All woodworking tools have danger zones—areas around the cutting edges where you should never place your hands or anything else. On routers, the danger zone surrounds the spinning bit. It's easy enough to define that zone on a router table. However, with a handheld router, the danger zone becomes elusive, moving as the router moves.
Your shop: where and how you work
The oft-maligned governmental agency, OSHA, has done a lot of work identifying safety hazards in industrial workplaces. It would be wise to take a cue from their findings because your own workshop probably differs only in size, not in the number of possible hazards for you. Take a good look at your woodworking procedures, and check for things that can affect your work and safety.
Your shop: Keep it clean, organized, well lighted, and adequately ventilated. Clear the floor of obstructions and store all tools. Make certain electrical fixtures and outlets are properly protected. Store finishing products correctly, and dispose of rags and leftover materials promptly.
Your tools: Keep all tools clean, sharp, properly maintained, and adjusted. Make certain you know how to operate every tool and machine safely before using it. Know where the critical danger zones are for each tool. Keep all safety guards in place, and have plenty of finger-saving devices, such as featherboards, push paddles, and push sticks, on hand.
Your gear: Wear the correct safety glasses, face shield, or goggles; ear muffs; dust masks; and chemical respirators, when appropriate. Avoid wi ..ring loose-fitting clothing, gloves, jewelry or dangling objects (even long hair) that may catch in rotating machinery parts.
Wear hearing protection, even for short periods of router use. Here's why: Studies show that a 105 dBA noise level results in some hearing loss after only one-hour exposure. Routers typically produce from 105-110 dBA, and get worse when a bit starts to dull. This level of noise can permanently damage your hearing.
Use hearing protection gear with enough noise-reduction rating (NRR) to lower the router's loud scream to a safe plateau—at least 20 NRR to reduce the sound to a more acceptable 90 dBA. Hearing protection items have their NRR printed on the packaging.
Wood dust, a byproduct of woodworking, is made up of individual wood particles of varying size. The small particles that waft through our shop's air for long periods of time present the greatest health hazard. Particles 10 microns and smaller can be inhaled into the lungs and lodge there. (We cannot see particles less than 100 microns in size.) Inhaled dust particles can irritate and damage lung tissue, which can lead to permanent loss of lung function and breathing capacity. Dust can also restrict oxygen absorption; and if it contains toxins or sensitizers, it can lead to allergies, shortness of breath, numbness, dizziness, and asthma problems.
OSHA guidelines call for no more than an average of 5 milligrams of dust particles 10 microns or smaller per cubic meter of air over an 8-hour period. In a small shop, this amounts to a maximum of 700 to 800 milligrams (about a half-tea-spoon) of wood dust over an 8-hour period.
For your protection, wear a suitable disposable dust mask or respirator as a minimum when routing. Also, collect the dust with a vacuum or dust collector.
A router, spiral bit, and a clamped-on straightedge make cutting clean, smooth edges on a workpiece like this fast and easy. It's one of many basic cuts this tool can make.
Whether you're making signs or cutting boards, the shop-built pin-router jig and template, shown at right, opens up a whole new world of routing capabilities.
Whirling at speeds of 24,000 revolutions per minute, and able to slice through hardwoods like a hot knife through butter, the portable router is one impressive tool. No wonder it has become one of the most useful and productive tools you can have in a woodworking shop. Some woodworkers consider it the number one shop tool invention of the 20th century.
The first commercially manufactured routers originally were introduced in the early 1900's. Surprisingly, their basic design hasn't changed much. Many of our current models, although they may look more trendy and cany a few more features, still work essentially the same way as their early counterparts. Only the plunge router, a rather recent development and introduction from Europe, shows any significant design evolution.
Pick up a modern router and you'll find the same three basic elements: a high-speed motor attached to a base, some type of height-adjusting mechanism to raise and lower the motor within the base, and a special chuck or collet fitted to the motor shaft to hold the cutting bits. And the router bits, although similar to the few very early offerings, now come in hundreds of styles, sizes, and shapes.
Routers perform two primary tasks in a woodshop. Cutting decorative edges along the edges of boards is by far the most common. Shaping the edge of a workpiece adds a decorative touch and transforms an unfinished-looking project into an attractive, eye-pleasing one faster than any other single thing you can do.
Although it might be a lesser known role, more and more seasoned woodworkers find the router indispensable for cutting joints when assembling furniture projects and many small items.
The router's success as a woodworking tool also can be traced to a number of inherent advantages that it has over other tools. Its small size and unique design enable it to do jobs that no other tool can.
Its duplicating capability also allows you to do many jobs easier, faster, and safer than other tools.
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