Friday, November 14, 2008

Shop Safety II

In my last post I talked about removing safety hazards from under foot. Today I'd like to address two other elements of shop safety: Light and sound.

Adequate lighting is critical to doing good work under any circumstances. Many shops, especially smaller ones have a tendency to skimp on lighting. They'll wire up a couple of banks of florescent tubes and call it fine and dandy. Nope.

Anything (and I mean anything) that leads to unnecessary fatigue is a safety hazard and eyestrain is a major culprit. Always make sure that your work area is well lit and have extra lighting such as adjustable drawing table lights or high intensity reading lamps available. Those extra photons can save you from nasty cuts or (even worse) turning out inferior work. Examine your work area and eliminate the shadows as much as possible.

Now that we've saved our eyesight lets protect our ears. Power tools are, for the most part, loud; especially when they are actively engaged. A good table saw has a nice hum to it until it starts ripping an oak plank and then the decibels climb. If you're working in a small shop, that noise is bouncing off the walls with increased intensity and is mounting a major assault on your ears...the ears you rely on to hear your baby laugh, your spouse whisper sweet nothings, or that evil thing that is sneaking up on you.

I keep ear plugs in my pocket at all times. Before I plug in any tool, I plug my ears. Hearing damage is cumulative. It adds up. Ripping one sheet of plywood without adequate hearing protection will not cause you to go deaf. You will just be one more sheet of plywood deafer. Every time you fire up a power tool or subject your ears to any other type of loud noise you are decreasing your ability to hear and hastening the day when someone you love says: "MAYBE YOU SHOULD THINK ABOUT GETTING A HEARING AID."

Hearing aids are expensive. Ear plugs are cheap. Think about it.

I'll get back to the subject of safety in future posts. That's all for now.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Shop Safety

Every shop should have a first aid kit. Ideally it should never have to be used but this is not an ideal world and where work is being done bandages will be needed, splinters will have to be removed and ointment applied. In all my years in the trades there have been few jobs where I did not spill at least a few drops of blood as sacrifice to the gods of construction.

In large commercial shops (i.e.: those with huge insurance premiums) safety is a high priority issue. Supervisors will keep an eagle eye out for violations. Weekly meetings will be held and anyone who screws up while violating the rules will be in for some serious S.H.I.T. (Special High Intensity Training) at the very least.

But what about the smaller shop and, in particular, the home work shop; is safety less of an issue there. No.

True, you may not have the big equipment that's just waiting to grab you and turn you into chopped pork but there are things you must be aware of to avoid ruining your day or your life.

Let's start at ground level. What's under foot? Are you constantly tripping over extension cords or air hoses? Is that pile of scrap around the miter or table saw causing you grief? How many times have you stepped on the male ends of your power tools and bent the leads?

I think you see where I'm going with this. If at all possible get it out from under foot. Look at your power set up and see if another outlet or two (or six) might make your life easier (and help preserve the plugs of you tools). If your air compressor is a large part of your day consider flying your air hoses over head. Those coiled hoses are a colossal P.I.T.A (Pain In The Aft) on the ground but can be useful coming down from above. And while I've often found it handy to have a few pieces of scrap lying around within reach, that "few pieces" can become clutter and a nuisance in short order.

To sum up, take a good look at your shop. Take note of what generates damage or profanity and take the steps necessary to make your life better...and safer.

That's all for now. I'm not done with this subject.

Monday, October 20, 2008

My Favorite Tool: Part III

In my last post I told you how I used a laminate router with an 1/8 inch flute bit to make nearly factory cuts in plastic laminate (Formica, Wilsonart, etc.) This same router/bit combo has proven invaluable in cutting other materials. I use it to score the veneer on hollow-core doors before cutting. It' the best way I've found for cutting paneling, plexi-glass or any other non-metal material where clean, accurate cuts are required. The main advantage to using this method is that you can make your cuts with your material face-up instead of upside down and backwards as you must with a circular or jig saw.

So that, in a nutshell, is why my laminate router is my favorite tool. Give it try and see if it doesn't bring some extra joy to your woodworking projects.

P. S. When clamping your straight-edge don't rely on spring clamps. They WILL slip. Use C-clamps instead.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

My Favorite Tool: Part II

Having lost time, money and patience with the standard methods of cutting counter top laminate I wracked my brain to come up with a way that I could A: cut the laminate right-side up, B: cut it cleanly without chipping the surface and C: reduce the chances that the laminate would crack at the inside corners when handled. The answer came, as usual, when I was working on a project totally unrelated to laminate.

My wife asked me for something to help organize the bills. She pointed to an ad in a magazine for a rack that was little more than a slotted piece of wood with plexiglass dividers. "Oh hell," said I "I can make one of those."

"I know you can," she said "but will it look like something I want to have on my desk?"

"Oh ye of little faith!" I responded, my cabinetmaker soul cut to the quick.

It's easy to cut slots in wood with a table or bench saw, but if you want clean cuts with no chipping your best bet is a router and a flute bit. A flute bit cuts a straight, clean, up and down slot and comes in sizes ranging from 1/16th inch up to God-knows-what for industrial applications.

To cut a long story short, it was during this project that I realized that what could cut wood cleanly could also cut laminate and I started experimenting. I found that a laminate router with an 1/8th inch flute bit and clamped straight edges would give me factory edge cuts every time. I can cut the laminate face up and, since I began using this method, I have yet to have a piece of laminate crack at an inside corner. And this was only the beginning...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My Favorite Tool: Part I

No, it's not what you think and shame on you. I'm talking power tools here and yes, I do have a favorite. I cannot think of a single woodworking project where this tool has not come in handy...well maybe framing but, in my book framing does not qualify as woodworking.

My favorite power tool is a laminate router.

"What? Is he crazy?" you might ask. The answer is yes, but like a fox.

A laminate router is a small version of your standard router. Its usual role is trimming plastic laminate (Formica, Wilsonart etc.) on kitchen and bathroom counter tops. With the proper bits, however, its value in your shop increases exponentially.

I began my journey of discovery by messing up several counter tops using the methods I was taught in the two cabinet shops where I learned the basics of the trade. The standard method of cutting laminate was to take your measurements, turn your laminate upside down, draw your lines with a one inch fudge factor and make your cut with a circular saw. This method works well if absolutely nothing goes wrong. Heh.

The problem is that Murphy's Law is always in effect, as is human error.

Many kitchen counter tops are "L" shaped and cutting that 90 degree angle with a circular saw gives the laminate an open invitation to crack at the junction of the two cuts every time it is moved. Some old hands will drill a hole at the junction to avoid this problem, but this technique is far less than fool proof. Both the hole and the cuts have to be dead on. There is also the problem of having to make your cuts upside down and backwards and, believe me, I have observed much wailing and gnashing of teeth (not to mention loss of profit) over mistakes made because of this.

So how do you cut a piece of laminate to proper size and shape, reduce the possibility of it cracking at the angle and what the hell does this have to do with the many uses of a laminate router?

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Toys, Tools and Instruments

There is nothing more frustrating than trying to do quality work without the proper tools. As a boy I became convinced that I would never amount to much as a carpenter. I could never saw a straight line. Nails bent when I hammered them and my results were usually second or even third rate.

It was not until later that I realized my problem: I was using my father's tools! Dad had many fine traits but recognizing the importance of having good quality tools was not one of them. If he could pick up a circular saw for 40 bucks he was not about to spend a nickel more to get one that would actually cut straight and forget about a carbide blade if the steel blade was cheaper.

With this as my early experience it was a revelation when I finally got my hands on a high dollar saw with a carbide blade and was able to follow my chalk mark on a piece of plywood. The same held true no matter what type of tool I was using. As the years passed I came to the conclusion that there are toys, tools and instruments. The toys are for those who don't really care; tools are a must for anyone who needs to get the job done right and instruments are for those who delight in the process of creating near perfection.

When I have had the opportunity to work with instruments the work was pure joy. I have always paid the extra dollar for the best tools I could afford. As for toys, you can play with them if you want. I'm going to take a nap.