Using woodworking tools safely and efficiently

Using woodworking tools requires practice. Don't expect to pick up a hand plane and flatten first board.

I have noticed in my classes that people often try to force the tools. Usually, this is a mistake. Most often, rather than trying to muscle through the operation, letting the tool do the work is a much better option.

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general tool use: don't force it

This goes for both hand and power tools. If you need to use force, most likely, something is wrong.

For example, if you are using a router table and the wood is acting up, take a close look at things. Is the bit sharp? Are you trying to take off too much material in a single pass? Has a chip gotten jammed in the fence?

Rather than shoving the wood through the tool, find and fix the problem. Using woodworking tools should not be a wrestling match (when it is, all too often you will be the loser).


The problems with using force are two-fold. First is control. If you're putting your weight behind something and it suddenly gives bad things happen. Depending on the tool you can skitter and scratch your way over the surface of your project.

Worse, you can plunge the tool directly into your hand, or your hand into the tool.

It's easy to avoid this. If, for some reason, you must use force, avail yourself of the nearest clamp(s). Take the time to make sure your wood won't move when you are using your woodworking tool. Place your hands so, if you slip, you won't have to run for the butterfly bandages.


The second reason for not forcing a tool is efficiency.

Many woodworking tools are made to work with firm, solid, pressure, but no more. If you are using a hand saw, for instance, don't push down and dig in. That will jam the teeth. Instead, keep your hand relaxed and the motion firm. Let the saw do the work. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, this will allow you to take a deeper bite with the saw.

The same holds for power tools. The idea is to be relaxed and in control, firm but not overpowering. Go with the tool instead of fighting it. Stand in such a way you remain balanced and comfortable.

It takes practice to find the right feel. Experiment (safely) until you find the best way of using woodworking tools.

using woodworking tools efficiently applies to power tools as well as hand tools!

One last word of caution: Never force something through a table saw.

If it it seems hard to push the wood through, hold the wood in place and shut off the saw. Once the blade has stopped, look things over. Then lower the blade, remove the wood and eyeball the situation again. Is the blade sharp? Is your fence parallel to the blade? Has something gotten jammed in the throat opening? Is the wood pinching behind the blade?

A twisted board can have enough pressure to close the kerf on the blade. If that is the case, I recommend gracefully accepting defeat. Toss the board in the burn pile, or use it for small projects. It won't be worthwhile otherwise, since the same pressure that is pinching the blade can cause havoc with joinery.

This is also why a riving knife or splitter is so important. It keeps the wood from pinching the blade itself. Instead the riving knife holds the kerf open. If the board was to pinch the blade itself things can get exciting quickly. You really want all your work at the table saw to be uneventful.

So, treat your woodworking tools with respect and let them do the job they we designed to do.

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