We all know that woodworking has its dangers, but they are all completely avoidable.
By practicing due diligence, you can avoid every single common and rare woodworking injury imaginable, save for stubbing your toe from time to time.
This guide gives you absolutely everything you need to know about the dangers in the workshop (and not all of them are obvious or apparent), shows you how to prevent them, and prepares you to continuously enjoy your passion without any disruptions.
If you’d like to see a graphical breakdown of the woodworking safety, we got you covered:
10 Woodworking Safety Rules to Live By
1. Protect Your Eyes
Protective eyewear does more than just keep sawdust away from one of the most vulnerable parts of your body; it keeps your line of sight clear.
Mishaps can often happen when your POV is blurred, but with protective eyewear on, you can keep those peepers open wide during the entire cutting process and stare straight at your active cutting.
Occasionally, something will go flying when it hits the blade, whether it’s a big wood chip or a staple in an old piece of wood. This keeps you protected for come-what-may.
2. Don’t Leave Yourself Exposed
If you don’t already have a woodworking shop dress code, it’s time to initiate one. Long sleeves, jeans, and cut-proof gloves are necessities.
Keep those collared shirts completely buttoned up, and leave as little skin as possible exposed to potential harm.
This is just good practice for any time you’re in a shop setting.
While you don’t need steel-toed boots, you should have durable boots that can sustain a few bits of wood dropping onto them from time to time. It’s bound to happen.
3. Only Woodwork When Well Rested
A lack of sleep leads to more mistakes; it’s just basic science. When you’re tired, you’re easier to agitate and get stressed out, and your focus is just absolutely abhorrent.
If you’re not putting in laser, pinpoint-accuracy focus when you’re running lumber through spinning steel blades, then you shouldn’t even be in the workshop in the first place.
If this is your passion, it might suck to have to sit it out for a little while, but it is for the best. Pick it back up tomorrow after you’ve had a good night’s sleep, and you’re more alert.
4. Eyes on the Power
When you’re done with something, let it power down properly, and immediately disconnect the power.
All it takes is leaning over a saw table (though you shouldn’t do that at any point in your life) and knocking into the controls on the bump panel to cause a major injury.
Make sure that extension cords as disconnected, machines are powered down, and there’s no possible way they could fire up again without your say-so.
Be mindful and meticulous about what is currently plugged in and operable, and unplug everything before you leave your workshop.
5. Keep Your Tools Close, and Your Extension Cords Closer
Unorganized, messy workshops mean you’re basically asking for trouble.
Even the Occupational Safety and Health Administration knows this, and enforces it regularly on commercial worksites.
Keep any active tools close to you, and avoid leaving them on workspaces that you’re not currently using.
You should have a rolling toolbox to help you organize them throughout the day, and keep them in check. When it comes to extension cables, try to only use one. Period.
This means you always know where it is, and you’re less likely to trip over it or be surprised by an older cable that’s been running across the floor.
6. Sharpen Your Blades
It sounds a bit backwards, because you’re making your blades more dangerous, right? Wrong. Dull blades are actually far more dangerous.
You know how to handle a sharp blade, and you know that it’s going to successfully slice and dice through wood.
A dull blade could chip wood and send it flying towards you, the blade itself could chip from stress, and the now-sharp shrapnel would cut you, and you could be exerting more force to make appropriate cuts, opening yourself up to more injuries.
It’s bad all around, so sharpen them up to keep everything moving smoothly.
7. Inspect Salvage and Recycled Wood
Getting free pallet wood off of a local site, or getting to take old boards from a deck remodel are both great, but there’s risks involved.
Before any of that wood comes across your table saw, you need to inspect the wood for staples, screws, and nails that could be slightly hidden from the naked eye.
The last thing you need is to roll it across the saw and either dull/chip the blade, or send scraps of metal up into the air.
Inspect your salvaged and recycled lumber, and look for minor splits in the wood where nails and screws might have been.
8. Don’t Reach Over a Running Blade
It sounds like common sense, and it should be.
Even if you’re just grabbing a small piece of wood that you were intentionally cutting, you should power down the blade entirely before you put your hand near it.
You can find plastic tools that are used to hold wood in place while it goes over the table saw, minimizing the risk of your fingers or hand getting nicked by the blade.
Use the same tool to knock wood closer to you after it has been cut, just to be safe.
9. Mitigate Distractions
There’s nothing wrong with some tunes through a bluetooth speaker in the workshop, but if it’s too distracting, then kill the noise.
If you’re focused, as we mentioned earlier, then you’re operating at your best possible capacity.
Whether it’s a lot of family being over or a loud noise coming from the rest of the house, do what you can to avoid any distractions.
Woodworking Safety Equipment and Their Uses
Staying safe in the workshop is extremely achievable, if you can gear up with the right equipment. This is everything you need to stay completely safe.
As mentioned before, it’s an absolute necessity. It primarily prevents debris and shrapnel from hitting your eyes and causing permanent retina damage.
Protective eyewear also helps you keep focused since you aren’t actively trying to fend off sawdust from hitting you.
Air quality control is something that most woodworkers completely neglect. The focus is on fixing something or creating a new project, and respirators are often ignored.
When you’re sanding, sawing and doing just about anything in your workshop, airborne dust and wood fibre particles flood the air.
These can lead to respiratory problems, long-term damage, shortness of breath, and treated wood can contain carcinogens that could cause lung cancer. It’s a big deal.
Air Filtration Device
This is also for the wellbeing and safety of everyone else, including the woodworker.
If your attached garage is your workshop, every time you open the door you could be letting fumes and airborne debris escape and flood into the rest of your home.
That could be putting your family at risk, but an air filtration system near the door will take care of it all. You can get a tabletop mini filter system that will work wonders.
These may not stop a rapidly rotating steel saw blade, but it will prevent hand saws, knives, and utility equipment from cutting you.
These are just good practice to have on whenever you’re in the workshop.
They’ll also completely prevent splinters from split wood, and allow you to run your hands over just about any project without fraying or scratching the top wood fibers.
Decibels are the measurement of sound, and when you reach a certain threshold of decibels, anything over it becomes extremely dangerous to your ears.
A conversation between two people is about 62 dB, but it only takes 85 dB to begin causing temporary hearing damage.
After 120 dB (high-powered table saw buzzing, sawzall sounds, wood planing), you are causing irreparable damage. These are an absolute must, no matter how long you’re in the workshop for.
Made out of leather and built to last, these capitalize on one of the points we made earlier: always having your tools handy.
It keeps the workspace clear, and provide an extra layer of protection for your front.
Push blocks and sticks are what you use to keep your distance from wood while it runs through the table saw, but allow you to forcefully guide the wood at the same time so you can ensure proper cutting.
It’s recommended to grab a few of them since they’re small and some usually go missing. This is one thing you absolutely don’t want to live without in your woodworking shop.
Overhead lights that give you full visibility into what you’re doing—they’re critical to keeping safe.
Even if you have to hang a few fluorescent lights in your workshop, get it done before you start doing any major work.
Having a clear and concise view of what you’re doing is woodworking 101.
Common Woodworking Injuries, and How to Prevent Them
Table Saw Injuries
There are an estimated 40,000 injuries every single year from table saws alone—that’s over a hundred a day.
You’d think that with so many skilled woodworkers, these would be far less.
It’s actually the highest statistic for all woodworking injuries, adding up to more than radial arm saw, band saw, miter saw, jointer and planer injuries combined. It’s a pretty big deal.
Before you fire anything up, make sure the table is completely clear of debris from your last project.
Table saws are admittedly more difficult to manage than a miter saw, and come with far less protection.
You should always use a push stick or push block, and have the appropriate safety gear on, no matter what.
One of the biggest issues with table saws is kickback: when a piece of wood that has been intentionally severed flies backwards towards the operator.
You have a steel blade with decent traction that’s spinning wildly, and once the wood separates, there is no force holding that other piece of wood in place.
It catches onto the side of the blade, and goes hurling towards you. To prevent this, use:
- Common Sense: Account for smaller pieces of wood being an issue, and see if you can cut them on the miter instead.
- A Riving Knife: These are fin-like knives that stick on one side of the saw blade, and prevent kickback in most circumstances.
- Crosscut Sled: An alternative to the riving knife. Useful in coordination with push sticks and blocks.
Miter Saw Injuries
With over 6,800 annually reported injuries from miter saws, they’re definitely up there in the ranks of dangerous woodworking equipment.
That doesn’t account for people who get little nicks here and there on the job and don’t go to an emergency room, which are still injuries.
With due diligence, you won’t even be in the same risk factor category as the national average.
Always maintain a clear line of sight on your project.
If anything is underneath that blade, then you need to have your fingers at least eight inches away from the metal, and always know how fast something is travelling underneath that blade.
Injuries can occur from underestimating the time it takes to cut a piece of wood. If you’re shifting a long board sideways and making cuts as you go, take your time.
Your non-dominant hand, the one that is usually on the handle of the miter saw, is more likely to be injured than the hand you are using to feed the board beneath the blade.
While wearing protective eyewear and recommended clothing for the job, this should prevent all injuries from occurring.
Jointer and Planer Injuries
Together, they all add to and account for nearly 11,000 annually reported injuries.
Some of these pieces of equipment seem like it would take a real attempt to even get injured from them, but yet, these still happen.
When there isn’t just an open saw blade in front of you, risks diminish significantly.
That being said, they don’t go away, so you should always stay completely alert and focused on what you’re doing, while you’re doing it.
If someone needs to have a conversation with you in your workshop while you’re using a planer, shut it down entirely before initiating with them.
Don’t try to talk over the buzz-and-hum of the machines.
While it should go without saying, we have to make this point very clear: only use your woodworking devices for their intended purpose.
You’ll find a lot of naysayers with “experience” online who say that they use one machine for an unrelated task, and tell you not to worry about it. That’s how injuries happen.
While it might mean you need to acquire more equipment for specific niche tasks, it’s important to stick to intended uses with all of your equipment.
You know how to use the equipment, but if you opened it up and looked at the inside, you’d likely not know what you were doing.
The warnings from manufacturers are issued by the people who make these from the ground up; it would do us all good to listen to those warnings.
Is There an Electrocution Risk Associated With Woodworking?
Yes, but it is minor. That doesn’t mean that it should be neglected as a possibility.
Electrical injuries from woodworking arise when equipment malfunctions, when the wrong gauge of cable is used as an extension cord, or when the system gets overloaded.
Pay mind to your power consumption, and don’t overwork your machines and workshop.
Why is Loose-Fitting Clothing Bad for Woodworking?
Most machines will catch onto your loose-fitting clothing, and not let you go. Miter saws, planers, table saws—you name it.
If you leaned down next to a planer, your clothes could get sucked inward in an attempt to pop out on the other side. Your clothes should be comfortable, but form-fitting.
What Hazard Types Persist in Woodworking?
Of the six major hazard types, only two major hazards are presented through woodworking: physical, and chemical.
Injuries from saws, falling, misused equipment, inhaling sawdust, spilled sealants, paint fumes, vapors, liquids, overheating, and physical stress.
All are preventable with the right precautions kept in mind.
What is the Best Piece of Woodworking Safety Advice?
Know your limits, and graduate from them with caution. It’s easy to get excited about finishing a difficult project, but don’t jump into woodworking with heavy machinery when you’re headstrong.
Woodworking is a time-consuming, slow, and intricate task that needs to be done properly. You’re good enough to continue scaling up to harder projects, but don’t get ahead of yourself.