This article is designed to provide an overview of wood lathe safety equipment while turning a wooden bowl.
Use this information in addition to any and all safety warnings and cautions that came with all your tools and especially your lathe.
I must confess, when I first thought about turning wood, I imagined the regular occurrence of massive wood chunks bouncing off me as razor-sharp tools flew through the air.
My caution and acquired knowledge, combined with experience, have proven that visual is fortunately not realistic.
While it is possible to be seriously hurt while turning, it need not be the central focus while you create beautiful wood turned bowls.
That being said, I did have a bowl decide to jump off the lathe once and punch me in the face. More about that and the safety equipment that made that not a big deal in a little bit.
Safety Equipment While Turning A Wood Bowl
Woodturning is a fascinating practice if you think about it. It’s the only woodworking discipline that I know of where the wood moves and we introduce handheld, extremely sharp objects to shape the spinning timber.
With almost all other forms of woodworking, the wood is stationary or advanced slowly as a fast-spinning piece of sharpened metal hacks away at it.
Either way, we need to be safe and protect ourselves from injury during this process. The first way to protect ourselves is with the right safety equipment.
Our eyes are super important, and we need to protect them thoroughly. Safety equipment while turning starts with safety glasses, which are an obvious must.
Look for safety glasses with an ANSI or ISEA approval. The International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) are organizations that rate equipment for workers safety.
If these groups approve a pair of safety glasses, it had to pass numerous tests and should adequately protect your eyes.
Regular reading glasses, eyeglasses, and sunglasses are not safety glasses and will not protect your eyes in the event of a serious impact. If you need a bit of help from reading glasses, consider safety glasses with built-in bifocals.
I use safety glasses every day, and they work great while keeping my eyes safe. Here are the safety glasses with readers I use (check Amazon for current price).
If dust or wood chips are frequently reaching your eyes, you may want to consider full wrap-around safety goggles. These look much like ski goggles and will sufficiently protect your eyes from impact and particulates entering in the side.
Occasionally I will have a side breeze push dust into my eyes, and these goggles would prevent that from happening.
Our eyes are critical, and so is our beautiful face ;), so it must be protected, too. A full-face shield is highly recommended to protect from facial impacts.
I use a full wrap-around supported shield. There are shields that do not have any support across the bottom portion. I would avoid those shields.
I purchase several replacement plastic inserts at a time. When they get dirty from scratches, oil finishes, and general wear, I replace the plastic insert for a new fresh clear view.
Create the Habit
While attending the AAW International Symposium in Kansas City, MO, I noticed demonstrators starting their demo not wearing a face shield, only to be interrupted by a symposium staff member asking them to wear their face shield.
It was becoming apparent that more experienced turners were not using face shields… most likely because they had never had any serious incidents and feel they won’t have accidents in the future.
That’s not too smart.
It later came to my attention that the AAW was more strictly enforcing this position because a female turner had actually died the previous year from a turning accident.
OK, I don’t want to alarm you and please do not search online for information on turning accidents. It’s much like googling health symptoms online and seeing all the horrible possible outcomes.
Looking up worst-case scenarios is not productive, but a healthy respect for the lathe and proper safety gear is a must. Think of it as wearing a seatbelt.
Do it out of habit and most likely, like the seatbelt, you’ll never need it.
The face shield does cover your eyes, but that is NOT a substitute for safety glasses. It is important to wear both at all times. Let me tell you about the time a bowl “attacked” me.
My Bowl Turning “Accident”
I was turning the tenon off a beautiful Honey Locust wooden bowl, and all was good one moment. Then the next moment I was standing several feet away from the lathe and wondering why “someone” had punched me in the face and why my bowl was on the ground spinning to a slow stop.
As it turned out two things had occurred that made this incident happen. I did not have my tool rest at the proper height—it was too low.
And I did not have the tailstock tight enough. As I was turning the tenon off the base of the wooden bowl, I made a push cut toward the center of rotation.
The bowl gouge, being too low, acted like a pry bar and I pried the bowl up and off the lathe. The speed, rotation, and momentum of the bowl made it leave the lathe and climb right up the tool and into my face.
The face shield did its job nicely, taking the majority of the blow and distributing it across my nose and upper lip, instead of concentrated in one location.
Without the face shield, I would have taken a direct hit on my upper lip, which would have most likely cut my lip and potentially rearranged my upper front teeth.
Besides being shaken for a few moments and a bit embarrassed, I suffered no injuries from the incident.
Feet need protection as well. This is an interesting topic, because there is a trade-off to a degree. When I turn and wear my shoes, I thoroughly protect my feet, but I also spend too much time cleaning fine wood dust from the inside bottom of my shoes and socks.
Believe it or not, I find turning wood in my Crocs is a great solution for dealing with dust everywhere. When I finish turning, I simply use the air chuck to hose off my feet, Crocs (Amazon link) and there is no more dust.
Best of all I don’t track wood shavings in the house. Yes, the shavings are a bit uncomfortable on my bare feet while I turn, but it’s a fair tradeoff.
When turning bowls on the lathe, roughing cuts take off massive amounts of wood quickly and that wood comes flying off at such high speed that it hurts the gouge-guiding hand, or left hand.
Your right hand is back on the tool handle and out of the way, but your left-hand takes a good beating. I’ve had wood fragments lodged directly into the side of my hand while turning many times.
Depending on the type of wood, those flying shavings can also be incredibly hot and burn your hand.
To protect your left hand, I recommend using a neoprene work glove with the fingertips cut off (to retain sensitivity when touching your work with the lathe off).
Here’s a link for gloves to protect your guiding tool rest hand. It’s essential to have a glove that fits well and is not loose. We don’t want anything getting caught in the turning bowl or lathe.
If you pay attention to your hand movements while turning, you’ll see that your hands never cross over the top of the tool rest, or at least they should not cross over the top of the tool rest anywhere near the turning bowl.
Perhaps in a few precise moments, there might be an exception to this, but for the most part, hands stay on this side of the tool rest.
The most important safety consideration is dust in the air. Breathing dust particles is by far more dangerous over time than all other hazards combined. Inhaling wood dust is to be avoided at all costs. Wood dust can get so small that it can make its way into our lungs where bad things can happen.
A simple mask or respirator will take care of this issue right away, but like the face shield, it must be worn to work. In general, I do not wear my respirator at all times and I need to get better about wearing it more often. I wear it when I’m sanding and cleaning the shop or kicking up dust.
It’s important to get a mask that thoroughly covers and protects your nose and mouth and filters the incoming air to remove particulates.
Even combined with shop air treatment systems, an air mask or respirator still needs to be worn. I have used the Dust Bee Gone Mask (check Amazon for availability) before and I also use a 3M mask with corresponding air filters.
Masks and respirators improve air quality, but treating the overall air throughout a shop is an even better way to reduce the risks of inhaling dust particulates.
Stopping dust at the source by using a shop vac and specific vacuum points near the lathe or attached to a bandsaw will reduce the overall amount of dust reaching the air. This initial source dust collection reduces the total dust in the shop and makes all the other filtration systems, including a dusk mask, more efficient.
A whole shop air filtration system is an excellent idea for any shop. There is a range of models and price points from which to choose.
Air filter systems can be hung from the ceiling quickly and offer an excellent solution for dust control. They provide air movement and at the same time collect and stop dust particles.
If you think there isn’t much of a dust issue in your shop, find a bright flashlight and turn off all the lights in your shop at night. Turn the flashlight on and see if it illuminates the fine dust floating in the air. You might be surprised what you find. If you don’t see much, try this technique just after you’ve finished turning and sanding a bowl.
The bottom line is pretty simple. First and foremost, follow all manufacturer’s safety guidelines. Cover your body and vital parts with the right protective gear. Don’t breathe in the wood dust. Be mindful of safety, but don’t let it overtake your joy of turning wood bowls.
– For details of equipment mentioned in this article see my Recommended Equipment Guide.
Check out these other related articles:
5 EASY RESPIRATOR CLEANING STEPS DUST MASK
17 BEST WOODTURNING SAFETY PRACTICES
SAFE WOOD LATHE SPEED (CALCULATE, DETERMINE, ADJUST RPM)
Thanks and Happy Turning,