Ring the Bell, Please! – Woodworking Safety Week 2012 – Part 2

For those of us that use a lot of power tools we also generally (I hope) wear hearing protection. When we have our hearing protection on, we, of course, can’t hear as well – that’s the point. While that is a good thing in most ways, it can introduce certain dangers.

In my case, I’m one of those silly folks who it’s bad to try to startle. Not because I’ll have a heart attack or wet my drawers, but because my automatic reaction when startled, is to turn quickly with a balled up fist directed at whatever touched me. Not only would I rather not bop someone unintentionally, but what if I was routing the edge of a table top or pushing some awkward sized piece of lumber through the table saw. Try as I might, if I don’t know someone is there, fist and/or tools will fly. That’s just my reaction. I really hate surprises. Not cool.

Now I’m sure not everyone reacts in this way. You may not wig out and try to start a brawl when you’re startled, but startling someone using a power tool is a potentially VERY dangerous thing to do. So what do we do to reduce the chances of flying power tools?

1. Education & Communication. In my case, my shop is detached from the house and is next to the patio where my kids like to play. Periodically I make sure to explain to my children and my wife the dangers of power tools and what can happen if someone using a power tool is surprised or startled. This way they know not to rush in and give dad a hug, as much as dad likes hugs.

2. Raise the alarm! So now my family knows it’s dangerous to startle someone using power tools, but what if you need to get their attention for some reason? Time for dinner, the house is on fire, zombies are attacking – you know, the usual suspects. There needs to be a way to safely get my attention. Here’s what we did:

  • Depending on the time of year and the time of the day, I  close the garage door on the shop. One thing to do is just knock really loud and wait for me to respond. If I leave the shop door open they know to just stand at the opening of the shop and wave. That change in shadows from outside the shop usually gets my attention. Then I can shut down the tools and see what’s up.
  • The other thing we just started (I haven’t installed it yet, that’s for this weekend) is to use a door bell next to the shop door. The one I bought I found at Home Depot and besides just having an annoying buzzer, it also had a red light that blinks when the door bell is activated. I’m naturally a little hard of hearing but even more so when the planer is getting its fill of whatever I’m running. I think this will work out pretty well. The idea for the kids is ring the bell and then wait a minute or two. They understand that if I’m running something through the table saw that it may be a moment before I can respond. I’ve also told the kids that if they can’t hear a power tool running and the door is shut to just give a loud knock or (soon) ring the bell. I’ve told them in this scenario I’m probably in the middle of a glue up so I won’t be able to open the garage door, but I’ll yell back to give them the all clear to go ahead and open the door.

What do you do to make sure you don’t throw your router through the ceiling?

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