Woodworking shops offer plenty of ways to get hurt, from airborne dust and chemicals that can lead to chronic health problems to flying chunks of wood or metal that can damage eyes. No matter how careful, woodworkers can’t eliminate risk completely, but buying basic safety equipment is an obvious, and largely inexpensive, way of avoiding the worst.

What Counts:
• Protection rated for a specific exposure
• Effectiveness of equipment

Protect your eyes
In shops full of machinery turning at very high speeds, eye hazards should be obvious. Most safety glasses are made with polycarbonate lenses and tough frames that can withstand a direct impact from a shard of wood or metal (regular prescription glasses won’t do the same). Look for eye wear that meets current ANSI standards. For those who need prescription lenses, safety glasses designed to fit over regular eyewear or custom safety glasses are both options. Stick-on magnifiers can help those who need reading glasses but don’t want to pay for custom safety lenses. Goggles are more effective than glasses when working around liquid hazards. Face shields in conjunction with safety glasses offer the best protection for facial protection -- when working on a lathe, for instance.

Protect your lungs
Airborne hazards range from the fine dust produced by sanders to the volatile organic compounds found in solvents. Ordinary dust masks protect against particulates, not vapor contamination. Dust masks with double elastic bands make a better seal against the face, and those with exhalation valves make it a little easier to breathe.

When it comes to using finishes such as lacquer, especially when the finishes are atomized, a respirator with the properly rated cartridges should be used (cartridges rated for vapor, organic gas and lacquer may not be suitable for ammonia or furniture strippers, for instance). There are two types: negative-pressure and positive-pressure systems. Negative-pressure full- and half-face masks use flexible face pieces that conform to the face and allows only clean air in. Beards make a good fit difficult. Positive-pressure systems, which pump clean air into a hood or mask, are more expensive but also much more effective.

Protect your skin
Some chemicals can be absorbed directly through the skin, so safety gloves are a good idea when working around solvents, finishes and some types of glue -- at the very least, they will keep your hands clean. Vinyl and latex gloves are thin and flexible but may not be suitable for handling all materials. Nitrile and neoprene gloves offer better protection against solvents.

A good source of information about the hazards of solvents, glues, and other chemicals are the government required material safety data sheets (called “MSDS”) made available by the manufacturer. If not included with the products you buy, they can be obtained through the manufacturer and in some cases appear on a company’s Web site.

Protect your hearing
Hearing protection includes soft foam plugs, earmuffs, and active sound-reduction equipment. Gear should be marked with a noise reduction rating (or “NRR”) that shows the decrease in decibels of sound reaching the ear when the device is being used properly. Foam plugs are the least expensive and can be more effective than earmuffs as long as they are inserted correctly. Earmuffs are easier to use, especially for people who put on and take off ear protection many times during the day. Active noise-reduction systems, the most expensive type, create out-of-phase sound waves to cancel noise from equipment.

Safeguard your tools
In addition to these products, many manufacturers turn out aftermarket accessories for power tools that are designed to make the shop safer. That includes everything from tablesaw push sticks to featherboards for a router table. But the most important piece of equipment is one you don’t have to buy -- your brain. Thinking before acting can prevent most injuries.