There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of completing a project around the house, knowing your planning and efforts improved the aesthetics or functionality of your environment. But it only takes an errant saw blade or unsteady ladder to change things from enjoyable DIY to physical pain and possibly cause life-threatening injuries.
We should all know about basic shop safety: eye protection at all times, gloves at the ready if you need them. But, there are other precautions we can take to make our workshop efforts even safer, giving everyone the peace of mind to really get down to business.
Table Saw Safety
Not everyone has a table saw in their home shop, but they’re incredibly versatile tools. From breaking down sheet goods to cutting molding, a table saw can be the centerpiece of many projects. It can also be dangerous. By nature, the saw blade has to extend up, above the surface of the table. Safety devices such as blade guards and anti-kickback teeth help protect the user, and should always be fully understood and used.
For the times when those precautions aren’t enough, there’s the SawStop Table Saw. This innovative tool runs a low-level current through the blade. If that current is interrupted by anything conductive (like your finger), an aluminum break is activated and jams into the blade, stopping it instantly. Power to the saw is also turned off. All of this happens in less than five milliseconds, saving your finger.
Previous models of the SawStop had to be fully scrapped when the safety mechanism was activated. The latest table saws, however, have replaceable blade/break cartridges, so you can get the whole tool back up and running quickly. The SawStop isn’t inexpensive, but it’s worth it.
Something you can do on the cheap to make your table saw experience safer is make a simple push stick. It should be at least eight inches long, about an inch or less wide, and no thicker than ¾ inch. They can be used to guide material past the saw blade, keeping your fingers safely away. Cutting a little notch at the front of the stick will help grip the material you're moving.
If you are using a table saw or other power tool that’s producing a lot of sawdust, an air filter can be a good safety device to keep you healthy. Dedicated shop air cleaners can run from $150-$650, but there’s a DIY project that’ll save you money and give you a portable option to take wherever your projects are.
The first two components you need are a box fan and a furnace filter. Both come in several sizes, so be sure to match them up.
Then, find a way to hold the filter to the intake side of the fan. Some people use duct tape, but this can be messy when it’s time to replace the filter. You can wrap them together with bungee cords, but for a cleaner look, another option is to build a plywood box with an open top so the fan and filter can slide in from above.
The trick with this project is making sure that there’s no air gap around the edges of the filter where it matches up with the fan. If they’re sandwiched together properly, the fan will draw the dusty air through the filter, trapping the things you don’t want to breathe, and then circulating clean air.
Speaking of air, what do you do when a project takes you off the ground? You grab your ladder. But as we all know, the higher you go, the less stable things get. This is especially true on an extension ladder placed on uneven ground.
Now, those don’t sound like ideal conditions, but how often do we need to fix a gutter or a high window issue around the house and there isn’t a flat patch of ground to stabilize the ladder? An additional ladder leveler will help to stabilize the ladder and increase the safety of the situation. There are several styles out there, so look for one that's highly rated and simple to use.
When our projects take us inside the house, and sometimes into the deepest basement, it can be tiring running back and forth testing which circuit needs to be turned off in order to do some electrical DIY. It can also be dangerous. The last thing anyone wants to do is shut down the wrong circuit, and then attempt repairs on live wires.
A circuit tester can be extremely helpful, especially when working alone. You plug one side into the circuit you’re trying to find (there’s even a light socket adapter if you’re not just searching around wall outlets), and then use the tester on your circuit board to identify the correct circuit. There seems to be a bit of a learning curve with this tool, so read all the instructions first.
And if you’re doing electrical work, always double-check the correct circuit is shut down before heading into the wires. It’s also a good idea to have an extra flashlight or headlamp with you, in case you shut down the lighting around the project.
Sometimes we take all the precautions we can think of and still an accident occurs. DIY can be dangerous, especially when you mix in power tools. First aid should be a consideration — a little something to keep in your tool box. It's better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it, right?
One product that can be extremely useful and life-saving is QuickClot. Used extensively by the military and first responders, this hemostatic agent stops a bleeding injury quickly and keeps it that way until help arrives. It’s simple, comes in a small package and can give you big piece of mind.
Once all these safety measures are in place and used properly, you can take the worry out of DIY and focus on the fun of the projects. As the saying goes, "an ounce of prevention's worth a pound of cure."