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Reflections: The Basic Wood-Shop Safety Training

2019-09-18 9:10 AM | Anonymous member

Picture of woodshop and instructors

As I started the drive to Cruces Creatives, my thoughts could have only been summarized as this: a long string of panicked words that all just so happened to consist of the same, single letter – A.

It had started with an email from my work-study supervisor asking me to come and finish some paperwork. It was a bit short notice; they wanted me to come in that morning, and I had already signed up for the Basic Wood Shop Safety Training at Cruces Creatives as well. However, since the training started at 10:30, I thought I could make it.

I could not make it—especially since, when I double-checked the email confirming my registration for the safety training, I realized that the class started at 10:00.

It was 10:40 when I finally walked into the building. By the time it had taken to go from the front desk to the woodworking room, I had gifted a string of frantic apologies and rushed excuses to two separate people, and I certainly gave the same string to the instructor.

The three men at the woodworking station were Gary, Dave, and Richard. Gary was the course’s main instructor, and Dave and Richard added to the course with the occasional comment as well as through their examples.


The woodworking shop had a comfortable atmosphere, brightened by the soft smell of sawdust floating gently through the air, that helped to still the frantic balls of string unraveling in my mind until they rolled back up into functional thought in the few moments before the class began. The class went by quickly, the panic that had previously settled my lungs quickly being replaced with a strong curiosity for the shop’s equipment and a genuine enjoyment of knowledge that would be old and common to anyone with experience in woodworking but new to me.

My only previous experience in wood working was a one-time encounter with a compound miter saw, so my knowledge of woodworking was limited to vague notions and descriptions of fictional characters whittling in books. Although this training would not make me anything more than a beginner, it certainly corrected misconceptions and taught the more important principles to safe woodworking.

I learned many different rules for maintaining safety regulations, most of which connected back to these four main points:

  • Always wear the proper safety equipment (safety glasses, earplugs)
  • Always know where you and your fingers are in relation to tools
  • Always make sure the tool is being properly used
  • Always keep the area around the tool clear

If you used a tool without making sure that the fence (a part of certain saws; a slab of metal that moves up or down that can both help keep the wood where it needs to be and keep the blade safely covered) was down to where it needed to be or whether the guard was positioned correctly (etc.), there was a risk that the wood might jump up or slide along with other dangerous errors that might result in something worse than just damaging your project. In example, when working with the table saw, Gary emphasized that if you weren’t careful to use it properly, a piece of wood could shoot back, potentially hitting you or someone else behind you, resulting in likely injury. Gary, understandably, emphasized using the table saw properly.

I was taught about various tools, starting with routers. Gary showed me the hand routers, but we mainly worked with the table router. Explaining that these tools were used to work on the edges of wood, likely for ornamental purposes, Gary demonstrated how to use the table router before letting me have a turn. I also was told about different bits that could be used to create a different effect on the wood and was shown how to raise and lower the bit in order to make a deeper or shallower groove.

The next tools shown to me were the band saw and the scroll saw, which could both be used to make an angled or curved cut to different extents, with the band saw making wider curves and the scroll saw being able to make much sharper angles and turns.

The scroll saw was particularly fun. With Gary’s help, I learned how to use it to make sharper angles and more detailed cuts that could make turns and circles, as well as how to lower the guard to ensure that the wood didn’t jump. This was a tool that Gary had in his home as well, and he said that in his own time to make things like puzzles. Once I’d used the saw for the first time, he congratulated me, saying, “You’ve made your first jigsaw!”

Once we moved on to the table saw, it was particularly impressive simply for its size as the danger around it kept me a bit wary. I was told that it was not necessary to fear it so much as have a good amount of respect for it, and to make sure to use a pushstick, a tool that could be used to push the wood into the saw so that one’s fingers could be kept far away from the blade. Gary gave the tip to use a long brick of scrap-wood as a second pushstick to keep the wood pressed up against the guard when necessary. After we had used it a couple of times, Gary emphasized the importance of making sure to lower the saw completely when you were done with it, and to push the guard over the blade once lowered.

The drill press was a piece of interest to me if only due to the importance of having what the three of them called “sacrificial wood,” or a slab of wood kept on top of the metal plate to ensure that once the drill went through the piece of wood one’s using, the metal plate isn’t hit and damaged.

Some tools were shown but not practiced with, possibly due to time constraints, such as the planer, the sanders, and the lathe. I was also given a tour of where they kept some of the smaller tools that did not have a stationary position in the shop, all items having a place to call home once they were done being used.

Another important lesson was taught in the training, though perhaps not on purpose: wood-shop etiquette. When about to use a tool as an example, Gary sometimes picked a piece of wood from the table as opposed to the scrap-pile. Whenever he did so, however, he would always make sure to ask whether Dave or Richard were using the wood for a project. When they were, Gary would immediately put it down and find an unclaimed piece. Similarly, Gary also made sure that neither Dave nor Richard were using a tool before he showed it to me.  Their unanimous movement to make sure to respect each other’s spaces and projects whenever possible definitely seemed to contribute to the shop’s pleasant, convivial atmosphere.

Although Gary was the main instructor, I have a good deal of gratitude for Dave and Richard, who both made sure that all of the tools were running smoothly before we got to them. The compound miter saw and the table saw were both experiencing slight problems which Gary said were likely attributable to too much sawdust or a small wood chunk getting stuck somewhere in the saws’ interiors. Richard and Dave made sure to fix the two saws quickly and cheerfully.

The wood-shop meets many visitors who use it, both in classes and out. With so much use, the tools can more quickly need maintenance to keep them working properly and safely. Every tool in the shop was donated to Cruces Creatives, and we are all so lucky to be able to have them available to the community so that beautiful and fantastic projects an continue to be made. As such, there is incredible, deserved appreciation for everyone who ensures that the wood-shop continues to run the way it should by keeping the tools running well.

I had the privilege of seeing some of the objects that had been made at the woodworking shop, including a bowl Gary had made and another bowl he was in progress of finishing with the lathe. Other projects made by the three men were picture frames that had been cut with the compound miter saw, a wooden figure of a hand that had been cut with the band saw, and a beautiful Christmas ornament in the making.

I still regret having been unable to take the full two-hour course as I can only imagine how much better it would have been to have had that extra forty minutes to get acquainted with the various saws and drills. However, the time I did have was a fantastic introduction of concepts and tools to a complete beginner, setting up a solid foundation for any further learning in the future. If you, like myself, have an interest in woodworking but have never learned about it and perhaps don’t know where to begin, I would recommend this course and similar trainings.

I would also give the advice to arrive on time so that you don’t miss out on learning something. Not only is punctuality kinder on the instructors who take time out of their day to provide you with information, it will also make sure you learn the most possible information you can along with ensuring you avoid the stress of being late.

Everyone involved in the course at Cruces Creatives was very kind and patient with me despite my tardiness, however, so if you find yourself in a similar circumstance, you can find comfort in knowing that Cruces Creatives will do what they can to make sure you make the most of the time remaining.

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