Safety and Maintenance Tips For Your Shop or Garage

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missing finger imageThe first really important rule to follow when it comes to safety and maintenance in your shop is to take your work as seriously as if it’s your job. Meaning, follow all the safety rules and procedures that an employer would make you do (a responsible employer). Most of those rules have a reason – usually stories of maiming, destruction, disease or death. Since you’re trying to build or fix something, not go down in history, best to follow rules of safety and come out of your shop at the end of the day with a finished project and unscathed.

They are a pain. They make your face sweat. But they’re much more convenient than going to the emergency room with an injury to your eye. I truly believe in goggles. More than once, one of the guys in my shop – and these guys are pros with years of experience who really know how to handle wood – has been hit in the goggles with a flying splinter. Notice I said “hit in the goggles.” My next-door neighbor when I was growing up was a fix-it guy who had only one eye. He wasn’t born that way. Enough said. The Dewalt Concealer Clear Anti-Fog Safety Goggle is a popular model on Amazon.

Dust Masks-Respirators
Another piece of safety equipment often ignored because it’s “only for a couple of minutes” or because you can’t stand something stuck on your face making you hot & sweaty, or because you feel like a dork when you wear one. Problem is, every time you run a power saw or sander and you’re not wearing a dust mask, you are injuring yourself even if you’re not bleeding out on the floor. Not good for your lungs, dude/dudet. Don’t do it. The 3M 7500 Series with appropriate filters is a great option on Amazon.

Maintain Your Equipment
Oil it, grease it, replace worn parts, sharpen the blades. And clean it before you put it away. A common source of injuries in the home shop is poorly performing equipment that doesn’t work as well as it should because it hasn’t been oiled, greased, cleaned, or sharpened. Your machines should work like well-oiled machines – literally. Everything goes smoother and easier, and the chances of injury go way down.

Don’t Bomb Your Shop
If you’re going to be doing a lot of power sawing or sanding, open the windows or doors or take it outside. Airborne dust can be explosive – and the higher the concentration, the bigger the chance that a stray spark will make it go boom. And, you’ve probably heard this from your grandfather a million times, but do not leave oily rags sitting around. This includes a trash can! The only safe place to store oily rags is in a small airtight container like a coffee can with a tight fitting lid, with water. Oily rags are inhabited by evil magic and can – and will – go from sitting there looking innocent and doing nothing, to spontaneously combusting and possibly burning your house down. It’s weird but true. Believe it and be afraid. Be very afraid. After a few days of storage, carefully lay the rags outside to dry (preferably not next to dry tinder or a forest). When dry, dispose of properly. If you’re really serious about your “oily waste”, you can get a specially designed can for it like the Justrite Oily Waste Can shown here for around $50.

Finally, Have Spares On Hand
Treat your shop like a little business, and maintain inventory control. An easy way is to hang a clipboard on a nail somewhere and make it a rule that whenever you open the last can or package of something, you write it on the clipboard. Next time you go to the store, take your list and buy all that stuff and restock. Better yet, make your significant other do it. Tell him or her you’ll get all those “honey-do” lists done way faster if you don’t have to stop in the middle of every project to run to the store. “More time to spend with you, honeybunch!” (And it’s OK to watch a little football while they’re out shopping. After all, you deserve a little R & R when you’re working so hard around the house, don’t you?)

Above all, always remember the Ten Finger Rule – ten fingers to start the day, ten fingers to end it. Life is better that way.

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About Brad

Brad Baker is Vice President of Operations at Miller Woodworking in the Los Angeles area, designers and builders of custom cabinetry and interior millwork for the rich and famous. They make the impossible, and their work has been featured in fancy schmantsy architectural glossies more than a few times. All that high end creative stuff aside, he maintains a strong spiritual belief that the real sign of a good woodworker is all 10 fingers. He and his wife Ann Baker co-write for HomeFixated. Ann is CEO of Publicity Pros, a firm that provides “All Things Publicity” services and training for small businesses. She’s a hopeless nerd who revels in anything and everything having to do with the technology of attracting attention. And, no joke, she loves to bake.

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4 thoughts on “Safety and Maintenance Tips For Your Shop or Garage”

  1. Also, be a neat freak. Safety improves when things are where you expect them, nothing is about to fall with the slightest jostle, and there isn’t anything anywhere for you to trip over or bump into. Keeping all your digits is a great plan. Do it preventing all forms of cuts and bruises too.

  2. Good reminders, Brad. One other suggestion is to have an ABC-rated fire extinguisher with a full charge. They are a lot less expensive than a fire!

    • Agreed Liz. . . . I try to keep a few on-hand in different locations. Definitely a must-have in the garage, shop and house too! Thanks for chiming in with the tip.


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