety gear such as goggles or safety glasses when operating power tools. If the power tool is noisy wear ear plugs or muff. If the power tool creates dust such as when cutting fiberboards or cedar use a dust mask. We used to cut asbestos board on big jobs without the proper safety gear. Today we would be thrown off the job. Use good judgment for operating your power tools under adverse conditions.

Before changing bits or blades, be sure the power tool is disconnected from the power cord. Before reconnecting be sure the wrenches and adjusting keys are removed from the power tool, and the guards are in place.

Kids and Power Tool Safety

As responsible adults we are mandated to look after our children. Power tools and children just don't mix, not at all. Remove power cords and lock up the power tools when you aren't in the shop. With a kid's fascination for power tools and hand tools, it is up to us as adults to keep them out of reach of kids. Teach your kids respect for power tools as we all should have. My grandkids love to come over to my shop and build something. I love to have them. They are 9 to 13 now so I watch them very closely and point out any safety concerns. Two of them have actually taken courses in building things. The first things they ask me for is the ear muffs and safety glasses. Maybe we can learn from them!

Maintain Your Power Tools

Maintain your power tools with care. Keep your power tools sharp, clean and lubricated. Wear safety glasses and dust masks. Use the power tool only when you are fit to operate a power tool, remember the tree limb. Start off with a new power tool by reading its manual, learn about all power tool's features. Stay alert and use common sense. If it doesn't feel right, it probably isn't; check it out and save yourself the pain.


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