Basic defense against cuts, stains, and strains
Because your hands play such a critical role in woodworking, from schlepping lumber and sheet goods, to working with finishes and other chemicals, to performing certain tool operations, you need to protect them with a second skin. No single pair of gloves provides the end-all-be-all solution. Instead, you’ll want a few special pairs to match the job at hand. Here’s a quick overview to help you find the right protection for the work you do.
When to take the gloves off
Wearing gloves around spinning blades, bits, and turnings–including, but not limited to the jointer, tablesaw, drill press, and lathe–can harm more than help. Here the danger lies in the potential for the gloves to catch and pull you into a machine operation. Not good.
Also referred to as canvas or Jersey, heavy-duty cotton gloves are a welcome accessory for painting, or when moving stock, finished projects, or sharp-edged machinery. Besides the price, cotton’s best attribute is its flexibility. You can keep a few extra pairs on hand with the confidence that they’ll fit well enough to get the job done. Cotton does not offer chemical resistance, but serves as a basic barrier against paint splatters and stains. Textured gloves are worth the minor up-charge. The polyvinyl chloride dots prevent items from slipping from your grip.
Like woodworkers, carpenters require protection and dexterity. Fingerless gloves protect the palm, but leave thumb and forefingers free to hold screws and nails. Made from a combination of leather and synthetic materials, these mitts are pricey, but are comfortable enough for all-day wear and provide the best defense against scrapes and splinters.
New contenders, latex- and nitrile- “dipped” gloves are lightweight, machine washable, and inexpensive, yet offer exceptional grip and dexterity. Latex-coated gloves are thicker, offering better puncture resistance, and better defense against cold temperatures. Nitrile-coated gloves are slightly less durable, but so thin that it’s easy to forget that you’re wearing them. You can even cut through the coated fingertips for added dexterity.
Sizes vary from one manufacturer to the next, plus the coatings limit the gloves’ ability to stretch. You’ll need to try on several before finding a pair that fits.
Prolonged vibration from sanders, nailers, and grinders can contribute to a host of hand-related ailments including Carpel Tunnel Syndrome and Raynaud’s Syndrome (white finger). Strategically placed memory foam deadens bad vibes, protecting your hands and wrists from pain and/or numbness.
Made from a knife stopping combination of Kevlar, Spectra, and stainless steel, this “clothmail” mitt can save you from needing stitches when doing handheld carving. The loose-fitting glove doesn’t provide much dexterity, but is comfortable enough to wear on either hand, and stretchy enough to fit multiple users. You’ll still want to try on a few different sizes to find one that fits. (Stainless steel chain mail gloves are also available, but cost three times as much.)
Don’t call them “rubber” gloves. Made from neoprene, latex, nitrile, vinyl, and more, each mitt offers varying degrees of defense against a host of shop chemicals.
For small jobs, disposable gloves are fine for keeping your hands clean and safe. Vinyl gloves ($12/100) offer decent defense against alcohols, wipe-on finishes (including tung and linseed oil), and mild solvents such as mineral spirits, but tear easily. Latex gloves ($14/100) provide longer lasting protection, especially against alcohols, dyes, and acids, but don’t stand up to oil-based products. Nitrile gloves ($20/100) provide better all-round defense than latex, superior dexterity, and decent puncture resistance.
Reusable gloves are your best bet for heavy-duty chores, but thickness doesn’t guarantee protection. For example, polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) gloves (about $30) resist strong solvents, including methelyne chloride (used in furniture stripper), but the PVA-coating is water soluble. For cleaning, mild acids, and most finishing chores, general purpose latex gloves ($5-10) are your best bet. To protect wrists and forearms from spills, choose a pair with long cuffs.