Promoting the Art and Craft of Woodturning
Safety tips for Woodturners, New and Experienced
Alcohol and machinery don’t mix. If you are going to have a drink do it after you are done in the shop. Regardless of how little you have it will impair your judgment and your reflexes making turning very difficult at best if not dangerous.
If you are on any medication that will impair your judgment or reflexes or makes you sleepy, stay out of the shop when you are taking it. If you use illicit drugs, don’t go into the shop when you take them.
This is an absolute must. Safety glasses are required even if no machinery is on. A face shield is highly recommended. It should be used along with safety glasses. The shield not only protects your eyes more but also keeps shavings out of your mouth and nose as well as protecting your face from flying objects.
This is a hazard in any wood or metal shop. The best we can hope for is to control how much escapes into the ambient air. Sanding especially puts a lot of dust in the air but cutting and scraping do so as well. A dust collector is a necessity especially when sanding. At a minimum you should wear a dust mask. Many people wear a half face dust mask that looks much like a gas mask. An Airmate helmet acts as a face shield and dust mask in one, protecting one’s head with the plastic helmet and supplying positive pressure filtered air flow over the face. Dust protection is most important especially if you have chronic respiratory conditions or asthma.
Sufficient lighting is always necessary. Your shop must be well lit and task lighting should be used at all work centers. The task lighting lets you see things that you would not see without it. A good mix is fluorescent overheads and incandescent task lights. If you turn miniatures then a lighted magnifier may be used as well.
Stout footwear is a must. Tools do fall off the lath bed or are dropped by the operator and good footwear will prevent impaling your feet. Stepping on debris on the floor also has the potential of injuring your foot. Good footwear will also prevent excessive tiredness of leg and back muscles.
Never wear loose fitting clothing while working on any shop equipment, especially a lathe. The motion of the equipment and the stock can easily entangle any loose clothing. It is also advantageous to wear clothing that fits snugly about the wrists, neck, and waste. This prevents shavings and chips from getting under your clothing and irritating you. Flannel or chamois is probably not a good choice for a turning shirt as chips and sanding dust tends to cling to it readily.
Long hair must be tied so that it will not fall into the equipment. Your head can quickly be pulled into the work if your hair gets entangled. At best that could cause great pain and worse a fractured skull or broken neck.
Watches, rings, necklaces, bracelets, and earrings should be removed as well. These can easily be caught on the equipment or the stock with painful maiming results.
Use only sound wood. Wood that is badly split or cracked has a great potential for leaving the lathe at an undesirable time. These flying objects are definitely a danger to you and anyone else in the shop. Almost any size and shape of wood can be turned. Your imagination is the only limiting factor. The wood may be green (20% or more moisture content) or kiln dried. For a beginner green wood is easier to turn and better to practice on than “dry” wood. Practice is an essential part of learning.
The reason you should take the time to center a blank is so that it is balanced on the lathe and you obtain the highest yield of material used. It’s also less dangerous to have the blank balanced. It is less likely to fly off the lathe.
Positioning the Tool Rest
After the blank is mounted, move the rest to within about ¼ inch of the stock if possible. Rotate the stock by hand to make sure it clears the rest for one complete revolution. If the blank is longer than the rest you will obviously need to move the rest to finish the work. Switch off the lathe before moving the rest.
Starting the Lathe
Always stand to the side when you start your lathe with a blank on it. This way if for some reason the blank is going to come off you won’t be in the line of fire.
Moving the Tool Rest
Never move the tool rest with the work piece turning. If you do you risk wrecking the piece, bending or breaking the tool rest.
Never reach over the lathe when it is running. If you do you run the risk of catching clothing in the stock, leaning on the stock and dislodging it, causing personal damage. Never touch the rotating stock either on its outside or inside (hollow forms) as this will lead at least to injury.
Turning speeds vary with the size of stock and the type of piece you are making. Divide the maximum diameter in inches of your work into 6000 to find the appropriate rpms, e.g., a 6 inch diameter bowl should be turned at 1000 rpms. Unbalanced work, however, should be turned slower than the formula states. Roughing speeds should be slower than finishing speeds. Never touch the rough spinning piece.
Roughing the Blank
Always start at one end and work toward the other end either in a left to right or right to left process. Avoid start roughing the blank in the middle.
Always move the tool rest out of the way when sanding. Catching a finger between the rotating piece and tool rest is most uncomfortable. With spindle work always sand on the lower quarter of stock nearest you. Use your other hand to support the sanding hand to cut down on arm fatigue. Sanding at slower speeds cuts down heat and consequent checking of the stock.
Only use stones on an electric grinder that were designed for it. Never use a cracked or chipped stone - if it flies apart the results will probably be fatal. Never grind on the side of a stone, it is not made to withstand the pressures and may fracture. Grind only on the face of the stone and use a diamond stone dresser to clean the dirty stone.
Safe, effective use of a wood lathe requires study and knowledge of procedures for using this tool. Read, thoroughly understand, and follow the label warnings on the lathe and in the owner/operator’s manual. Safety guidelines from an experienced instructor, video, or book are a good source of important safety procedures. Please work safely.