Mags Often Misrepresent Safe Practice

Is Image More Important Than Safety?

I thumbed through recent issues of wood mags and though I have known it for years, I thought it might be good to tackle the giant issue surrounding machine safety as some woodworking magazines don’t always project the right image. In fact some give the impression that no safeguards or safety equipment is necessary at all, the exact opposite of what the woodworking machine industry teaches altogether. My concern is that the woodworking magazines get most of their support from amateur woodworkers looking for guidance and inspiration. This advertising sector caters to the amateur woodworker industry with only a little crossover into professional realms. Thumbing through the magazines I was not really considering safety at all, just looking for content of interest to me, but I soon became conscious of the lack of safety equipment being used, which started my inbuilt alarm bells started ringing page after page. See if the images below don’t cause the same sense of concern for you.

Image 1:






Image 2:


Image 3:



Image 4:


Image 5:

Image 6:

So here we are, five images spanning a few pages with not a face shield in sight and only one pair of safety glasses between four of the five images. Then we have zero regard for any dust protection issues and that is of great concern to all woodworkers. Now I know you can say to me that all woodworkers know about machine dust, tablesaw kick-back issues, noise that causes partial impairment and even permanent hearing loss and so on. Of course that is not really true at all. The people in the pictures are all professional-level woodworkers, authors, editors and so on. Evidently they don’t feel the image they convey with regards to safety is questionable. If that is so, why would we expect the amateurs and those brand new to woodworking to be conscious of dangers that are often less obvious and even well hidden.

The trip mechanism in my brain asked the question, why is it that something so unarguably dangerous as machine woodworking is presented with such passivity toward safety and with no need to show industry standards for normal health and safety protocol put together by professional bodies of the woodworking industry itself? Yes, I know all the reasonable arguments. “They are just posing and not really working.” “The machines are not switched on, perhaps, therefore there is no need to wear any safety equipment. Why would you?” Well, actually, in a couple of the images, the tablesaw is running and there is no need for anyone looking in, to believe that the others are not either anyway.

Image 1:

a: The man has no safety mask on at all b: There is no blade guard over the blade c: The man has no safety glasses on. d: The man has no protective dust mask or respirator equipment.

The dangers ever present in this scenario are:1: He is breathing harmful dust as he works with the machine no matter how good any dust extraction is. 2: Even though there is a riving knife in place my experience has shown that the wood can still close over on the rear upthrust of the blade and and kick-back the wood at his upper body and face. 3: There is no doubt that the small offcut is a missile waiting to catch. The drafts and movement of wood often cause an upthrust on small pieces and can deliver them to the rear upthrust of the blade once detached as shown. 4: The dust from tablesaws is of course extremely fine and circulates in the atmosphere even with the best dust extraction in the world. This dust is some of the most harmful to the whole respiratory system, eyes, nasal passages and throat.

Image 2:

Same as above. I included this image of the same issue from a different angle because it doubly gives a bad impression.

Image 3:

It’s made me more conscious as an industry leader that I too must always take the essential safety precautions for my own health and then again project the need for safety to my audience. Though in this image he is only using a drill-driver, I recall a time in my life when the bit caught in my shirt and spun the drill up my shirt and badly bruised my nose and eye. It could have been worse and I might have lost an eye and more. I hesitated to add this image because how often do we really reach for eye protection when using a drill-driver. Decided to leave it in and risk the criticism.

Image 4:

a: Obviously the man has no protective dust mask or respirator equipment. b: He has glasses on but insufficient to call them safety glasses as they have too much openness surrounding the the lenses and no side shields.

The dangers are that 1: He is breathing harmful dust as he works with the router which has no dust extraction attached. The extremely fine dust from routers is spun at high speeds and circulates in the atmosphere even when dust extraction ins in place. The dust can cause damage to the whole respiratory system, eyes, nasal passages and throat. 2: Wood from router cutters is constantly thrown from every type of cutter, often splintering like spear or needle points and throw-back to the face.

Image 5:

a: The man has no dust mask or respiratory protection at all.

The dangers are that 1: He is breathing harmful dust as he works with the bandsaw.

Obviously the machine user here has his earplugs and close safety glasses on. That’s good, but the dust from bandsaws, especially older models, which often have no portals for extraction, is notoriously harmful and bandsaws are well known for gathering up dust from cutting directly around the wheels of the bandsaw, which then spin the dust around inside the wheel enclosures until it escapes through any and all gaps. It is nearly impossible to close of the enclosures.

It’s about image

Projecting the the image but not the right or perhaps correct image is mostly what I concern myself about here. In reality all of these men should look be wearing full protection when working with woodworking machinery.

Guards in place. I asked a friend of mine, a man who ran a shop, why the guards were off the jointer/planer. He replied, “They just get ij the way!” I said to him, “In a multi-user shop there is no place for leaving any machine without guards in place. In an individual’s own shop it’s up to the user. As soon as you have employees, that all changes.” He never let guards remain off a machine after that. Of course there are times when guards get in the way to prevent a necessary operation, but thy should always be restored asap.

Now then, I asked myself this further question. Why do some woodworking magazines show the heads of the men at all? After all, it really contributes nothing with regards to technique or method. Leaving out all head shots would not lessen information in any way. My answer? Posing in shots with relaxed faces creates the image they want to express and that is that woodworking is not inherently dangerous at all. Not only is it dangerous, woodworking machinery is ranked as the most dangerous of all industries.

These images convey the impression that highly proactive woodworkers do not use protection because the methods are safe and there is no need to wear industrial protection beyond just ear defenders. Those of us who have worked in the industry for a few years absolutely know that this is far from true. In all of these situations these men are in danger of losing their sight. They are also breathing toxic waste from finings in the surrounding atmosphere that they cannot see as well as dust and particulate thrown directly at their faces. The man on the tablesaw has the added danger of kickback.

This is the real McCoy. My friend Chris gears up every time, as I and others do.

So why do the editors allow poses that include the faces? As far as information goes the faces or facial expressions give nothing to the reader and are inconsequential. Mostly it’s to do with presenting the acceptable image that down plays the essentiality of safety to its core audience. In my view it is of little value to put a little disclaimer in the corner of a page if the images send another message that woodworking without protective equipment is perfectly safe. No one is exempted from responsibility in this. Not the authors, the photographers, the editors or the publishers. They all have responsibility for promoting unsafe practices. Even with safety equipment things go wrong in a split second. We can take care of our lungs, eyes and faces with very low-maintenance equipment.

My advice to any new woodworker wanting to compliment their work by using machines for dimensioning stock would be to find courses tailored to specific machines. Good online material is available from recognised institutions too. You must be careful of course, as looking for information based on good experience can be hard as some things are based more on opinion than experience. Look for experienced teachers and organisations with the right background. Generally these are information based but then you must put into practice what you are taught and by experience you will gain the experience you need to anticipate potential issues. No one else can substitute for your individual responsibility.

My hope in presenting this at this time and publicly is that the editors, publishers and authors of magazines and articles will not get offended (as they sometimes have) but see that they are promoting unsafe methods to project the wrong image and express the wrong information. We all have a responsibility to the public to make woodworking as safe as it can be and especially to make others aware of the possible hazards.

50 thoughts on “Mags Often Misrepresent Safe Practice”

  1. Chris Goodrich

    Paul, you’re absolutely correct. I taught my son from childhood to done protective gear anytime powered equipment is used. I had him wearing eye protection using a screwdriver at a very young age; all it would take is a slip to damage an eye. Now he is very careful in all that he does. Thank you for reinforcing what many of us become complacent about.


  2. Uh-Oh! Now, you’ve done it! If not already, you will soon be hearing from magazine editors and their lawyers soon.

    (It is not hard to be a certified soothsayer in this matter.)
    Once, long ago, I participated in a discussion forum operated by a magazine about woodcarving. Several of the magazine’s contributors offered YouTube videos teaching their carving techniques. FWIW, these were about handheld carving, or more precisely whittling. There were prominent warnings with each video about using cut-resistant safety gloves. Yet, the person in the videos did not use such gloves. I asked “why not?”

    (BTW, I never injured myself, with or without the safety gloves … and I rather quickly turned away from that form of carving to styles I enjoy much more.)

    A few postings later [with gentlemanly decorum] I and a couple of other forum participants expanded the question to include not just one of the “instructors,” but several. An avalanche of “how dare you” criticism rained down on us. I was accused of everything from being ignorant through trying to undermine the instructors’ source of income. The magazine’s editor chastised me and ultimately cast me off the forum and deleted the entire thread. Being a piteous little subscriber, I wasn’t worth getting lawyers involved.

    However, you have a much more distinguished platform and I’m predicting a real storm arising from this post.

    Your points are spot on, and I’m sure all of the publishers will defend themselves with the small print warnings they publish just after the table of contents page and the idea that all of that equipment spoils their pictures.

    THANKS for the reminders and the focus on safety.

  3. Yes, there’s a lot of cringe-worthy imagery on TV and the web when it comes to machine safety.

    I was watching a very popular and long-standing home improvement show on PBS (everyone knows the one) and the resident carpenter was shown free-hand cross cutting a board with a circular saw. He was holding the board in his left hand, and running the saw through the cut unsupported in his right hand. That gave me the willies. A loose circular saw will cut through your arm or leg and you will bleed out before you can get help. And that’s a nationally televised show in the US with a carpenter who should know better.

  4. Being aware of good safety is very important, Paul, you might want to look into how you use masks. In this video (get to 6m 43 if the link does not work). Current guidance can be found here and the point in question is described as follows
    “A note on facial hair
    Many masks rely on a good seal against the face so that, when you breathe air in, it is drawn into the filter material where the air is cleaned. If there are any gaps around the edges of the mask, ‘dirty’ air will pass through these gaps and into your lungs. It is therefore very important that you put your mask on correctly and check for a good fit every time.

    Facial hair – stubble and beards – make it impossible to get a good seal of the mask to the face.

    If you are clean-shaven when wearing tight-fitting masks (ie those which rely on a good seal to the face), this will help prevent leakage of contaminated air around the edges of the mask and into your lungs. You will therefore be breathing in clean air, which will help you stay healthy.

    If there are good reasons for having a beard (eg for religious reasons), alternative forms of RPE, that do not rely on a tight fit to the face, are available.”

    Have you ever used any of the powered respirators? Very effective for those with facial hair

    With people in the woodworking trades are four times more likely to suffer respiratory issues it really does pay to protect yourself.

  5. Andy in Germany


    The point with the circle saw needing a cover is absolutely right.

    What intrigues me is that we never wear eye protection here, or have dust masks most of the time. They are not required by the local Health and Safety laws, but the machines must all have very powerful vacuums working on them, in fact the cover over the circle saw has to have a vacuum running when the saw is working. I’ve seen these systems hoover up fairly large pieces of wood and a carelessly placed hand brush.

    We are also instructed not to stand in line with the saw blade where the wood could fly backwards, and if using metal or turning wood eye glasses are mandatory, but that’s the only time I’ve ever used them.

    1. I’m afraid many are missing the point of the article I put forward here. It’s not to compare one country to another or one safety system with another. The facts are, Andy and others, regardless of state protocols in different states and countries, that we can argue any position in front of the saw, to the left, dead centre or to the right are all relatively safe or more unsafe because this will indeed depend on specific action by the user.The user applies pressures at different points and this affects the safe use of the saw, planer, bandsaw or whatever. The point of the article is to say that the magazines, the authors, the editors and the advertisers have faces in the pictures unnecessarily as the faces do nothing with regards to functionality f the machines used. It seems they might well give the wrong impression by doing this and promote woodworking as more safe than it is, even when you have taken precautions those portrayed have not taken. It is wrong to give the process a ‘clean‘ image when danger is evident. There are many flawed functions that we could additionally raise I know and perhaps that something for down the line.
      Plus, please remember that we are not really trying to protect those who accessed the machine woodworking industry through the proper channels as professional machinists benefitted by courses on machining but more the novice loners striving late in the evening in their basement garage after they’ve done a day’s work. Many of these do not have new, top-end machines, but 50 year old models with missing parts. I am concerned that the images portrayed are indeed even disingenuously hiding what should be at the very forefront in large red letters. WOODWORKING WITHOUT THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT IS ALWAYS FILLED WITH THE POTENTIAL FOR DANGEROUS THINGS TO HAPPEN!
      I personally might consider that if someone is using a bandsaw for two minutes every two weeks the dust will have almost zero impact on their health (discounting highly toxic woods of course). The effect on them will be less than walking to work in the morning in London for ten minutes! But a ten minute cut every so often throughout the day changes the impact level altogether.

      1. Andy in Germany

        Fair comment Paul. Your points are all entirely valid and I wouldn’t want to contradict them..

        I don’t read any woodworking magazines and was intrigued at those differences in method and approaches to safety, which I agree is an aside to the main point you were making.

        The worst image I saw was a ‘carpenter’ standing directly behind the blade, holding a piece of wood on each side of the blade and pushing the wood over the blade. Anything going wrong would have sent the wood right into their body. The worst thing about this was that the image appeared in a book produced by the trade guilds to promote safe working practices…

        1. I always appreciate what you bring to the discussion table, Andy, so thank you.

  6. Andy in Germany

    Just looked at the picture of ‘Chris’ on the saw, and I can see two major differences.

    Firstly, there is a round grey piece of plastic on the saw cover. In Germany that would be a vacuum connection in Germany acting directly on the wood as it is cut. Often there’s a second one hoovering through the gap the blade comes through, so in that situation you’d hardly see any dust.

    Secondly we are told specifically not to stand how Chris is standing, but further to the (his) left and reach over the danger zone area behind the saw blade.

    These two methods are considered sufficient here to avoid injuries. That’s not to say that is correct, but it explains why I never saw anyone wearing eye protection with a circle saw.

    On the other hand, Chris is shown wearing a wristwatch and armbands, both of which are very strictly forbidden here on the basis they can catch in something spinning and pull your arm into the path of the cutting surface. If I wore those in my machine operators license exam I’d have been told to clear off and come back next year.

  7. Peter Compton

    I’m no angel, and you could tut at a few of the things I do, but PPE is everywhere around my shed and it gets used. Dust collection is also very evident around the work areas One thing that did make me cringe was image 2 with the router. Using it in this way, work piece height and body position, is a disaster in the making.

  8. And you don’t even need power tools. I’ve managed to get wood chips to fly up and hit my glasses using a chisel and mallet. I haven’t done anything at my workbench without eye protection since. My vision is already bad enough without adding injury to the mix.

    1. Ditto Conrad’s comment re care when using even the simplest non-power tools. A friend lost his grip on a stretched bungee cord. The loose end recoiled into his face causing the loss of an eye. Safety glasses could have prevented the accident.

  9. Spot on no one should promote unsafe work methods. In the end the risks are very real and effect someone else’s life the injury from such things can last a lifetime or take someone’s life. Your safety or someone else’s safety is not worth the risk. As a magazine and the industry of taking such photos there is no amount of money worth someone’s life or permanent injury in promoting such bad habits there should be a change for the better not something that should be a argument or acceptable to promote unsafe work at the cost of another humans life!!!

  10. A lot of times readers of these magazines will write in to the magazine to point out the safety issues. The usual response is guards are removed for picture clarity.
    I lost some digit parts on my right hand on the table saw many years ago. Let’s just say I have developed some “sensitivity” to dangerous setups. ( it took me a year to muster up the courage and run my machinery again) If it doesn’t feel right to me I stop and think of another way. Every time I have done this I found a safer alternative. You shouldnt be in a hurry and you shouldn’t be tired. I find that I don’t realize how tired I am until I stop for the night. I plan my glue ups or finishing for later in the day for that reason.

    1. In all of these cases shown none of it was for clarity though. I hasten to add this because, as ~I said, novice woodworkers might not know this.

    2. I am in the same boat. I was tired and didn’t listen to that voice that said “maybe you should do this differently”. I proceeded and lost the last digit on the middle finger of my left hand and almost lost my last digit on the left ring finger.

      The sad part was I was making a strop out of plywood and instead of using a band saw or hand saw I wanted it “perfect”. The costs for the surgery, doctor’s visits, meds, etc… cost as much as a Saw Stop does.

      I was using the band saw a few days after the surgery, to make my strop, but I have not used the table saw since.

  11. Paul,
    For a long time I read these mags, And have seen quite often something like” guards removed for sake of clarity”.Beginners should be well and truly warned !! But I often remove guards to get a work piece through, or remove the riving knife on a circular saw for a plunge cut. Often the dust removal device is in the way ! Another thing is that most dust removal devices are intolerably noisy. I suppose my point is that you do what you have to do, but be aware of the risks you are taking. When I was a kid there was a sawmill about 150 yds away and I was always impressed by the number of digits,limbs etc these old boys lived without. I think it’s always stuck in my mind that woodworking machines can be dangerous.
    The one thing I have seen that I didn’t like the look of that I saw in a magazine was forming a cove by running a board diagonally across a table saw blade, obviously against a fence, but still ! that guy must think its safe though. I watched a guy standing on the front lip of his vertical spindle moulder/ shaper, so as to be able to feed long spiral staircase handrail sections through, he said thats what he’d always done !!

    1. Kevin Schneider

      The Woodsmith Shop had a tutorial on making a cove cut that way (with a jig and fence).

  12. allan solomon

    Being a Group Health and Safety Officer for a major Pharmaceutical Company in a former life and a time served Carpenter and Joiner I can comment with two hats on.

    Firstly here in the UK it is frightening that a newcomer can go out and buy a new (or indeed second hand) table saw, bandsaw, spindle moulder, router etc etc with absolutely no experience how to use them.

    Oh the printed articles and discussions on this subject I have had with Nick Gibbs editor of Good Woodworking and British Woodworking. The further West you go the worse it gets. It is almost if you have to defend safety sometimes and it is seen as bravado from some quarters. “I never wear a face shield and I have never had an accident”. “You cant see the blade with the guard on so I took if off”. ” PPE is too clumsy so I don’t bother”. These are statements made to me over the years … unbelieveable.

    I know qualified and experienced people who have lost fingers on woodworking machinery so accidents are not just limited to the novice. To me there is a phrase called “standard practice”. Magazines and even Joe Bloggs showing his latest method of cutting corners on You Tube should have a duty of care.

    The defence for publishing glaring H and S ommissions is generally as you say a disclaimer stating guards have been removed for clarity. It is also usally inferred the operator must use common sense. After 30 years in the industry I have discovered sense is rarely common.

    Unfortunately I have ceased buying Woodworking magazines although they have some very good features and contributions from respected makers most are a hive of unsafe practices and to me it seems the editors are condoning it. Ignorance is not a defence in court.

  13. Phill N LeBlanc

    I enjoyed snorkeling here in Florida so much, I took a course and became certified for scuba diving. Once I understood the dangers involved in scuba diving and the hassles involved in doing it safely, I went back to my mask and fins, and holding my breath, and have enjoyed the shallows safely ever since. All human activity is inherently dangerous at some level, but having to “gear up” to dive (or work wood) is not my idea of a good time.

  14. Has anyone ever mentioned that the “Cookies” notice is in the way of viewing the entire screen? I think it would be a good idea if the reader could delete it after having read it. Right now a person has to scroll-up to read the entire paragraph and this is a nuisance.

  15. Safety is common sense, if you don’t have that then you should not be using the “tools” most of these mags, wood working shows state somewhere that safety gaurds have been removed for filming or taking pictures, so it enables you to see more clearly what’s going on, as for PPE, you may ask yourself do I need to wear safety gloves for using chisels……? Where does it all end.

    1. Not all dangers are evident. Boards closing onto the back of a circular saw blade for instance is not obvious until it’s too late and smacked you in the face or left you in a spot where you have no hands free to switch off in order to stop kick back. In the early years of my apprenticeship the workshop was commonly filled like smog from the Makore and Keruing being milled on planers, shapers and tenoners and tablesaws and you couldn’t see more than three feet away throughout the day. That wouldn’t happen today. Of course there were no dust masks, dust extractors and no safety sheets appended to walls. `there was no redress. `we used to mill asbestos panels to size on tablesaws too.
      ALso, I looked in a couple of magazines after your comment and there were no danger warnings anywhere to say that machine or hand woodworking is inherently dangerous or giving any warning whatsoever about the dangers surrounding any aspect of woodworking. I suspect their lawyers advised removing the warnings they once took responsibility for including.

  16. Very timely post, Mr. Sellers. There is a current video posted on of a “professional” cabinetmaker showing some “new” technique to rip thin molding profiles on the table saw. Besides the fact that the technique isn’t new at all, Mr. Professional Cabinetmaker isn’t using a riving knife, which prompted comments from readers, myself included. (I also commented on the gappy miter joints that Mr. Professional Cabinetmaker was producing, which evidently didn’t sit well with FWW which promptly deleted my message). The winner for most ridiculous comment goes like this …. “Many people are mentioning using a guard and riving knife in the woodworking communities, well unfortunately those options didn’t always exist on older machinery. As I always say learn to safely use the machine by taking a class. Ben doesn’t need a riving knife or a guard since his hand are in a safe position. This technique isn’t for beginners.” Reading this comment reminded me of the early days of mandatory seatbelts, when the deniers claimed that in an accident they would just hang on to the steering wheel to prevent the impact – nevermind the several hundred pounds of dynamic force that arises in a matter of 7 milliseconds during a crash, which not even Arnold would be able to deal with. Back to the video, Mr. Professional Cabinetmaker’s Biesemeyer fence was prominently displayed during the proceedings, which I am sure was no “accident”. That being said, if I was Biesemeyer why would I want to be associated with this lousy video exactly? For this video and many other reasons, I am considering discontinuing my FWW subscription, and I won’t be buying a Biesemeyer fence any time soon either: I waved good riddance to my table saw two years ago, and I don’t miss a single second of it.

    1. I’m betting NYW does not know where those guards even are. I’ve even seen This Old House doing free-hand cross cutting on a table saw. Send shivers down my spine.

      “And remember this: there is no more important safety rule than to wear these — safety glasses.”

      I used to get upset with Norm because of the same trite speech every time. Tell me something about what you are doing at the time and how to keep it safe.

  17. Peter Sinnott

    Dear Paul, Thank you for writing this blog post. Three weeks ago I severely injured my left eye while sanding on a wood lathe. I have turned thousands of piece over many years. At the time I was wearing a dust mask, was using dust collection, hearing protection and glasses but no face shield. The piece cracked broke in half and hit me in the face. I own face shields and did not use one.

    I belong to two wood turning groups and wrote to booth of them. Not to blame but to reaffirm the importance of face shields. Attending many professional demonstrations I often watched demonstrators not use face shields. One group did not respond at all and the other pointed me to the safety info on their website. I just think that in a craft community we constantly need to look out for our craft and each other. I simply do not want this to happen to anyone else.

  18. Paul, in 2000 I decided to acquire power woodworking equipment and become a woodworker of sorts. I went to the wood shows each year in Portland, Oregon and each visit I purchased one new piece of power equipment and Bessey clamps! I did not know how to cut, saw, or drill very well. I wanted to do it for fun, oh and I was retiring and needed a hobby besides golf :-))).

    When I had the shop built to my specifications I moved my 6 inch Powermatic jointer, SawStop cabinet saw, 16 inch Powermatic planner, Makita 10 inch chop saw, drill press and Laguna 18 inch bandsaw into a new shop.

    I recognized I needed a lot of help to keep my fingers attached. Back then both Popular Woodworking and FWW had extensive articles on safety procedures and they were authored by March Adams. One of his series on 6 or 7 pieces of equipment were published over a period of time in several issues of these magazine. I read them religiously, followed Marc’s advice and have never had a problem using these pieces of equipment. He is an excellent teacher! Today I see the benefits of blending hand tool/power tool use in my shop.

    At 78 I realize I will never achieve the level of excellence you have achieved Paul but I am satisfied where I am with the woodworking that I enjoy doing. Thanks for all you do to inspire new generations of woodworkers.

  19. Robert Fielder

    Even if there is a disclaimer that “safety equipment remove for filming” (or similar words), you still have someone using equipment in an unsafe manner. Rationalizing it in any way is just making excuses to be stupid.

    People learn more from examples than from words. When the illustrated work techniques contradict the words about safety equipment, the examples will have a far greater impact.

    The magazines want to be teaching resources. As such, they need to set the examples of what is acceptable. It is a sad comment on society that being unsafe is socially acceptable.

    IMHO, the only time it is acceptable to show images such as reproduced by Mr. Sellers is when the equipment is turned off. Even then, what is the point of not having PPE?

    Many thanks to Paul for taking a stand!

  20. When i was a boy of 10 I began helping my father in his shop rip what was to become thousands of feet of lumber on his mills. He did the setup and and ran the saw while i was his “catcher” helping keep the wood level and removing it from the table and stacking it. We did this for hours and sometimes days straight. He wore prescription glasses and nothing else. It was the way carpenters worked then that had come up in the trade here in the states. Knots could be deadly as they exploded past your head and or the saw bucked and sent a dagger flying at either of us. I was never hit hard to bleed but my father was twice, once a six inch splinter went through his finger completely piercing through his nail too, I watched the doctor fix him too, he wanted the lesson to be clear, But the lack of a dust mask and constant wood dust lead to serious breathing problems and he became deathly allergic to wood dust in his early 60’s. Your absolutely right, we need to be thinking beyond a turning blade. Wear a dust mask, real eye protection not just your glasses, and keep the air circulating around you.

  21. Charles Montgomery

    I feel like sometimes it is useful to see what happens during a cut with the safety equipment removed (does the table saw blade cut to the line, just short of the line, etc.), but that it is quite possible to make such demonstrations on an as-needed basis. For example, the first cut in a batch could be shown without the safety equipment, then there could be a montage of the rest of the batch being cut with the equipment on. But honestly, most times the photo/video of the dangerous operation is there just to tell the story of “and here’s where I ripped all that stock to width,” instead of showing how to perform a complicated task. In those situations it seems downright silly to sacrifice safety for what’s merely an allegedly prettier visual.

    Also, there’s a teaching moment that’s missed here and I don’t mean teaching about the necessity of safety equipment, but of how to make cuts while keeping the safety equipment on. I’m sure plenty of woodworkers would love to learn about how pros deal with times when the safety equipment might get in the way of a cut. Do they have workarounds that allow them to perform the cut without resorting to just removing the safety equipment? Seems like removal of the safety equipment should be a last resort.

    1. I can only speak on a personal level here. Obviously there are levels of safety. With regards to dust issues, some people are highly allergic to some woods and some woods, if you have an allergic reaction, can stop you from breathing immediately. Some people develop an allergy from prolonged periods of exposure to a wood type, usually but not always many years. It may not be the dust you develop an allergy to but the wood chemistry itself. I have two woods that I became allergic to though I didn’t breath the dust because I didn’t create dust working with them.
      Mostly self protection and the protection of others around you is a matter of common sense. I often see the user of a mechanical sander protected whilst those around wear nothing. Silly thing. In the day to day of life, if you make one or two short cross- or rip-cuts in day and you do not have dust protection cutting a non-exotic hardwood it is unlikely to cause you any more harm than crossing the road behind a VW or now a Mercedes. Many things influence the level of exposure; good ventilation and cross-draughting and using exhaust fans works very well. The length and level of exposure, that is volume, when short as said, will not have any long term effect. If you are a full time woodworker working with wood day in day out, week in week out, year in year out, and employ the use of machines for a larger percentage of the day, you will need the fullest levels of protection. The same does not apply to eye protection because accidents are always waiting to happen when you use machines especially. Splinters and chips fly off minute by minute and no one can tell the direction of thrust. Hearing protection too may be a little more forgiving but in my view it is always essential to wear protection when using certain machines. Ultimately we must adapt. I am guilty of wearing the wrong mask or forgetting to put ear plugs in but as a rule I do strive for safety in my own space even though I may not be out in public. I also use machines for less than five minutes per month too. Not much exposure danger for me. But even in the last few years I have changed my habits, not because I need more protection, because, as I said, I rarely ever use machines, but because of the example I want to give.
      To give an example of how things have changed though, as a boy we ripped asbestos sheets for insulated panels on tablesaws with absolutely no protection and no extraction anywhere. We ripped exotic hardwoods till the shop was three feet visibility in front of us for days on end and coughed and sneezed black mucous and again no dust masks let alone extraction.
      Please, use common sense. It is no trouble to put on a dust mask even if they are uncomfortable.
      Oh, and before anyone writes in, I have had thorough medicals specifically for detection of lung and passage ills and have been given a good bill of health to date.

  22. A few comments:

    1. You didn’t mention articles and advertisements showing *wrong* safety. This is common with gloves. Many photos show gloves being used with rotating machinery in situations where the gloves themselves are a danger. Someone mentioned watches, loose clothing, etc., above, and those are other examples.

    2. Wood mags will run redundant articles regularly, e.g., yet another article on sharpening, but how many mags have a regular section on shop safety? Where I work (a large organization, spread over many installations), accidents reports are posted to serve as “lessons learned,” and “don’t do what I did.” If wood mags were serious about safety, they’d have accident reports from readers and maybe even become involved in collecting accident data that could be useful for improving machines and procedures. Of course, they don’t do this, which is to say they do not exist to serve the critical needs of woodworkers, but exist to pander to their imaginations and fantasies.

    3. Ignorance is as dangerous as inattentiveness. A half-face respirator can be the best $35 you ever spent, but they do not provide safety. Shops can become so filled with invisible fines that it becomes impossible to be in the space without a mask, even when the air looks clear. My point is that ignorance is itself a danger and showing photos of even correct behavior can lead to misconceptions that lead to dangerous behavior, in this case, thinking that you only need the mask during the machine operation. Maybe true, maybe not.

    4. Ignorance is as dangerous as inattentiveness: How many photos have you seen of a table saw sled for which it is possible to grasp the sled with your thumb over the blade path? That’s probably how most sleds are built. A proper sled should be impossible to grasp in a way that can lead to thumb amputation. So many people have done this. This is another example of why sharing accidents is important. No amount of fixing up photographs in the mags will fix this. They must help people learn that they must be proactive. For example, you can search the accident database at OSHA ( ) to learn about accidents you would never think of, but many of which you can easily imagine happening to you.

    Sorry this is so long. You’ve hit an important topic.

    1. Kevin Schneider

      Speaking of exactly that (re: jewelry), I am concerned about the wristbands and watch on the photo Paul posted of “proper” safety. I always remove all jewelry, and have heard nightmare stories of people losing fingers or other appendages not because their hand hit the sharp end of a piece of machinery, but because something else was caught.

    2. Darren Wheatley

      I had been turning a bowl on my lathe late in to the evening.

      Afterwards I went around the shop and hoovered up all the clippings and dust. It was spotless. ?

      When I left I happened to turn a torch on and shine it back into the (my shop is in the garden, with no light). The dust in the air was awful.

      I’ve got an air filtration system now, and keep it running all the time the lathe is on, and for 4 hours after I stop.

      1. It sounds like you made good progress, but look up information about detecting dust. If I recall correctly, a bright light will only show you particles over 10 microns, but smaller particles are present in wood dust and are a risk. So, the air can be completely clear to the eye, even with a bright light, and still require a mask. I don’t claim to be an expert, but you may want to investigate some more. Investigate whether your filter goes down to 5 or 2.5 micron particles.

  23. Darren Wheatley

    When I was a child in school (13 or so), we had a craft class and I was using a sewing machine.

    When running at full speed the needle snapped and hit my eyelid.

    The shock and fear of that incident has never left me. I always wear safety glasses in the workshop, even when just using a chisel. It’s what I do as step 2 when I get in there, right after turning the lights on.

    I use a full face shield on the lathe and table saw.

    My “scare” was relatively simple, I don’t want or need another one to learn how dangerous these machines can be.


  24. Being a novice (and not even owning a table saw), I can clearly follow Pauls line of argument. And yes, the use of PPE when using powertools is for me an absolute ‘nobrainer’.
    But, here am I with a perhaps a little off topic question from a newbie to the community (especially in Germany). In images 1 and 2 the man uses a crosscut sled on his table saw, which is used for ‘safer’ cutting of small pieces and the sled iteslf serves as a ‘zero clearance insert’ for less tearout (at least as I understand it).
    But for me it seems almost impossible to put a blade guard on when using a crosscut sled. Is therefore the use of a sled generally ‘unsafe’ or are there designs which circumvent this issue?

    1. I think as a general rule after using all the woodworking machines anyone can name for between three and five decades we should always assume things can and will go wrong at some point and the more you use them the sooner it is likely to happen. Two personal incidents occurred after misuse by others in a multiuser workshop where both previous users damaged blades and failed to report them or have them checked out. A tungsten carbide tip from a large circular saw became embedded in my thumb. The man had hit two hardened tumblers in a security lock when he forgot to take the lock out to increase the depth of a rebate. The other was the tungsten carbide but reject the carbide at full speed and struck all four walls as everyone ducked to the floor. Wood splits when you least expect it, your hand shoots forward and it ends up an inch from the spinning blade. Sleds can be both safer for some tasks and then unsafe too. That’s the point. The user in the case of the blog showed unsafe practices. The sled itself may work fine, but we think we will always be able to hold the wood or dodge the wood being thrust back by a 2HP motor into our faces. You would be surprised how many people actually think holding there body or head to one side or the other of the blade takes us out of the direct line of fire without realising that wood is often spun in an arc to the left or right, up or down.
      Of course in your home shop, working alone, you are not compelled to conform to laws or even work safely because you can do as you want. That does not make it safe or good practice, just freedom of choice. It’s when it becomes instructional publicly on the scale that it does in magazines like the one shown that it becomes problematic.

    2. My crosscut sled has a polycarbonate (Lexan) shield that runs from front to back and fits in slots down both fences. The wood is surrounded on the top and both sides of the cut. It helps hold down small pieces because it puts downward force on both sides. It keeps the sawdust from blowing up in my face and my fingers away from the cut.

      So yes, it is possible.

      If I recall, I used the general plan from Kelly Mehler’s table saw book.

  25. My most dangerous moment was cutting down some large elm trees . The two older (50 yrs old ) brothers from the house argued about who would use the chain saw .I was standing close by with a thick steel pole held vertically (used for leverage). The saw was running and they began to pull at each other .The saw swung towards my leg and the chain hit the steel pole. I kept further away from them after that . Eyes ,ears , fingers and thumbs , lungs and legs too .

  26. My issue with Image 4 – even if he is a professional is the height at which he is working on a very small piece (compared to the size of the tool). Very hard to have any sort of downward pressure to help control the tool if it runs away, kicks or slips or any other unintentioned consequence.

    Even if you say well that wont happen to me, why would you position your face virtually at the same height as any waste being thrown

  27. Hi Paul
    You raise very valid points, just one omission, As a photographer when I take commercial photographs of people using any machinery I always insist that all safety equipment is used other wise my images could be used by the relevant authorities as evidence to prosecute the company concerned. This has happened in the past to another photographer and the company fined several thousand pounds for breaches of health and safety.

  28. Paul,
    Found your blog a few weeks ago and love the commentary and the techniques you teach. Every year I have a few 9 year-old Cub Scouts over to do a simple carving project. I start with the shop rules which are very simple: 1) don’t be stupid, and 2) know where your fingers are. These boys understand the concept when I hold up my hands and show them ten 62 year old fingers and explain that I still have all of them, because I always know where I put them. When a boy acts out or is careless, I tell him he is being stupid, ask where his fingers are, and explain to all what can happen. It works.
    Three weeks ago my granddaughter was “helping” me in the shop. She turned on the table saw, which made both of us jump, but was no problem because I always crank the blade down below the table when I am done. A simple precaution for someone who commits the unpardonable sin of taking off the guard now and then. I know, it’s stupid and I’m hypocritical. I should get a guard that works. Most blade guards come off the table saws, IMO, because the cheap guards supplied with most saws (including some expensive “professional” saws) are ineffective and more dangerous than no guard. And I have yet to see any guard that will prevent anyone from pushing his hand into the path of the blade if he doesn’t know where his fingers are. There is no substitute for vigilance.

    1. Well, there are times to remove guards for certain types of work that would be impossible otherwise. Usually we resort to using another method for protection if we do need to do that though. Not using self protective practices on the other hand is inexcusable. It’s always important to make the machine practice safe or at least safer. The recent issue of Fine Woodworking’s Tools and Shop shows woodworking instructor Ellen Kaspern pushing a board into a tablesaw with no top guard to prevent the board from curling into the back end of the blade as the cut progresses into and through the saw. This is the principle cause of kick back. She might have a riving knife set just below the surface but if she does in my opinion it is set far too low to effectively prevent or reduce the risk of kick back. There is no splitter plate as an alternative. It’s troubling to see that she has no breathing protection by way of a suitable dust mask. The message in the one image says, ‘Look, there’s no danger in using machines. I do it like this all the time and I still have all of my fingers’. As industry leaders we all have a responsibility to project the right image with regards to safe practices.

      1. I agree with you 100%. Magazines, TV shows, and fairground hawkers all should present safety as a virtue, not an inconvenience. (I never did understand that claim on Norm’s show that the blade was removed for photographic reasons. We’ve all seen a blade spin. How does that enhance the show?)
        A few months ago a friend of mine shortened a thumb by 1/2 inch and almost fully severed a finger. As his son drove him to the hospital his wife was digging in the sawdust pile for the thumb. Pretty graphic, when you think about it. It would not be fair to my wife to put her through that. Your article, and that experience, sent me searching for a guard that can be put in place easily and taken off when in the way. I have not found what I would consider the perfect guard, but there is one that comes close and is not too expensive. The only real issue with the existing guard is the 10 minutes it takes to put it in place (including dropping the little hex wrench in the sawdust pile every now and then). Trading 10 minutes for a few fingers is not such a good trade, though.

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