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Safety Week 2010: You’re Not in Your Own Shop Anymore (or Kansas)

Welcome to Woodworker’s Safety Week 2010. Arthur C. Clarke said 2010 was the year we make contact. Let’s hope that as far as woodworkers are concerned, there will be no contact with spinning blades and sharp pointy things. This is the 3rd annual safety week and after pushing out some basic ideas 3 years ago and grossly humiliating myself last year with my safety dance, I’ll be honest that I was a little stumped for a new topic this year. The blogosphere has diligently covered this topic many times over and we are all better, safer, 10 fingered woodworkers because of it. So what do I write about?

It took a trip out of my shop to form this topic. I was up in PA at Chuck Bender’s school and most of the class was in the bench room fine tuning mortise and tenon joints. One of our number has gone into the machine room to begin working on his table top. I joined him a few minutes later and walked into the room to see my fellow trying to joint the end grain of his top on the 8″ power jointer. I shouted for him to stop but with the dust collection, jointer, and air compressor running he didn’t hear me right away. I ran to the jointer to hit the power switch and swiped at empty air!

“Where was the friggin power switch???!!” It wasn’t in the place I was used to on my own jointer at home and it took what seemed like an eternity to find the switch and cut the power. I’m sure that in reality it was a second or less, but in the moment…well you know how that space time dilation works.

The good news: no one was hurt and not even the project was ruined.

The bad news: that second or two when I was searching for a power switch and the blades were chopping at the end grain desperately trying to fling that board across the shop was scary. Why couldn’t I find the power switch? It is not that it was hidden it was just that I had grown used to the location of the switch in my own shop.

So the moral of the story here is, when visiting another shop or enrolled in a class, take a step back and familiarize yourself with each tool. You may have worked with a jointer for 30+ years, but if the switch is on the body of the machine as compared to your own machine where the switch sits up on a pedestal above it you need to know that before you turn it on. Take a moment to consider what other aspects you need to know when operating that machine. Mentally walk through your operation and consider all eventualities and make sure you know how to respond to them specifically with the machine you are about to use.

Most manufacturers have standardized the basics, but you would be surprised how many power switches are in different places or adjustment levers subtly changed. On top of that the individual woodworker may have set up the machine slightly differently and you need to know how that will effect your usage of it.

This gut check will take you only a few seconds. That few second spent now will prevent you from taking a few seconds to kill the power later like it took me.

Be safe folks!

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