General Health and Safety Practices
It is highly advisable to use a dust mask when sanding or using any
power tools. Dust from even common domestic woods may be
harmful to your lungs over a long period of exposure. The use of a
filtered dust vacuum system in addition to a mask is even better.
Always wear eye protection when using any power tool that creates
dust, chips or splinters. Dust or a wood chip in the eye will hurt
and may cause damage, and oils in that wood may also be irritating.
Some woods, and particularly exotic (tropical) hardwoods are toxic.
Oils in these woods may cause allergic reactions and/or respiratory
distress. If you are sensitive to these oils, wear gloves
whenever handling them, and because inhaling their dust can be
especially dangerous, always wear a good quality dust mask when
sanding or using power tools on them.
- Spalted woods may also be toxic. Spalting is a mildew or fungal
penetration into the wood which often produces attractive dark, lacey
lines through out the wood. These woods are often beautiful to look at
when turned into bowls and other objects but their fungi spores can be
harmful to your throat, lungs and eyes. Here, again, always wear a
good quality dust mask when sanding or using power tools on spalted
Slivers, especially from oak and western red cedar can rapidly
become infected. Slivers should always be removed immediately and
- Carve only when you are alert. Carving when tired or after consuming
alcohol, drugs and some medications can greatly increase the
probability of an accident.
good rule of thumb is that only the cutting edge moves; the
workpiece remains fixed. So, where possible use a hold down
device to secure your workpiece on a stable bench or surface so that
you are free to work on it without worry of it shifting. Also, by
using a hold-down device, itís easier to keep your hands out of
harms way and safe from the blade or a power carving head.
Re-position the work to avoid carving awkwardly or dangerously and
check clamps and fixings periodically.
Never put anything in front of a blade that you donít want cut.
This includes hands, fingers, legs and fine dining room tables.
Be mindful of your surroundings. Consider whether or not anything
nearby or another person could be injured by your activities.
Wood can be surprisingly heavy, and toes surprisingly small and sensitive.
Carve in footwear strong enough to protect the feet from
falling clamps, tools or wood. Also, when lifting larger blocks of
wood don't arch your back over the block to pick it up, squat down,
hug it close, and use your
leg muscles to do the lifting.
Normal woodworker's bench is usually far too low for
carving over long periods of time. To avoid backache, try to raise
the bench or bench top so that you can stand or sit with your back
It is helpful to lay chisels and gouges on the bench
with their cutting edge facing you so you can easily identify the
size and shape you are looking for. When you do however, make sure
that they are placed well back from where your hands are working and
never with the handles up against a backstop or object which would
stop them from easily rolling away if your hand inadvertently
brushes a sharp edge.
- Keep a
First Aid kit handy whenever wood working. Slivers, nicks and small
cuts are going to happen at some time to us all. Be ready with
at least a band-aid and disinfectant to keep the wound clean and
Use common sense at all times; one cannot foresee every
possible situation, but most are avoidable. It's uncanny how
many people have a "Oh #%^!" moment just BEFORE an accident happens!
A sharp knife or gouge is actually safer to use than a dull one.
This is true because a sharp blade needs less force applied to cut
the wood and therefore is much easier to control. Sharp blades
cut smoothly instead of tearing and are less prone to skip or slide
across the surface of the wood, which could easily result in injury.
They are also less likely to suddenly split or break a chip off the
wood and sending your blade flinging out into thin air, uncontrolled
and still under force. Now that is dangerous!
Wear a carverís glove when holding a carving by hand. Good carving
gloves are designed to be worn on either hand, so right or left
handed, wear the glove on the hand holding the carving. Better gloves
are often made of Kevlar and come with gripping pads or may have a
thin strand of stainless steel wire in the fabric which adds to the
protection. Since these gloves are woven, a knife point or tiny gouge
may poke through the weaving but wider gouges and long blades do not
generally penetrate the material and this will save you from slashes and
cuts. Some carvers simply wear a good-quality leather glove. Any
glove is better than no glove.
When doing a "paring" cut (pulling the sharp knife edge toward your
thumb) a thumb thimble or a few wraps of tape around the thumb may
provide some protection.
Wear a leather, Kevlar, or other heavy-material apron or pad if
carving in your lap.
Hold your tools properly, gripping the handle in a firm but
comfortable position. Resting your thumb or knuckles on the
workpiece will help stabilize the cut and assist in providing good
control. Also, if you can, guide the blade with your opposite
thumb. Your opposite thumb adds to the power and control of the
If you use a folding knife (pocket knife), chose one with a lock or a
firm catch to prevent the blade from closing on your fingers.
If you accidentally drop a tool, let it go. You may want to
jump back to avoid it hitting you, but donít attempt to catch it,
and donít use your foot to catch it either! Just pray that it
lands handle down to avoid damaging the blade and whatever it lands
When using any power tool always read and understand the
manufacturer's manual and safety instructions before using the tool.
Also, have all recommended safety gear in place before you proceed.
- If the tool
creates dust, splinter, and flying chips, etc., wear eye protection
and a good quality dust mask.
If itís loud, wear ear protection.
It' a good idea to always start any variable speed tool at low speed
when the tool is turned on. Never use a die grinder or excessively
high speed ďinstant onĒ tool. If the cutting head were to break
apart or come loose it becomes a dangerous projectile.
dust collection system should be used anytime you are using a tool
that creates dust in an enclosed area.
When power carving, always use a hold down device. It is not
wise to hold your project in one hand and the power tool in the
If chainsaw carving, in addition to eye and ear protection, use a
good quality safety chap such as a double Kevlar fabric. They
may be funny looking but they might just save a nasty gash in your
leg. Also, wear a shoe with heavy leather uppers and steel toe
of this is intended to frighten you, but safety is important and needs
to be taken seriously. Always practice safety in what you do and be
sure to read and follow any manufacturerís instructions. Wood carving
has inherent dangers simply because of the materials and tools used,
but like most other hobbies will reward you with a lifetime of
enjoyable and accident free carving by following simple
guidelines and a little common sense.
sharp, and happy carving!