Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Danger of Fumes: Woodworker's Safety Week

Marc Spagnuolo over at The Wood Whisperer came up with the great idea of declaring the first full week of May Woodworker’s Safety Week (thanks, Marc!), and Furnitude is happy to participate. You can visit www.thewoodwhisperer.com to see more posts on safety from a number of woodworking blogs and sites.

As we all know, there are an infinite number of ways to injure yourself in a workshop. However, if you follow proper techniques for using machines, maintain the machines and remain mindful while you work, you can keep yourself safe. While cuts and kickback injuries can be serious and even career-ending, they usually aren’t fatal. Exposure to fumes is a whole different level of dangerous, but it’s easy to get complacent because the damage is cumulative and happens over a span of years or decades.

So here’s a word of advice for craftspeople using solvents without a safety infrastructure (spray booth, fans and filters, etc.) built into your shop. A woodworker once told me a simple guideline to follow (pardon the caps): IF YOU CAN SMELL IT, IT’S IN YOUR LUNGS; IF YOU TOUCH IT, IT’S IN YOUR BLOOD.

A good way to deal with solvent fumes (aside from not using dangerous fumes at all, which some woodworkers have started doing) is to use an adequate respirator. Not a dust mask, not even one of the dust-rated respirators you can buy at Home Depot or Lowes. The kind of respirator you need is one rated for organic vapors, which you can get at paint stores like Sherwin Williams. I was skeptical until I bought one. But when you put that baby on, you can’t even smell the slightest trace of fumes. This isn’t the only precaution to take, but it’s a critical one. It also makes finishing a bit more pleasant. Another precaution is using gloves rated for whatever substance you’re using.

If you’re outside with good ventilation, do you need to follow this rule? Go back to the guideline: if you can smell it, it’s in your lungs; if you touch it, it’s in your blood.

A word to the wise is always sufficient. So, word up. Also, stay in school. Furnitude out.

1 Comment:

Christopher Somerville said...

You've got a great blog, and I really enjoy reading every posting. Keep it up. This entry was particularly interesting and very important. Good mantra. I'll write it on my shop wall. How quickly we move around the shop sometimes... it's a good thing to be aware of.