10 Ways to Avoid Shop Fires
Shop fires seem to be everywhere: We got sad news last week that furniture maker Jon Brooks of New Hampshire lost his eclectic woodshop to fire. Last January we heard a similar refrain when furniture maker Mark Levin lost his woodshop and nine finished pieces in a shop fire. Ellis Walentine, host of Woodcentral.com, experienced a similar loss in 1999. And the list goes on… a quick Google search reveals more recent shop fires: in West Paris, Maine, Pocono township, Penn., Manilla, Ont., and so on.
Needless to say, woodworkers should pay CLOSE attention to fire dangers in the workshop.
To help with this we rounded up a list of ten safety tips–excerpted from former fire inspector Bruce Ryden’s article Fire Safety in the Shop, from issue #174.
- Sweep up sawdust: It may seem like a real chore to sweep up a pile of wood chips or shavings after a long day working in the shop, but by cleaning up, you can remove the most manageable portion of the three elements needed to start a fire.
- Don’t smoke in the shop
- Don’t use torches or welding equipment
- Fix or replace power cords that are frayed, cracked, or otherwise not in great condition
- Secure all electrical connections tightly
- Dispose of oily rags properly to avoid spontaneous combustion (For more, read How to Safely (and not so safely) Dispose of Oil-Soaked Rags.)
- Be cautious of other potential sources of ignition like such as water heaters, furnaces, portable heaters, and electric fans
- Buy a heat detector
- Install a sprinkler system
- Keep at least one well-maintained, easily accessible, portable fire extinguisher in the shop. Keep it near an exit.
Do you have any fire prevention tips? Or shop fire tales that you want to tell? Post a comment below.
Furniture maker Jon Brooks of New Hampshire lost his workshop to a fire in January.
Ellis Walentine, host of Woodcentral.com, lost his entire shop in rural Pennsylvania in May 1999 to a fire; but no one was hurt in the conflagration. He suspected the fire was caused when arcing in a loose connection in the electrical panel ignited some accumulated sawdust. This photo was included on the first page of former fire inspector Bruce Ryden's article Fire Safety in the Shop, from issue #174.
Furniture maker Mark Levin lost his workshop in New Mexico to fire in January 2009.
Rags soaked with flammable finishes can ignite spontaneously, so they must be disposed of properly. With its springloaded, self-closing lid, this red bucket prevents spontaneous combustion. A plastic bucket half-filled with water also will work. (For more, read How to Safely (and not so safely) Dispose of Oil-Soaked Rags.)
A storage cabinet for flammable liquids is meant to keep a fire from getting much worse very quickly. Whether you buy one or build your own, it should have a self-closing door and a lip on the shelves to keep spilled liquids from escaping.
Heat detectors provide an early warning and don’t commonly suffer malfunctions in dusty environments.
If a fire occurs, damage will be minimized if a sprinkler system has been installed.
A fire extinguisher can prevent a small fire from getting worse, but you should always call the fire department first.