Safety Hints for Home Woodworking
IN THE few minutes that it will take to read this article, thousands of tons of a marvelous building material will have appeared on earth. Though of great strength, generally it is very light in weight. It is economical to buy. It is readily available to almost all peoples of the earth. Its appearance is absolutely beautiful. Yes, earth’s forests continually yield an unending supply of usable wood.
How was such a strong, light, economical, available and beautiful material ever designed? It was the product of our Creator. Wood was indeed designed for man, intended for his use. Can you picture in your mind the beautiful colors and grains of walnut, mahogany, oak or maple? Or, can you smell the scent of freshly cut pine or aromatic cedar? Truly, wood and the ability to work with it are gifts of a loving Creator.
Woodworking in Early Times
Both secular and Bible records mention woodworking early in man’s history. Many saws used in the ancient past have been found. Some were made of stone, others of iron. One of the oldest stone saws was discovered at Ur of the Chaldeans, in Mesopotamia. These early saws were made of obsidian, a volcanic glass, and are only about two inches (5 centimeters) long. It is believed that they were made by the Sumerians, inhabitants of southern Mesopotamia, even before Abraham’s day.
One of the oldest iron saws was found at Nimrud, near Nineveh. In shape it is very similar to saws used today. There may have been many iron saws, but since iron oxidizes rapidly, only a few have survived the ravages of time. Pictures of saws appear on Egyptian monuments, and bronze saws and rasps of ancient Egypt have also been found. They are distinctive in that the teeth point backward, as opposed to saws today in the Western world. Interestingly, many Oriental lands to this day use saws with backward-pointing teeth.
At Exodus 35:33, the Bible tells us that God’s spirit aided Bezalel in his craftsmanship, “in working of wood to make ingenious products of every sort.” It certainly would be interesting to see some of his wood products. And without a question we would also enjoy seeing some of the products made by Jesus of Nazareth, who once was a worker in wood. (Mark 6:3) Although this is not possible, today many museums contain pieces of furniture that are centuries old. Have you seen any of these beautiful products? They add testimony to the fact that woodworking has been very widespread throughout man’s history.
Woodworking is still widespread today. You may be planning to make something out of wood yourself. If so, will you be using hand tools or electric power tools? What principles should you keep in mind in order to do the work safely?
Some Simple Safety Facts
Simple nonelectric hand tools may seem quite safe. However, even such common tools as hand knives, wood chisels, handsaws and hammers can be used in an unsafe way. For example, one young woodworker, while trying to free a wooden handle from a tool, drove the straight claw of his hammer met into the wood. When it still would not split, he picked up another hammer and drove the first hammer farther into the wood by striking it on its face. Results? A loud bang, a sharp pain in his nose and quite a bit of bleeding. By striking the two hammerheads together he had caused a ‘steel explosion,’ and a steel particle struck him in the nose about an inch from his eye as if fired from a gun.
So observe these safety precautions: Steel hammers should never be pounded face to face. Also, wear safety eyeglasses when hammering hardened nails into concrete.
Another young man cut his eye while working in close quarters with a long, thin screwdriver. Hence, care should be exercised to keep your face a safe distance away from the tools with which you are working.
When using sharp cutting tools such as wood chisels or hand knives, one cardinal rule is always to cut away from yourself. It is not easy to remember this rule when a person gets engrossed in cutting a piece of wood, but it can prevent some very serious accidents.
To illustrate: A putty knife may not seem very dangerous. Yet, while using one, a worker nearly lost use of part of his hand permanently. He was applying pressure when the putty knife slipped and slashed his other hand so deeply that tendons were cut. A block of wood can be clamped to a worktable and used as a “stop” to keep the wood from moving when you use chisels or knives. You may also grasp the wood in your hand, but always keep your cutting hand out farthest from your body, cutting only in the direction away from yourself.
When using a metal-cutting hacksaw, it is best to use one having a handle that completely encloses your hand. If the blade breaks, your hand will be more protected than with the open pistol-grip type. In purchasing saws, screwdrivers, pliers, hammers and other tools for home use, it is much better to buy those of good quality. They not only give better service and are less expensive in the long run, but, more importantly, are safer to use.
Safe Use of Electric Tools
Electric woodworking tools are often used. It is very important that careful thought and great care be taken with them, for they can inflict serious wounds.
Perhaps the most common electric tool, aside from drills, is the power handsaw. A good scripture that might be posted in your workshop is the one at Ecclesiastes 10:10. It says: “If an iron tool has become blunt and someone has not whetted its edge, then he will exert his own vital energies. So the using of wisdom to success means advantage.” Especially in the case of a power handsaw, the blade must be kept sharp to run easily and safely. The machine is very dangerous if the blade becomes dull, for instead of cutting the wood fibers, the blade tends to climb on top of them and acts as a wheel, propelling the saw in your direction at a very fast speed.
Clamping a straight edge (a straight narrow board) near the line you want to cut, and then sliding the base of your electric saw along it, will ensure a safe cut, for this will keep the saw from binding. When the saw binds, it comes back at you in what is called a “kickback.” Generally, it is good to keep both hands on the saw. Have the piece you are cutting in a solid, safe position and always maintain good footing. The operator of an electric handsaw should always keep in position so that if the saw kicks back, he can maintain control of it. A key to the safe use of electric hand tools is: Always think ahead about what could happen before it occurs.
Sometimes a larger woodworking machine such as a table saw is used. This fine machine can do great amounts of cutting safely and quickly. It is not the most devastating of large woodworking machines, but it is one with which accidents most commonly occur. Here again, a very important safety step is to keep the blade sharp. The few minutes taken to sharpen it are well worth the time spent. Most areas of the world require that machines of this type have a guard over the blade. This is a great protection.
A basic principle to keep in mind when operating the table saw is to keep a continual watch on where your hands are as you use the machine. Be sure that the floor is kept clean so that you do not slip. The greatest danger in operating table saws comes from “kickbacks.” With that in mind, never place your hands in any position where they will be dragged into the blade in the event that the wood kicks back at you. This means that you must not put your hands on the portion of the saw table that is on the side of the blade away from the operator (the back side of the saw). The saw blade should be kept approximately one quarter of an inch (6 millimeters) above the material that you are cutting. Keeping the blade this low will minimize the chance of your being injured.
The “grain” refers to the fibers in the wood, which may be pictured as long and narrow, and usually lying in the same direction as the length of a board. “Ripping” a board means cutting it in the same direction as the grain or fibers. “Crosscutting” means cutting across the fibers or grain. When ripping (cutting a board lengthways), as you feed the material through the saw your eyes should be down where you can see your hands, the blade (covered by the guard) and the fence. (The fence is the clamping metal straightedge against which you guide the wood through the saw. This is called a ripping fence. Another fence, called a miter gauge, which slides in a groove in the saw table, is used in crosscutting.)
As you pass the wood through the saw, it is important not only to watch your hands and the blade, but to keep your eyes mainly along the ripping fence. By watching that the wood does not creep away from the fence, you will protect yourself against kickback. Some have the practice of doing “freehand” cutting. In this case, the operator uses neither the ripping fence nor the crosscut fence for support, but rests the wood on the table and guides it into the blade with only his hands holding it. Never allow yourself to succumb to the temptation of doing this. Kickbacks very often occur with this kind of cutting. Rather than attempting a freehand cut on a table saw, you should use a band saw or an electric jigsaw to make the cut. The few seconds saved by the freehand cut are not worth the time lost and the injury suffered should an accident occur. Also, do not use the crosscut fence and the ripping fence at the same time, as wood can bind between them. You should use either one or the other, but material should not be cut on a table saw without using a fence to stabilize it.
In the event that you must make a small cut that requires removal of the table saw’s guard, what should you do? Use a wooden push stick so that your hand does not have to come close to the blade.
Another good thought on safety: Do not operate high-speed power equipment if you are very fatigued. Most accidents happen late in the day when workers are tired. Never yield to the temptation of hurrying with your machinery.
Then, too, do not attempt to cut badly warped or twisted boards on a table saw, since they almost invariably bind and kick back. They should first be straightened on a jointer. It is a very good practice never to stand with your face directly in line with the turning saw blade. If a knot comes flying out of the wood, it may be hurled at you at over 100 miles (160 kilometers) an hour! Stand slightly to the right or to the left of the saw blade’s thrust. And it is a very good idea to wear safety glasses.
Other Helpful Safety Hints
Here are some other thoughts on homeshop safety. When using power hand drills, make sure that you are not standing in water, unless you are wearing rubber gloves and leak-proof rubber boots; otherwise you could be electrocuted if there is a short in the wiring. In operating a drill press, clamp down the material being drilled, or clamp down a stop block for protection. This will keep the press from pulling the piece out of your hand and hitting you with it. Never use an electric grinding wheel without wearing a face shield or safety glasses. More than one worker has suffered permanent eye damage when a small piece of metal flew up and entered his eye. Also, the wheel could break and fly into your face.
Usually, women do not operate power woodworking equipment at home. But occasionally women use electric power tools themselves, and when they do they too should observe these safety rules.
Fathers should give their sons good instruction on safe use of hand and electric tools. School instruction classes also are very good, as is home study through various fine books on safe woodworking.
It is important for a person who enjoys working with wood to develop good habits in using his tools. Someday his thoughts may wander for a moment while he is working. Then, without thinking, his good habit will take over and automatically he will make the safe movement, never putting his hand in the wrong position. So get safe work habits clearly in mind. Always make yourself follow them and they will afford you the pleasure of safe home woodworking.
The prospect of making things of wood, both now and in the future, is a pleasant one. But let us make sure that we observe the safety precautions in connection with such work. Actually, safe practices are associated with proper reverence of God. If we lack sufficient knowledge about what we are doing, and we are careless, we are not showing appreciation for the life God has given us. How vital, then, that we do our woodworking in the best and safest manner! This shows respect for God, the Creator, and it will be for our own good.