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Shop Safety Tips For Woodturners

Over the years you come on tidbits of information that become a part of your routine. Woodturning is a hazardous hobby or profession. When I attend my woodturning club meetings I am constantly seeing members who have managed to injure themselves. If you have tried to get insurance to cover your woodturning activities you know that the insurers realize that injury is common and they may be severe and the insurance premiums reflect that. So here are some pointers to file away in your mind.

Most would agree that it is not good to be between a rock and a hard place. A tool rest does not have much give to it. When a finger is caught between a spinning block of wood or a four jawed chuck and the tool rest it is a formula for pain at the least and a disaster at worst. So learn to rotate your work piece by hand before you turn the power on and keep fingers clear of the gap between the tool rest and the spinning wood.

One of the conditions which can encourage such a mishap is an ornery banjo. The banjo slides on steel ways. Into it is fitted the tool rest post. There is little tolerance between the banjo and the lathe bed (or ways) when the lock released. So just a small amount of dust or wood chips can cause it to seize as you try to slide it up or back. So you wiggle on the lock down handle and push with the other hand. Often it will stick and then when heft is applied it suddenly gives way and slides into the moving work with unpleasant repercussions.

We all know that we are supposed to turn the lathe off when we adjust the banjo holding the tool rest. Yet I doubt there are one in a hundred turners who regularly do this. The reason is that time is money. It takes extra time to do this step.

What may help is to make sure that the banjo slides easily on the ways of the lathe. It is steel on steel and friction is a problem, especially when dust or chips are on the ways to reduce the clearance. It is not original with me but I read somewhere that if you take an ordinary piece of wax paper and rub the ways frequently, it makes the banjo slide easily.

The first time I tried it I was surprised at how well it worked. The wax leaves no sticky residue. It just reduces friction by transferring a minute amount of wax to the steel surface of the ways. Now I keep all my used wax paper sandwich wrappers just for this purpose. I had tried grease but that just attracts dust and chips. Spray on silicone did not seem to last very long. The wax paper was just the ticket for me.

Just bear in mind that the banjo may slide so easily that it flies further than you intended and can run into the spinning headstock if you are one of those who refuses to turn the lathe off when adjusting the banjo. Whatever, wax paper really makes the banjo slide on the ways. It has to be repeated frequently but will reduce the cussing you do when it sticks and it saves time and is much safer.

Another point I want to make is that a sharp piece of spinning wood will cut you just like a scalpel. Someone in our club recently cut a tendon on a finger. This is no trivial injury. So I make it an absolute rule to sand off any sharp spinning edge of wood that I have created, with my gouge preferably before I cut myself. When I ignore this rule I get blood on my lathe and tools. So, really, sand that sharp edge down as soon as you create it.

As a physician who has taken care of patients with chronic lung disease I know the dangers of breathing particulates. Thus I have made it my rule to don a dust mask as soon as I enter my shop and don’t remove it until I leave. It makes conversation difficult but I don’t do a lot of talking in my shop for that reason. Enough dust will make anyone wheeze. It is a signal from nature that something is wrong that you need to correct. I want to be turning for a long time and breathing easily for a long time as well. Prevention is better than cure.

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Ed Lynn January 18, 2014, 8:49 pm

    I’m an 88 year old combat vet turned into a woodturning novice!

    I recently came across your turnings of clasps and pins and was fascinated by them. You mentioned jigs you had for making them. Any chance of seeing a sketch or picture of such? If not, I understand.

    Thank you kindly,
    Ed Lynn

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