Wood turning involves spinning wood and sharp tools. Spinning wood can lead to dangers and injury. But following some simple shop safety tips you can avoid common injuries associated with wood turning. Let’s start by looking at your woodturner shop.
Did you notice that I said “your shop” and not mine? There’s a reason for that. I’m guilty of not keeping a very organized shop. I live on a farm and there are lots of urgent jobs that have to get done quickly and then move on to what you thought you were going to do. But finishing jobs by simply returning tools and supplies to the shop tends to build up piles of stuff and the misplacement of tools. So in writing this post I’m trying to encourage myself to work on keeping my shop safer and more organized. (and cleaned up for the pictures)
Let me clarify that you don’t need a special – dedicated building in order to turn. I’ve heard of turners using bedrooms, basement rooms, halls, garages, patios and more. So the safety concerns here are for wherever you are actually doing your turning.
Use your lathe as your focal point since this is all about woodturning safety.
Good lighting helps you see your turning and what you are doing as well. Most rooms have some overhead lighting but a couple of bulbs that are 10 or 15 feet away is not enough light. The best situation is a good overhead shop light. You want a light that will be diffuse and not create any harsh shadows on your turning. A dark shadow will make it hard to see what your tool is doing and what is happening with the wood as well.
The one in this photo is a 4’ long LED shop light. It is lightweight and easy to install. You want it close to your lathe but not so close that you bang your head on it when you are looking over the top of your lathe. If you can only use directional lighting try to position the lights to give you the most light where you will actually be turning.
2. Elbow room
Not everyone has a woodworking shop and even in those shops it can get very crowded at times. The key here is to make sure you have room to move around in front of your lathe. You need to be able to stand out of the line of fire when turning on your lathe when you are turning heavier projects. You also don’t want to be scrunched up when bringing a tool to the wood.
I have a very good and heavy scraper that is almost 2’ long. It is nice to be able to back away from the lathe so that I can bring the tool easily and directly to where I want to use it. I have seen videos of people turning in their garage while their backside is resting against the family car. You want to be comfortable while you are turning.
So check your work space out and make sure you can walk in front of your lathe and can safely turn around without hitting the lathe or another woodworking piece of equipment. When your attention is focused on turning you don’t want to worry about the end of your tool hitting something it shouldn’t.
3. Foot room
I know how easy it is to let the savings accumulate especially when you are working to a deadline and you just have to get the project done. But you need to be able to safely move your feet. Your feet are your foundation for your turning. If you stumble in moving around the lathe you are likely to hit the project with your tool. At best you’ve just dented or caught your project, at worse you’ve ruined a good piece of wood and possibly injured yourself.
So don’t store wood, blanks, bowls, tools, boxes of supplies, automotive parts, or anything else under your lathe. Keep the buildup of sawdust and shavings to a minimum so that your feet have freedom to move on a flat level surface. It also helps to keep the floor clear so that tools, and other small parts, that fall to the floor can be easier to find.
If you have a lathe that goes down to the floor with shelves and stuff make sure you have nothing between your feet and the body of the lathe. Keep the doors closed, and the stuff inside secure from falling out from the lathe vibrating.
4. Anti-fatigue mats
If you spend any length of time at the lathe pick up some anti-fatigue mats for your feet. Hard concrete is not nice on your feet. This will allow you to spend more time at the lathe. You won’t get tired as fast. You won’t ruin the edge on your skew chisel when it accidentally finds the floor! Take care of your feet they are the foundation of your woodturning. Having good support for your feet will actually help your legs and back feel better as well.
5. Wood storage
Keeping your wood stored safely is important. If you have boards or plywood they need to be stored in a secure manner. Having wood shift and fall on you is not enjoyable at any time. Think about how you are storing your bowl blanks and other projects that have to sit while they dry out. A haphazard pile is easy to create but it is also not safe. Take the time to make shelves and racks to hold your wood. If you have your wood organized then you know what you’ve got to work with. I know how frustrating it is to search to that piece of wood you remember seeing just last week but now you don’t know where it is.
Make sure your wood storage doesn’t sneak up on your lathe and steal some of your elbow and foot room. Keep that area for you. I know that this can be a challenge especially if you are doing other woodworking as well as turning.
6. Lathe set up
This is going to be mentioned again when we look at specific safety for turning in addition consider adjusting your lathe to make it more comfortable for you to use. If possible you want your lathe to be very secure. This is more important if you like turning out of balanced wood on your lathe. An out of balance piece of wood will cause the lathe to vibrate and even move around your shop. One fellow was turning a large natural edged bowl and his comment was that he got really tired out chasing his lathe all over the shop!
If you can’t bolt your lathe to the floor, can you attach it to a work bench and then weigh the bench down? Some turners make a box on their lathe stand and add sand or cement to give it the weight it needs. I live next to an abandoned railway line so I put a couple of boxes of old railway iron on the lathe to steady it. It can be awkward securing the lathe but this will make it safer for you to turn with out of balance wood.
Consider the placement of your lathe. At some point it is likely that the wood will fly off the lathe and hopefully hit the wall or ceiling and not you! If you turn in your garage you might want to keep the car out of the line of fire. Windshields can be expensive to replace. Keep other valuable equipment out of the line of fire if you can.
Make sure the power cord for your lathe is out of the way and not a hazard for moving around. If possible try to organize your turning tools near your lathe. While not a direct safety issue, spending time walking around looking for tools is not the best use of your precious turning time.
7. Other equipment placement
Think about the other woodworking tools, and more, that you have in the area where you are turning. You don’t want to be hitting the table saw when you back up from your lathe. Make sure each piece of equipment is secure and has a safety area of its own. Be sure to consider the in feed and out feed requirements as well. It would be nice to have lots of room but sometimes you try to squeeze too much in a small space. I know I’ve done it!
For good safety, keep things organized so that you don’t have to rearrange your shop every time you use a different piece of equipment.
8. Miscellaneous items
Keep your liquids in appropriate containers and labelled. I know there is a big difference between what we should do and reality. However go to your work area and make sure that your solvents, paints, thinners, and other products are stored correctly.
Remember that rags that have been used with paints, solvents, etc, should be spread out and air dried before being stored or thrown away. A common cause of shop fire is spontaneous combustion from dirty rags.
Another source of fire in the shop is from electrical fires. Check the wiring and plugs on all your woodworking equipment regularly. If you can, eliminate the use of extension cords to run power to your equipment. I know that is not always an option. If you must use an extension cord only run one piece of equipment at a time.
9. Safety Items
Keep the following items on hand to keep you safer in your workshop. These are not really safety tips but you want to be prepared for when things don’t go right. Accidents happen. Hopefully you won’t have to use your fire extinguisher. Check your first aid kit for small adhesive bandages. I found out recently that my first aid kit in the car didn’t!
- Fire extinguisher
- First aid kit
The flashlight is for power outages. You could use your flexible lamp that helps you with your hollow turnings if it is battery powered. That way you don’t bump into things when the lights go out. I know you have to know where it is in order to use it!
So these are some ideas to help you set up and arrange your shop to make it safe for you when you are turning. Coming soon will be a downloadable checklist of safety tips for your shop, turning, and yourself. You will be able to use this to evaluate your shop, turning practices, and personal protective equipment so that you’ll be a safer woodturner.