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HOME IMPROVEMENT : Better to Be Safe Than Sorry in the Workshop

February 29, 1992

A workshop is filled with tools and materials that are sharp, heavy, loud, powerful, hot and flammable. Proper safety precautions are essential. Here are some important safety tips from Reader's Digest Books:

* Minimize clutter. Because of the danger inherent in all tools, observe the rule "A place for everything, and everything in its place." Arrange your tools so they are out of the way but easy to reach.

Pegboard offers handy, easily rearranged storage, but a hanging cabinet with locking doors better protects tools, prevents their unauthorized use and keeps them out of the hands of children.

* Provide storage space for every item near its point of use. Develop the habit of putting tools out of the way when they are not needed for a while, and store them when they are no longer needed at all.

* Read the instruction manual for each tool. Its proper use could make the difference between a satisfying hobby and the loss of a limb or eye.

* Mentally rehearse a job before starting: anticipate problems and take precautions. Assemble and prepare all the necessary tools and materials. Use clamps as much as possible so that both hands are free. Provide adequate support for large projects.

* All tools are safer and more effective when well maintained. Keep blades sharp. Keep moving parts clean and, if called for in the instruction manual, properly lubricated.

* Use power tools with constant caution. Be sure cords and outlets are properly grounded and outlets have ground-fault interrupters (GFIs). Test tools before using them. Avoid accidental starting.

* Never use power tools in damp conditions.

* Never leave power tools running unattended. Keep them unplugged when not in use. Unplug them before making adjustments or changing blades or bits.

* Keep power cords well away from cutting edges.

* Dress appropriately, no loose clothing or jewelry.

* Roll sleeves above elbows. Tie long hair securely.

* Protective goggles, earplugs, masks and respirators belong in a toolbox as much as pliers do. Safety glasses guard eyes against flying particles and liquids. Wear them while sawing, drilling, sanding, wire brushing, planing or spray-painting (they won't fog up if they have ventilation holes).

Inexpensive disposable masks fitted with a metal nosepiece give relief from odors, dust and mist. Those labeled "sanding respirator" provide more protection than ones called "latex paint mask."

Earplugs that reduce--but don't eliminate--sound are useful with many jobs involving noisy power tools.

* Keep children, visitors and pets out of the work area. All too many tragedies occur when this rule is ignored.

* When working with table saws and similar equipment, use push sticks and hold-downs--not your hands--to guide materials past blades and other moving parts. You can cut push-sticks from solid wood or 1/4-inch plywood. Push sticks and hold-downs--individually or in combination--are also available in lumber stores.

* Lighting is vital.

For general light, overhead fluorescent tubes are inexpensive and provide steady, even illumination. Install a fixture with four tubes to avoid eye strain. For task lighting, droplights or shaded clip-on work lights are portable and eliminate shadows.

* Have enough space around you when working so you can maneuver the work freely and so nearby objects won't obstruct or fall on the tools. Plug each tool into an appropriate circuit.

* Provide dust control for all power tools. Remember that sawdust and hot filings from a power grinder are serious fire hazards. Chemical fumes are also dangerous.

Another caution: Extinguish gas pilot lights before using flammable substances indoors. Do not smoke. The fumes, as well as the liquid, can ignite.

Also, be sure your workshop is properly cleaned and ventilated. You can use a wet-dry shop vacuum to collect dust and cooled filings. Open doors and windows and use a fan to vent dangerous fumes. Store flammable substances in a fire-resistant area where they will stay cool and dry, and out of the reach of children.

* Don't work if you're tired, upset or taking a medication that may make you drowsy.

* Keep a fire extinguisher and a first-aid kit within reach and in plain sight. Tell someone when you are working, and never work where you cannot be heard if you call for help.

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