As some one with years of industrial manufacturing experience, I get surprised, and a little sad, when I hear about people misusing their tools at home. Safety, although often overlooked, is extremely important. It is there to make sure you avoid getting injured. No matter how insignificant it may seem, a near miss will always lead to a much more important safety violation in the long run. In this post, we will be going over some important safety tips when it comes to using a wood lathe. We will start with what may seem obvious, but often overlooked and move into some specific gear you should be using with your lathe.
Wood Lathe Safety Basic Tips
You need to remember that your lathe is a powerful tool, not a toy. It is driven by a motor which is capable of a lot of torque and it is as dumb as a brick! This means that absolutely anything that can get into the spindle should be removed. This list is not exhaustive, but gives a good explanation for the items listed.
- Loose Long Sleeves – Wearing long sleeve clothing is highly discouraged. It can easily get caught in the spindle. Gruesome incident have occurred, but more frequently, you would completely ruin that piece.
- Watches, Bracelets & Rings – Metal is a lot less forgiving than cloth. Make sure to remove all metal items from your person.
- Necklaces & Chains – I do not believe that we need to paint the picture here. Remove these items when you are working on your wood lathe.
- Long Hair & Beard – Depending on your grooming style, you might want to consider a beard net and a hair elastic to prevent an unwanted and unpleasant shaving.
Lathe Positioning & Storage
You want to always be aware of your surroundings. Before operating the lathe, make sure that it is correctly positioned on a flat surface and will not fall over while turning. Verify that there are no other objects around you which may prevent you from completing the work or interfere with your space. The last thing you want is to be startled by a door opening right next and causing you to slip off the wood you are working on.
Properly storing your tool needs to be considered as well. Remember that it is not a toy and proper precautions must be taken to avoid risks and hazards. Use a lock on the power switch if your lathe comes equipped with that feature. If not, we recommend installing one.
Safe Body Positioning
Knowing where to stand while using the lathe is just as important. The line of fire is anywhere in front of the wood; you want to minimize your exposure. The proper way to position yourself is by standing at a slight angle from the lathe which prevents any debris from flying into your face. Let your hands do the work and do not get too close to the wood.
Safely Mounting Tools, Tailstock, Spindle & Other Attachments
Before each session, you should visually inspect your lathe. Components will become loose over time and especially those you constantly move or relocate. Make sure that everything is securely fastened and will not move when you power on. Pay close attention to the joins, screws, chucks and other attachments which may fly off during operation.
If you are not going to use the tailstock for the current wood lathe project, remove it from the lathe. Do not leave any other tools sitting on the lathe bed.
What Speed to Select for Your Wood
The most common safety question we get is the speed at which we should be turning our wood on the lathe. Unfortunately, this depends on the wood you are working with, how dry it is, where it came from and a lot of other factors. For beginners, we highly recommend using the lower speed and slowly moving up. Once you gain experience and become familiar with the different types of woods you have worked with, it will become more natural. Until then, we highly recommend using caution when turning lumber at higher speeds. It is hard to believe, but a piece of wood breaking off a log at 3000 RPM can cause quite a bit of damage even through personal protective equipment.
Safety Gear – Face Masks, Shields & Respirators
Using a face shield or mask is highly recommended when working on a lathe. The amount of debris it will save you from is astonishing. Although some will prefer goggles, you really can not go wrong with more coverage a face shield will provide you. Customers are extremely pleased with the Bionic brand by Honewell. These shield come at a low price point and come packed with the protection and safety features you need. As a bonus, most of these also come with an anti-fog coat. The coat will prevent condensation from building up and obstruction your work.
Top Rated Bionic Face Shield: Check Price on Amazon
A dust mask is often paired with a face shield because of the lack of “air” protection. Make sure to wear one every time you plan on breathings in the dust and other fumes of your workshop.
Top Rated 3M Dust Mask Pack: Check Price on Amazon
Respirators take the above concept a step further. It will completely cover your face and provide a lot more protection than a shroud. The other important feature is that respirators are equipped with integrated filters which will filter the air you breathe in. Although you can accomplish a similar effect by wearing a dust mask under your face shield, you will get a lot more comfort from a face shield. The bottom line is that if you are going to work in your workshop for prolonged periods of time, you should seriously consider investing in a respirator.
You have many different options and designs when it comes to face respirators. However, most woodworkers agree that 3M makes great products and really nailed the features with this one:
3M Full Face-piece Respirator: Check Price on Amazon
Final Safety Tips
As we have mentioned several times now, a motor driven tool such as a lathe is not a toy. It is important to become familiar with the safety tips and precautions in order to keep enjoying your hobby for a long time.
Stay Safe & Keep on Turning.