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Safety -- Contains shop and carving safety ideas and tips



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This page grew from handouts we developed for a basic carving class. Liability is a big concern these days.  Teaching, demonstrating, and promoting safe carving is a big part of this concern.  We add to this page as we address these concerns.  Common sense and safety go hand-in-hand.  Common sense is taking time to read labels and think through a carving project.  Teaching safe techniques from the start makes.  

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Carving Safety

Carving involves pushing and pulling a razor-sharp blade into the thumb and within millimeters of the hands. The potential for cutting a hand or finger is quite real. Take a few precautions to prevent cutting the hands.

Keep Tools Sharp

Most cuts result from forcing a blade through a cut. The blade hangs on the fibers, then slips through the wood due to the pressure applied to the cutting stroke. The carver most often loses control of the cut.

Keep the blade as keen as possible. Spend some time stropping the blade. Pause when carving to maintain the keenness of the blade. Strop after 15-20 minutes of carving.

Use Control Cuts

The knife should be placed in the hand right where the fingers meet the palm. The sharp edge should face the thumb on pull cuts and away from the thumb on push cuts. Before taking the next cut, be aware of the path of the blade in relationship to the position of the hands and fingers. Slowly start the knife blade into the wood. If the blade hangs, ease up on the stroke. Remember this is a razor sharp knife, not a wedge. More pressure on the stroke will not help.

Position the Holding Hand

Be aware of the position of the off, or holding hand. Position it below, or to the side, of the path of the knife's stroke. Consider using a clamp or hold-down for larger projects. Consider using a carver's glove when roughing out or using gouges. Use finger protection on the index and middle fingers.

Wear Finger Protection

Wear a thumb guard on the knife hand. Whittling and carving involve paring cuts in the direction of the thumb. While it does not make sense to purposely cut towards the thumb, this stroke affords added power. As the blade exits the wood, it often bumps the thumb. Rubber fingers or leather thumbs make excellent protection.

Wear protection on the second joint of the index finger. Dragging the knife makes this joint sore and creates a callous. Cutting the tip out of a rubber finger works well. Check fabric or quilting supply stores for leather fingers used by fabric artists.

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Work Shop Safety

As with most occupations, carving can be dangerous, and it is essential to take a few sensible precautions to prevent possible accidents. If you bear in mind that to carve effectively you need very sharp tools, you will probably treat them with respect. What may be less obvious is that the dust from sawing and sanding, particularly with power tools, can be hazardous and even poisonous. For instance, all the parts of yew are reported to be poisonous, although yew is desirable wood for sculpture and can be safely carved.

Keep the following points in mind:

  • Have a first aid kit and fire extinguisher in the workshop.
  • The working surface must be firm. Make sure the piece you are carving is securely held by a device. This keeps both hands for carving.
  • Always test the sharpness of the tools on a scrap piece of wood, never with your fingers or arms.
  • Work in good light.
  • The floor around the carving area should be reasonably clear and clean. There should be nothing to trip or slip on. Wear a mask and eye shields when using power tools, and ear defenders with the noisier ones.
  • Power tools come with safety instructions.  It is important to read and follow them to the letter.
  • If you are making a lot of dust, try to work outside. If you have to be inside, use an exhaust fan or a dust collector. Always use a dust mask.
  • Don't blow sawdust out of a cavity unless you are wearing eye shields.
  • Don't neglect splinters -- some people react badly to them, particularly if they come from exotic hardwoods. Check with you doctor if you think a cut or splinter is becoming infected.
  • Do not carve toward yourself.
  • Do not carve when you are tired.
  • Store your tools safely and replace them carefully as you work. If they roll off a cluttered work top, they damage themselves and you.
  • Clear away shavings to reduce fire risk.
  • Dispose of finishing rags immediately.
  • When working with thinners and stains, provide adequate ventilation.
  • When applying finishes, read all container labels and follow the manufacturer's warnings and recommendations.
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  Updated:   2001-03-08


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