Safety Checklist for Hand Held Power Tools

I have developed a strange fascination for tools – hand as well as power – over the years. Many people all over the world share my interest. At times, however, we forget that all tools, especially the powered types, can be dangerous and cause bodily injuries, sometimes of a very serious nature. It is imperative therefore that power tool users consciously learn to respect and handle their machines. While one can never be totally secure, a DIY person must make sure that he or she takes the minimum necessary precautions to avoid accident or injury. The observations given below are pretty general but generally apply to hand held power tools, particularly drills, routers, circular saws, planers and sanders.

Understand your tool

Most tools come with a manual – read it. Then decide how you want to use the tool and how best the task, however simple, could be accomplished. If it is the first time you are doing a particular task with a particular machine, simulate the entire process with the power disconnected to find out what potential problems it could entail, what your movements should be and so on. Even the emission of dust, loose plaster, saw dust, wood chips or other particles could constitute a hazard depending on the circumstance. Evaluate the situation properly before proceeding. Once you have established a safe, effective procedure, you can repeat it as many times as possible without going through the evaluative process. Specific tools have specific procedures for tasks and associated precautions. For instance, if you are using a router, it is absolutely essential you know which direction to rout in different situations and which procedures that must be avoided.


Connect Power after Set Up

Never ever make any adjustment to your power tool with it plugged in to the power supply. This applies to bit changes, angle adjustments, blade changes and so on. Finish all adjustments and do a dry run on your work piece to be double sure you will not get snagged or lose your balance, especially when you are routing or sawing. Only once everything is in place, plug on the machine. Never make adjustments to the machine or work piece while the machine is on. The on-off switch to your machine should be somewhere near and handy so that you can cut off the power easily in an emergency. Also check to see that the machine is not on when you connect the power – my belt sander took off once after a power cut since I had forgotten to switch it off. Fortunately it was not wrecked and only did minor damage to the furniture!


Wear Protection

Power tools are often noisy and can produce high speed splinters and particles. Eye protection is an absolute must, even when you are doing something as simple as drilling. During routing especially, wear ear protection of some sort and most times wear breathing protection, even if it is something as simple as a surgical mask. Normally do not wear gloves because those can interfere with your control. Gloves could be worn during construction type of work such as hammer drilling, chipping concrete or plaster or angle grinding.


Secure Your Work piece

The most common cause of accidents is an incorrectly secured work piece. With each tool, find out in which direction it is turning so that you can properly secure the piece. Even a drill can cause a severe accident if the material being drilled is not secure. Initially while using my belt sander, I got hurt when the piece being sanded was thrown back at my stomach. I had secured the piece in front but neglected to do it at the back and since the sander turns in an anti-clockwise direction, it flung the piece back at me. Routing and sawing operations are even more dangerous if the work material is loose. Drilling a wall is clearly not an issue because it is the work piece and extremely secure! Buy a variety of clamps, double sided tape or a hot glue gun for securing your pieces.


Direction of Work

Generally, my rule is always to move the power tool away from my body and not towards it. Never point a power tool towards yourself, not even a simple drill. While sawing, routing or planning, move the machine away from yourself to complete the procedure. This does not mean that you are not well balance or away from your work piece. Sawing, routing and planning must be done gracefully and with full control of the tool and this cannot be done if the tool is being held with hands outstretched. A router should be lifted and its base pointed away from you at the end of a procedure. A circular saw must also be taken off away from the body and only after the blade has stopped spinning; the same hold true for a planer.


Watch Your Fingers!

Resist the temptation to fine tune a work piece with your fingers while a power tool is running. This is a dangerous habit. Also, be careful about how you hold your tool to ensure that your fingers do not accidentally come in contract with the cutter, bit or blade. During drilling never try to position the drill bit while it is spinning.

These are some of the practices that I try to follow but there are many tool specific issues that you must be aware of and learn about as you go along. 

Good luck and happy woodworking.


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