I love woodturning. It is fun to turn wood into beautiful projects. Spending time at the lathe is both relaxing and productive. Yet woodturning can result in challenges to your health. How you turn and the environment you turn in can affect you. Here are 5 ways that turning can have an impact on your health and how to mitigate them.
1. Take care of your body
Turning involves your whole body. Getting that smooth finish with the skew chisel on the rolling pin requires a nice smooth sway of the body from start to finish. If your feet, legs, or back hurts, it will be harder to move smoothly. There are two main physical challenges when you are turning.
Are you standing on concrete while using your lathe? Concrete is hard and unforgiving to your feet and legs. Get cushioned rubber mats to stand on. You don’t need the entire workshop floor covered; just the spots where you spend the most time. The mats not only protect your legs and feet from the strain of standing all the time, but they are also more forgiving than concrete when a tool falls on the floor. These mats are also good to reduce fatigue at trade shows as well.
Is your lathe at the correct height for you? Take the time to adjust your lathe to your height. The stands that come with full sized lathes are for people of average height. So for some this will be okay. However, for most of us we are either shorter or taller than average. Even if we are average, the position that we turn at could be above or below where the lathe is placed. Because of individual preferences there is no one ideal height for a lathe. You will also hold your tools in different positions depending on whether you are face plate turning (bowls) or between center turning (spindles). Adjust your lathe to a height that suits you, your back will thank you at the end of the day.
2. Take care of your eyes
For most of us our eyes are crucial to our hobby. But our eyes can be damaged if you turn in a dusty environment, or in poor lighting. My eyes are becoming less responsive as I get older so I need to help them along as much as I can.
Wear safety glasses, a face shield, or a full respirator, they protect your eyes from flying debris. Wash your eyes when you are finished turning to flush out sawdust and smaller particles. Always remember to stand out of the line of fire when you turn your lathe on. That protects more than just your eyes.
Poor lighting puts a strain on your eyes. You want to be able to see what you are doing and the wood you are working with. Good light will alert you to imperfections in the wood that could be dangerous. Good overall lighting will also help you stay more alert and focused on what you are doing.
There are led lights that look like the old fluorescent light fixtures and can be hung where needed in your shop. They are not expensive and will allow you to put lighting wherever you need it. The LEDs save on your electric bill as well
3. Drink lots of water
When I turn wood at my lathe, I easily get into the zone. Time flies. Yesterday I went to my lathe to turn a couple of Mason jar lids. I figured it would be a short visit as the lids are quick and easy to turn. Well I got inspired to do a little extra with the lid. Two hours later I returned to have a coffee time with my wife! We did have coffee, but she was expecting me a bit earlier. So I didn’t drink any water for those two hours. That in itself is not a problem, but if you are working long hours in the shop and not drinking any water, then dehydration can affect your health.
Keeping your water levels up helps your body stay limber and flexible. It will also help you to concentrate. I get really bad headaches from being dehydrated making it hard to pay attention to what I am doing. As I have said before do not turn when you can’t pay attention to your turning.
Taking a break to get a drink of water or juice gives you a change in scenery and posture. It helps you loosen up and you won’t be so stiff. Having to focus your eyes at a different distances helps them as well. This also gives you time to think about what you are doing and that you are doing it safely.
The other time that water is an issue is when you are at a show. It is really, really, easy to focus on the customers, and the activities of the show, and forget to drink water. That can lead to headaches and other symptoms of dehydration. Bring your own water or buy it at the show. Even if it is a bit expensive it is better not to suffer than to save a few dollars. I learned this the hard way at a few multi day events. I really did not feel well on the second day and it was only later that I realized the importance of water in maintaining my functioning.
4. Eat regular meals
Be aware of your blood sugar levels. Now I don’t usually go around wondering what my blood sugar is doing. However, this is important for me. If I don’t eat regular meals at relatively regular times I can crash. My mind has a hard time focusing and I overreact to everything. This can take a fun day at the lathe and turn it into a nightmare. For me it is really easy to become absorbed with a project and want to rush meals or just grab quick snack foods.
Regular meals keeps your sugar and protein levels in your blood consistent. This means you feel better, you can concentrate, you maintain emotional stability, and your family will appreciate it as well, in addition to improving your overall health. Working in the shop for long periods of time requires you to maintain your concentration. Irregular eating or sugary food can also impact you at shows or events, so take along some healthy snacks to keep everything on an even keel. It is not always possible to go for lunch if you are the only person manning your booth. A few healthy snacks will help tide you over until you can take a break.
If you have pop, sugary drinks, or other sweet foods, you get a surge of energy followed by a crash or low shortly thereafter. When your body is reacts to a drop in energy levels, then you will find it harder to focus on your turning. So eating regular meals and avoiding sugar spikes will help you in your turning.
5. Take care of your lungs
The shavings and sawdust produced when turning are small and airborne. Even when turning wet wood there are still fine particles flying about. You may not have an allergic reaction but the fine particles will irritate and inflame your lungs. This is standard health precautions for any turner. At a minimum wear a dust mask. A respirator will keep out even finer particles and an air helmet with the filtration unit on your back is the best of all. Be aware that even some common turning woods can cause respiratory problems .
This is something that I struggle with as I think oh “I’ll only do a few minutes”. However in turning some birch wood a while ago I noticed an effect on my lungs and breathing after I was done turning. It wasn’t allergic but it was feeling heavy and depressing. Maybe I wasn’t getting enough oxygen. The amazing thing was putting on a dust mask the next day I turned the same wood, and the symptoms and feelings did not come back. I’m learning the lesson to always wear a dust mask as a minimum.
These are a few ways that woodturning can affect your health. Take care of yourself and you’ll be turning for a long time. Safety at the lathe is critical but these other risks need to be considered as well. Start where you are and make improvements as you can. Dust masks are inexpensive and available at most hardware stores. The floor mats cost a bit more but make it so much easier on your legs and feet. They also keep you warmer in winter by lifting you off of the cold concrete. Drinking water and eating regular meals can be challenges but really do affect your health. I’m still working on these but the habits are becoming better all the time.
In looking at your health there are lots of areas to consider. I have just looked at some of the impacts that your woodturning can have. If you have had health challenges because of your turning I would love to hear your experience. Please leave a comment below. Thanks.
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