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Hello everyone, This is a guest Article by Stacy Aplet. Stacy is a knife maker, Jeweler, woodworker and moderator of the Bladeforums for many decades now. Much of my early knowledge was learned from him, and for something as critical as safety I think he puts in best. 


We talk about shop safety in knife grinding, sharpening, and polishing all the time, but the wood shop is
often regarded as a “safe” area. With proper methods, proper equipment, and proper respect for the
tools and materials, the wood shop does not need to be a scary place.

The “wood shop” is wherever you cut/sand/shape/polish you wood and other handle material. It may
be a separate building, dedicated room, booth, or just one side of your knife shop. For some it may be
the driveway or a table on the deck. The home garage is not a good place for your wood shop. For many
people, the wood shop is the grinding room and knife shop all rolled into one space. Wherever it is, and
however large or small it is, there are certain universal safety procedures that need to be adopted. From
here on in this article I will refer to all handle materials as “wood”. Micarta and G-10 will be addressed
separately later on.

1) Sharp Things Safety – Wood is usually cut on power tools. Band saws, table saws, and other power
tools. There are some basics for these tools. First is to NEVER PUT YOUR HANDS OR FINGERS IN THE
PATH OF THE BLADE. A visit to most any large woodshop will find someone with a short finger or ugly
scar because they didn’t follow this prime rule. Use a push stick, push block, or guide the stock from
places that will not pass across the blade path. Jigs for cutting scales and blocks are smart things to buy
or make. Never try and hold a small piece of wood or odd shaped piece by hand when sawing!
Clamping when drilling is also wise. If using a skill saw or jig saw, NEVER hold the piece being cut with
your hand or on your knee. Always clamp it down on a table or bench when cutting with portable tools. I
have personally seen this go wrong and the fellow will never have a fully functioning left hand.

2) Abrasive Things Safety – The wood will need to be shaped and smoothed. This will require sanding,
grinding, filing/rasping, etc. All of these tools will remove skin as easy as they remove wood … maybe
easier. The same rules apply as with sharp things. Keeping your
hands/fingers/face/forehead/elbows/etc. out of the part of these tools will save a lot of band aids and
preserve whatever fingerprints a knifemaker may have left. Hold the piece being worked by an area that
is not being shaped when possible. Use clamps or holding jigs if needed. I’ll talk about gloves later. You
may laugh at me listing “forehead and face”, but it is a common occurrence to bend over to pick up a
dropped blade or block of wood and bump your head on the belt grinder. If you were lucky, the grinder
was off and it was just a scrape or road rash. If you had the grinder running, it can be bone deep.

3) Heavy Things Safety – Most shop tools are heavy, secure them to the bench with bolts or lag screws.
Wood can be heavy too, set it in a secure place when working on boards and blocks. Store it safely
where it can’t fall or create a trip hazard. Wear sturdy shoes with closed toes. If you regularly work on
and move things weighing over 50 pounds, steel toed shoes are smart.

4) Work Place Safety - Clear the work area of trash, cut off blocks of wood on the floor, extension cords,
anything easily ignited like crumpled paper and piles of sawdust, etc. A “scrap wood” bin is a good idea
for storing cut off blocks and short boards you may want to use again. A cover over this bin will keep it
full of wood, not sawdust. Plastic storage bins work well. A second trash bin for cut-offs and other scraps
should be used, putting these items in the bin as soon as they are cut. Empty this bin or burn it in the
firepit regularly. As you cut off scales and blocks, place them in a tray of box. Don’t just stack them on
the saw table or toss them on the floor. Another cardinal rule to drill in your head is, “If it is falling, let it

fall!” Reaching for a piece of wood falling off the back of the saw table or such can lead to a nastyaccident since the tool is still running. TURN THE TOOL OFF before doing any task besides cutting. This isespecially important if you have to reach past the cutting blade. On many shop tools an ON-OFFfootswitch, or a “dead-man” switch, is a great idea. It frees up both hands to control cutting.The dead-man footswitch has the advantage of stopping the machine as soon as you remove your foot. Harbor Freight and Princess Auto have both types for around $15.

5) Fire Safety – We don’t think of wood shops being much of a fire risk, but stop and think about it.
There are lots of fine dust, sawdust, wood, finishing supplies, solvents. Add to this that for many of us
the wood shop is either the same place as the grinding shop, or very close to it. Most shops have the
metal cutting bandsaw in the wood shop area. Sparks falling on the stuff in the wood shop can mean big
fires that spread fast. The section on cleanliness deals with some of these risks, but being aware that a
risk exists can help avoid the disaster of a shop fire. Few knife shop fires are stopped before major
damage. Most burn to the ground. If a house is attached to the shop, be double safe about fire
prevention. I should not need to say this, but a 20# fire extinguisher is pretty much a requirement in a
knife shop. Two would not be a bad idea.

6) Personal Safety – Separated into several categories
Face protection – Some sort of face shield or goggles are required shop safety. Simply wearing
prescription glasses or safety glasses is not sufficient, because small stuff flies fast and bounces around
like ricocheting bullets.

Head protection – When working in the shop your head is pretty much out of sight-out of mind. You are
concentrating on your hands and the spot where the tool meets the knife or wood. It is easy to bump or
injure your head. A hood or helmet type face shield is the best way to go here. A combo helmet/face
shield/ear protection unit is very useful around the shop and doing yardwork. I don’t know many
knifemakers who haven’t put a grinding belt mark on a face shield or helmet at one time or another.

Hearing Protection – Your ears are exposed to running saws, hammering, grinding, and things like shop
vacs for hours on end in the shop. Many of these have a high enough decibel level to cause permanent
hearing loss. We also work in the yard on rider mowers and with chain saws that are way above the safe
level. Hearing protection is a must if you don’t want to end up like most of us old guys with hearing aids
or deafness. A combo helmet unit with ear protection is a great shop and yard tool and pays for itself
many times over. Most have ear muffs that can be rotated up when not needed. Foam ear plugs will
work, but offer only a minimal level of protection.
Body Protection – A leather shop apron is always a good investment. It has pockets for pencils and small
tools as well as protects your body with another layer of tough leather. It also protects your clothes
from getting as dusty and dirty as well as torn.
Lung Protection – If you were born with a good set of lungs, proper care will allow you to die with a
good set of lungs. Impropper care will either shorten your life, create a poor quality of life, or do both.
If you smoke – QUIT! If you are 20 or 30 and don’t want me to tell you what to do, print this out and
look at it again in 40 years. I bet you will wish you had quit when advised to.

At a minimum in the woodshop wear a facemask filter. A paper paint mask is not a filter. You want a
P100 grade filter or better. It should fit the face snugly and seal to the skin. You have to change it for a
new one often. If you have a beard or mustache, it probably won’t seal well. A half-face or full-face mask
type filter unit with replaceable filters is the next step up. The filters should be vacuumed out regularly
and changed as needed. Pre-filter cloth covers extend the cartridge life. The better choice for anyone
making knives is a PAPR type filter. It has a blower to supply clean air through a hose that connects to
the helmet. The helmet and shield protect your face and head while the PAPR filtered air protects your
lungs. A plus is the cool air flowing across your head and down your face. These type respirators range
from self-contained helmet units like the Power Cap, to separate blower units like the Versaflow. These
work in the grinding shop as well as the wood shop. Most can be found on eBay and similar places used
and at a reasonable price. Whatever the cost, a proper respirator is a MUST!
One group of handle materials that needs special mention for lung safety is Micarta and G-10. Micarta is
various materials, usually cloth, impregnated with a phenolic resin and catalyzed by heat. It is a very
good handle material, but has a few special things to know. In grinding it breaks down into
formaldehyde, phenol gas, and fine powder. The gasses aren’t good to breathe and the dust is not good
at all for your lungs. You should have a full-face mask or PAPR system with special filters when working
Micarta. The filter should be rated for formaldehyde and organic vapors. Organic vapors filters are only
good for a short while, so change them regularly. Look at the data that comes with the filters to know
how often they need changing. If you have P-100 filtered outside air coming to your hood, special filters
are not needed. G-10 is fiberglass cloth impregnated with various resins. The dust is micro-fibers of glass
plus resin dust. It is like asbestos in your lungs. It can make your skin itch and mat cause a rash. You
must wear a good respirator when working G-10. It is a good idea to button up your collar and tape up
your cuffs when grinding G-10. When still in the shop afterwards, wear your mask or PAPR until all the
dust is settled and vacuumed up. With either of these materials, get it off you body and clothes before
going in the house. A shower after coming in is smart. You should not use Micarta or G-10 without a
good dust extraction system at the sander/grinder, and a separate shop air filter (preferably HEPA). You
should run the air filter at least two hours after the grinding is done. I have mine set to run four hours
after I turn the switch off.

Skin Protection – We read a lot of articles talking about “Toxic” woods. Toxic has different meanings in
this sense. Everything we breathe in our lungs besides clean air is “toxic” to a technical degree. Where it
gets confusing is when toxic and poisonous are used interchangeably. Toxic means “very harmful or
unpleasant in a pervasive or insidious way”. It can also mean poisonous. Most woods are not
poisonous, but many are toxic. Breathing wood dust should ALWAYS be avoided. Woods that are
spalted, woods stored outside, woods harvested on the ground … all these may contain mold and fungus
spores that can cause severe illness if breathed in. Other woods with certain oils and compounds may
cause allergic reactions or rashes. Cocobolo, rosewoods, ebonies, and many tropical woods can do this.
It may not bother you for years working with one of these woods and suddenly you may start getting a
serious rash on your hands and arms. This is called acquired sensitivity. Wearing long sleeve shirts, long
pants, and face/lung protection as we just discussed for G-10 will go a long way to reducing these issues.
If you truly become sensitive to a certain wood, you may need to change to a different wood.
Protecting the Family and Pets – I’ll be blunt - Children and pets should never be in the shop area
when you are working. The ONLY exception is when they are wearing proper clothes, proper fitting
safety gear, and being instructed. You can’t pay attention to the tools you are using and the kids at the

same time. Sooner or later, something will happen. If you are lucky, it will be a ruined piece of wood of
knife blade … if you are not lucky it can range from something scarry to tragic. Kids are curious and will
turn on switches, touch hot or sharp things, etc. Just because you said “Don’t touch!” won’t stop them.
Pets can get very sick breathing or eating wood dust, and some liquids in the shop can be fatal. They
often like to explore places behind things and hide. This can lead to injury, exposure to chemicals,
electrocution, or being locked in then shop. I think that is enough to show you why a “shop dog or cat”
isn’t a good idea. Equally important is protecting your family and pets after you leave the shop. You
should blow off or vacuum loose dust off your clothes, comb/brush out your hair, change clothes, and
wash face and hands before playing with the kids or pets. Try to hug and get a kiss from the missus in
your dirty shop duds and you may not get a romantic response.
Gloves – Your hands may get covered with sawdust and sanding dust. This may cause dry skin and
rashes, or in the worst cases open sores and split skin. If you are allergic to the dust as mentioned
above, it can make your life miserable. Nothing drives you crazier than itching between the fingers. Light
weight snug fitting gloves can prevent much of this. Nitrile gloves are cheap, and sold by the gross at
places like Harbor Freight and Princess Auto. Get ones marked “heavy duty” as they hold up better.
Cloth gloves have their place, too. But remember that you should never weal cloth gloves around
rotating and moving blade equipment. Those tools are drill presses, mills, band saws and table saws,
wire wheel buffers, … any rotating tool that good sense says gloves are a bad idea around. On these type
tools a glove can get snagged and pull the hand … or whole arm … into the cutting blade or wrap it
around the rotating shaft. Horrible accidents and deaths have happened this way. Sanding with gloves
on a belt sander is not a danger, as the abrasive will wear the cloth away and not grab it. For sanding by
hand any type of gloves you like are fine. I like the gray knit “Cotton Safety Gloves” used for metal
handling. They come by the dozen, 100 pair, and 300. Some years I go through 300 pairs. You can use
them for shop work, auto repair, yard work, painting, etc. … and they can be washed. (Wash them with
the shop rags, not with your wife’s clothes … if you want to stay happily married.)
Long Hair – Long hair gets the same caution as gloves. If the tool is rotating, tie up and cover long hair. I
saw the aftermath of a lovely lady having about half her scalp ripped off when she bent over a polishing
machine in a jewelry shop. The machine would her very long hair up on the spindle, pulled her head
down and smacked it into the top of the buffer knocking her out, and snatched it off clean to the skull.

Storage and Neatness = Safety and Efficiency - Plastic storage bins, cardboard boxes with lids (AKA
Banker’s Boxes), trays, etc. are good ways to store supplies and cut handle materials. It keeps them
clean, organized, and readily available. If you have lots of long pieces of wood in the shop, a wood rack
or wood shelves is smart. Stacking them on the floor is just a bad idea.
Cleanliness – OK, I am not always the poster child here, but trying to keep a clean shop is a good shop
practice. Some simple things done all the time will keep the shop clean and efficient. Vacuum the work
area often. Daily in a full-time shop, weekly in a hobby shop. Vacuum out the bandsaw and any other
saws or tools that create debris. PUT STUFF AWAY!!! When done with a tool, board, bar of steel, box of
small parts, etc. put it back where it is stored. It only takes a few extra seconds to do it now, compared
to spending hours looking for something you don’t know where you left it. If things start to pile up on
the workbench or desk, put them all away except the project at hand. If things start to pile up on the
shop floor, find a better way to store them. As I said before, plastic storage bins with tight lids are

prefect. You can stack them to the ceiling and store a lot of stuff in a small footprint. They are clear and
you can look in to see which bin has what you want. 5X3” labels are also a good idea if you have a lot of
small stuff in a bin. Write what is in that bin on the labels and put one on the top and one on the side. I
often store smaller bins and boxes of things inside a larger storage bin. Zip-Lock bags are very good
storage containers. They come in sizes up to Huge. That way I can take out the box/bag of Corby Bolts
and not have to rifle through all the other stuff. Separating different handle woods and labeling them is
a really smart thing to do. Often, I will pick up a piece of handle wood sitting somewhere and can’t
remember exactly what it was.

Final comment: Good tools make smart work … and smart work makes safer work. – Drill press clamps
and/or a drill table vise. Cutting “sleds” for the table saw and band saw. Good push sticks and push
blocks. Good drill bits. Portaband saw on a SWAG table. Carbide saw blades and boring tools. Quality
sanding papers and belts. The list is long, but working efficiently is working safely!


Stacy Elliott Apelt – FSAScot
Moderator - Bladeforums Shop Talk