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Working with woodworking cutting tools is hazardous and can lead to serious injuries. Safety is a matter of common sense, attention to detail and concentration. There is no room for the “it couldn’t happen to me” mentality – you only have to be wrong once. We have listed below guidance notes on safe working practice and further information can be obtained by clicking on the subjects listed.




Work safely on router tables

In many respects routing with the router inverted in a table is a safer process than hand-held routing, but a number of precautions have to be taken. Wherever possible operate your router via a No Volt Release (NVR) switch mounted on the table. If you have not got one use the router switch rather than the mains socket. An increasing number of routers are now fitted with 'safety' switches, which cannot be locked on. Such switches should be clipped or strapped 'ON' for table use. Do not use elastic bands, bits of old inner tube or plastic garden ties. These are unsafe and, in commercial workshops, illegal. The idea is that the switch restraint should be capable of being freed quickly in an emergency. A router cutter rotates in an anti-clockwise direction as you look at it in a table. Always feed the workpiece from right to left and never try a 'reverse cut' such as you might occasionally use in hand-held routing. For edge moulding always rotate the workpiece in an anti-clockwise direction. Always use the guards and pressure pads when table routing and always use a push stick for narrow work. Very small components are inherently easier to rout on a table, but your fingers are very close to the cutter. Many small components can be machined using a combined guard/guide often referred to as a 'box maker's jig'. This is a simple right angle fixture that steers the workpiece and keeps the fingers away from the cutter. It also has the great benefit that it does away with the need for a mitre fence and the consequent need to align the router fence parallel with the mitre-fence slot when the mitre fence is in use.

With most router tables, both commercial and home-made, the guards, hold-downs and dust extraction point are part of the fence. If you remove the fence e.g. for pattern moulding with a bearing guided cutter, you also remove the guards and dust extraction. A combined guard/dust extractor can be very easily made from Perspex and batten.




Maintain the router collet

The collet is often taken for granted, but is a vital link between motor and cutter and should be kept in good condition. If a collet becomes scratched or corroded, consider replacing it. In the long run collets are a consumable item, and should be replaced at regular intervals as they are susceptible to metal fatigue even if kept scrupulously clean The collet can be cleaned with a rag dampened with solvent followed by PTFE spray to prevent corrosion. Fine wire brushes are available, which can be used to clean the inside of collets; suitable brushes, which look like miniature bottle brushes, are often available from dentists . Whilst cleaning the collet, it is also a good time to clean inside the tapered collet housing on the motor spindle. Do not leave cutters in your router for long periods and never tighten the collet nut without a cutter inserted, or the collet might become distorted. When removing cutters from routers such as Atlas Copco, Bosch, Elu, DeWalt, Trend etc. note that two ‘bites’ of the spanner are required. The first apparently frees the collet nut, which can then be turned by hand for several revolutions, but then further resistance is encountered. A second ‘bite’ of the spanner is required to overcome this, after which the cutter can be removed. This two-stage removal of the cutter causes more trouble for the beginner to routing than anything else.


Keep cutters clean & sharp

Cutters should be kept clean and sharp. Cleaning is half the battle; dirty cutters result in a build-up of heat on the cutting edges which dulls them, resulting in a further build-up, and so on. Two types of cleaner can be used: a solvent to remove resinous deposits and an abrasive household cleaner to remove heavier build-up. One of the best solvents is contact adhesive remover (although WD40 is good both as a solvent and a lubricant, but not to be used on bearings) and the best abrasive cleaner is “Astonish”, obtainable from the local ironmonger. To clean your cutters (first removing the bearings if present), brush off loose dust with an old toothbrush or soft brass suede brush and remove gummy deposits with a rag moistened in solvent. Do not soak the bearings in solvent. For deposits that the solvent cannot cope with, apply the “Astonish ” with a damp rag. Clean all parts of the cutter, minding your fingers when cleaning the flutes. Rub with the paste until the cutter is in its original pristine state. After cleaning, hone the flat faces of the cutter flutes with a diamond lap. The best and most economical type for use on router cutters is the hand lap (see our SL002) and the best all-round grade is ‘Fine’, which is coloured red. Our EZE-LAP hones are designed to be used dry, but note that this does not apply to all manufacturers, with some being used with a few drops of water on the surface. Make certain that the cutter flute is absolutely flat on the hone and rub it firmly backwards and forwards. Give each flute the same number of strokes. Continue until satisfied; a little experience will teach you when to stop. Most types of cutter can be honed but there are a few that cannot. Examples of these include spiral cutters, very narrow straight cutters, V-grooving, and pierce-and-trim cutters. Bearing-guided cutters present no problem once the bearing is removed. After honing, the cutter should be given a squirt of lubricant spray, such as a PTFE spray from the local car-spares shop. The diamond faces on EZE-LAP products benefit from an occasional de-clogging with soap and water and a nail brush. Hone types that are used wet should be dried and the surface cleaned with a plastic eraser.


Maintain a safe electrical supply

The most obvious thing is that your electrical circuits should be adequate for your power requirements and in good condition. Many woodworkers use their garage as a workplace, using the 13 amp sockets that are usually installed as part of the house wiring. This is perfectly adequate as long as you do not overload the sockets with multi-socket adapters carrying a multitude of plugs. A multi-way extension lead is a neater way of providing several sockets and it is a very good idea to label each plug to show which one is for which tool. When you change a router cutter, for example, you should always unplug the router before handling it; the labelled plugs will ensure that you unplug the correct tool. If your main power box does not already have circuit breakers instead of ordinary fuses, residual current circuit breakers (RCBs) will protect you against a fault in the wiring. Make frequent checks on the state of your plugs and their wiring. Plugs tend to get dropped or dragged over the floor, which, if yours is a concrete garage floor, can crack them, or pull the wiring out. Solid rubber plugs are better than plastic, but fortunately appliances sold for domestic use now have a moulded plug on the end of the cable. On the subject of plugs, check that the fuse is the correct value for the particular tool. Moulded plugs should have a fuse to match the tool but if you buy a standard plug it is likely to come with a 13-amp fuse. Many of your power tools will need only a 5 or 10 amp fuse; anything more does not give you the proper level of protection. If you are building a workshop, or having your shed wired for power-tool work, try to arrange for the power box to be located by the door so that you can break the main switch as you go out, if necessary. If you are running a power cable down your garden, make sure that it is of an approved type e.g. armoured, and that it is run in an approved fashion. Get professional advice and installation if in any doubt whatsoever.



Have a good layout

Overcrowded and untidy workshops increase the risk of accidents. Good housekeeping will improve the standard of your work as well as your chances of escaping injury. Make sure there is a clear path to the exit: you might want to leave in a hurry one day.


Maintain a clean workshop

Do not let large quantities of shavings and dust accumulate. They not only present a fire hazard; they also result in the loss of any small items dropped among them. If you have a wood floor, continued walking on the shavings will eventually buff the floor to a very slippery surface. A slippery floor surface can be improved with the use of rubber non-slip matting, often sold commercially for use in machine shops, which also provides a much better surface to stand on.


Locate your fire extinguisher

A fire extinguisher is an essential in the workshop. A type suitable for electrical fires i.e. not water, is required. It should be placed where it can be easily reached, preferably by the exit door to the workshop. Learn how to use it and make sure you have it checked at the specified intervals.



Always ensure the riving knife & guard are fitted

The riving knife of the saw should be fitted and matched to the blade being used. Always adjust the blade guard to cover the maximum part of the blade, leaving just enough clearance for the workpiece.


Select the correct blade for the machine and material

Always select the correct diameter saw specified for your machine. Use of the wrong size will affect the peripheral speed and thus the cutting efficiency. Select the best pitch for the material being cut: at least one tooth should always be in contact with the material to control the hand feed rate. Small pitches (more teeth) are essential for thin materials whilst larger pitches (fewer teeth) are suitable for thicker material. Always ensure the blade is up to full speed before starting to cut.


Always use push sticks

Always use push sticks to keep hands away from the blade. Take time to prepare a selection of sticks for various types of work. Use a push block when deep cutting timber to produce thin offcuts.


Set the blade height correctly

Set the cutting height of TCT blades such that the tips project no more than 10% of the blade diameter above the top surface of the timber being cut. When cutting thin materials this should be reduced so that the blade is barely projecting through.


Maintain a constant feed rate

Whether hand or mechanical feeding the rate should be smooth and continuous. Dwelling in the cut will tend to dull the teeth especially with abrasive material.


Keep teeth sharp

Ensure blades are kept sharp at all times. The teeth should be sharpened as soon as they become dull. As TC tipped saws stay sharp for long periods, blades are sometimes left in machines long after they should have been removed for sharpening. This causes faster wear on the tooth edge, which means more carbide needs to be removed during re-sharpening. Failure to sharpen saws as soon as they become dull is false economy. Keep the blade clean and free from sticky deposits of resin etc.


Protect the teeth from damage

Tungsten Carbide is an extremely hard but brittle material that needs to be handled with care. Never let the teeth come into contact with any metallic or hard surface. Even a slight tap on a metal surface, such as the saw table, can chip or crack a tooth. Store in a cardboard folder or wooden box when not in use, and treat with rust preventative oil. Never store blades together where the teeth can come into contact with each other.



Compiled by GORDON FRY : July 2012


Given that the most dangerous machine in the workshop is considered to be the spindle moulder, health and safety while operating this machine is absolutely paramount. This machine can be completely unforgiving when you donít operate it correctly. However, it can give phenomenal results if a good working practice is applied at all times.

The facts say it all: according to an HSE survey of 1000 woodworking accidents, 14% occurred on vertical spindle moulding machines. Of these, 42% occurred on straight through work, 34% on stopped work and 15% on curved work. Sadly, many of these accidents involved the loss of several fingers. It is often cutters snatching and workpiece kick-back that causes accidents. Frequently, this is due to the initial contact with the wood being too fierce or could be caused by a knot or uneven grain. The machinistís leading or following hand can drop onto the cutters as a result of kick-back. This is often the case if the machinist has problems maintaining control of the piece of wood at the beginning or at the end of the cut.

Accidents on straight work were, in the most part, due to a failure to employ false fences and pressure pads (Shaw guards). These safety devices would ensure the cutter is enclosed. Failure to use backstops and jigs or workpiece holders can result in stopped or curved work accidents.
(See photo)



All machines should be fitted with a braking device that brings the block to rest within 10 seconds, which will reduce the risk of contact with the cutter block during rundown. Vertical spindle moulding machines with a rundown time greater than 10 seconds should have been fitted with a braking device by 5th December 2005, unless already fitted with a manual or foot-operated brake.

The size of the hole (ie the gap between the table and the spindle) will be determined by the type of tooling in use and the height at which it is set. To close the gap as much as possible, table rings can be used. These reduce the likelihood that the workpiece will dip and catch the edge as it passes over the gap.
(See photo)

Unfortunately, there is not a single straight-forward guard or safety device which can protect against all risk of accident. Every task should be considered carefully in order to provide suitable protection to suit the individual circumstances.
A suitably designed guard which allows for the connection of dust extraction, should be used to protect the operator from the cutters, cutter block and spindle.
DO NOT attempt backcutting or climbcutting. This is extremely hazardous as the wood worker cannot put enough pressure to resist the sudden forward movement of the workpiece if the cutter snatches.
All workpieces should be fed to the tool against the direction of the spindle rotation.



Only limited cutter projection tooling which conforms with BS EN 847-1 should be used. This tooling will reduce the risk factor of kick-back and the seriousness of an injury, should the machinistís hand come into contact with the tool.

It is important that any detachable cutters and limiters (deflectors) are the correct thickness for the cutter block in which they are placed. They should be mounted so that they cannot be ejected. The chosen rotational speed of the machine must be appropriate for the tooling used. (The cutter block should be marked with the appropriate speed range.)

Only tools which have ĎMANí (hands-free) marked on them, should be used on vertical spindle moulders, even if a demountable power feed unit is to be used. (See examples on pages 23 & 34 of Wealden's Spindle Moulder Tooling catalogue.)
If you acquire a second-hand machine, try to avoid any pre-CE-marked equipment.



With the majority of work, guarding the cutters on vertical spindle moulding machines can be very effective. However, if this is not possible use your woodwork skills to create jigs, or workholders and stops.

The out-feed and in-feed fences must have a false fence fitted to them before any machining starts, so only the cutting part of the cutter itself is exposed.
Depending on the style of cutter chosen, a different false fence is required for each task. A good tip would be to make a false fence to relate to its cutter profile.
A correctly relating fence would then prevent work from being pulled into the cutter housing. When breaking through these fences, you must ensure that the cutter is protected with the use of pressure pads big enough to cover the cutters completely.
The false fence can now be pushed into the cutter or, the cutter can be raised into the false fence. Aluminium fences with adjustable fins are available on the market.



If possible a power feed unit should be utilised on straight cuts, in conjunction with a pressure pad.
(See photo)

However, if a power feed unit is unavailable, vertical and horizontal spring loaded pressure pads must be used. All work should be fed through with a push-stick. All pressure pads must be the same width and depth as the work-piece.
The pressure pad should be of a sufficient length to prevent the operatorís hands from touching the cutters. When passing panels through the machine, ensure the top pressure pad is of a relevant size, since a side pad cannot be applied in this instance.



Where the cut is to be made for only part of the workpiece, it is necessary to use a jig, since safety guards cannot be utilised in this instance. A top pressure pad would prevent a hand from getting too close to the cutters.



Before beginning shaped or curved work, the straight fence should be removed and a ring fence or ring guide should be fitted, along with an adjustable guard. This is to enclose as much of the spindle and cutter block as possible.



It may sound as if a fair few hours could be required to make these various jigs and fences, however this is nothing compared to the time you could spend receiving medical treatment and adapting to a new lifestyle missing one or more digits!


Hints & Tips
Cutter manufacturers will tell you, with good reason, that the router owes its versatility to the enormous range of cutters available for itRead more...