Cold Weather Shop Safety

Winter is coming and as the temperatures begin to drop, shop safety begins to rise. There are many effects that the cold has on woodworker's, shop tools and wood.

Most all woodworker's know the importance of wearing proper clothing when operating power tools. No loose clothing that can get caught in a machine ultimately pulling you into a spinning blade or rotating lathe which will most certainly cause death or severe injury.

What we may overlook however, is as the temperatures drop we tend to add on layers of clothes to maintain a warm core temperature. Too many layers, can restrict  your movements, which in itself is dangerous when you have to remain in total control around shop machines. And I have never been an advocate for wearing gloves while operating machinery. The one thing I could suggest, is to have some hand warmers in your pockets that will allow you to keep your hands warm while idle which will keep the blood flowing through the fingers.

We all take measures to keep ourselves safe, dust masks, eye protection, hearing protection are tools we use every time we are in the shop and if you don't, you should. As wood expands and contracts with weather changes, our body goes through changes as well. Shivering to create friction to warm the body, sweating to cool down an overheated body. There are many things that happen as a result of the environment around us.

As the weather gets colder, our body's blood supply thickens. This is because your body has to work harder to maintain the temperature at normal, 98.6 Fahrenheit. This extra work requires extra oxygen so your body produces more red blood cells to carry the oxygen. Not only does this increase risks of heart attack due to limiting the blood supply to the heart, it also has effects throughout the body. We, as woodworker's, work with our hands and depend on the sense of touch. Having numb or cold hands can lower the ability to maintain total control over a work piece as we push it through a rotating saw blade. Losing your grip or hand position is not something you want to do as you are trying to maneuver around power tools.

Most hobbyist woodworker's are working in garage shops or small outbuildings that may not be adequately insulated to maintain comfortable temperatures. My shop is 16 feet wide x 14 feet deep with a ceiling which at the highest point is 10 feet and the lowest point 8 foot high. Built over 60 years ago, needless to say, there are some areas where warm air can escape and cold air can enter. My great uncle was a woodworker and this was his shop before it was mine. Over the recent years I have upgraded the insulation in the walls, and have done a few upgrades, but essentially the shop is still in original form.  I have recently acquired another building the same size as my current shop, which will ultimately be added on to the existing building essentially doubling my workspace as well as doubles the space i have to heat.

There are many options for warming your shop. Wood stoves, radiant convection or forced - air heaters are all options. but with each of these there are some drawbacks. An example being forced air heaters. While they use a fan to force the air through the shop this will help heat up the shop pretty quickly, but the downside is they suck in and stir up saw dust.  which is not what you want when you are trying to put a flawless finish on a project you worked so hard to create. Not to mention, saw dust and heating elements don't mix and can cause a fire.

This is where having a good dust collection system or keeping the saw dust at bay is very important.  So regardless of your heating preference, always maintain a conscious level of safety to ensure no problems arise.

So as the winter months arrive, make sure you have your winterizing plans in order.  This will ensure a safe environment which in my opinion is a happy environment.


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