Workshop Mishaps: Dress for success

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This article is from Issue 32 of Woodcraft Magazine.

The story

I thought I understood power tool safety when I started to run a board across a jointer in my early woodworking days. But I hadn’t given much thought to workshop clothing; a comfy, bulky sweater with baggy long sleeves seemed as good as anything. As I pushed the board along the jointer table, however, the cutterhead grabbed the dangling sleeve, jerking my arm down and slamming it onto the board. I raised my hand, but the jointer kept gobbling away at the sweater sleeve, tugging my arm down. I was able to reach the jointer switch with my other hand to turn off the machine. Luckily the board was nearly as wide as the knives, which saved my hand from going into the cutterhead. But the sweater sleeve was shredded as far up as the elbow. Truth be told, I was within a thread of a serious injury.

The victim

After moving back into the western Montana farmhouse where she grew up, Martha Hyvonen took up woodworking by building storage shelves. She so thoroughly enjoyed it that she went on to repairing and restoring antiques and making furniture. Now she spends her time away from her job at a medical clinic in the shop her husband helped her build in the old barn’s former pig farrowing room. Martha recently completed a kitchen makeover, featuring birch cabinets she designed, constructed, and installed.

Case analysis

Function always trumps fashion when selecting your shop wardrobe. And while comfort is important, always make safety your paramount concern. Just slipping on a baggy old sweatsuit and a pair of flip-flops to go to the shop may have you heading for more than a fashion disaster.

Shop-smart strategies

In woodworking as in business, you should dress for success. For the workshop, your main wardrobe concern isn’t projecting an image, but protecting your body.

• Start with a shirt that fits snugly and tuck in the tail. Long sleeves help you avoid scratches and cuts on your arms, but make sure the cuffs fit tightly and fasten them at your wrists. Loose or turned-up cuffs pose a particular hazard. Short sleeves work better. Also take off rings, your watch, and wristbands or bracelets, and keep that long hair out of harm’s way and under a hat.

• Long pants protect you best. Make sure they aren’t so baggy they’ll catch on things, causing you to stumble. A shop apron adds another layer of protection.

• Shoes that tie rather than slip on help you keep a firm footing in the shop. Protect your toes from falling objects by wearing sturdy shoes. For greatest safety, go with steel-toed safety shoes.

• If working with hand chisels or gouges, wear cut-proof carver’s safety gloves—but don’t wear gloves around power tools. Of course, every well-dressed woodworker wears safety glasses. 


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