Woodworking is among the most ancient professions in human history, with archeological evidence showcasing woodcutting tools dating back to the Neanderthals.
Today, woodworkers are some of the world's most talented craftsmen, casting products ranging from deeply ornate furniture to fundamental architecture structures. But to work all sorts of machinery, from household to high-end industrial, there is one major risk: your greatest tool is made of flesh and bone – your hands. Anyone wishing to make a lifetime career out of this intricate profession needs to keep their hands safe, because while your hands are with you for life, so can an injury.
We've assembled some information on how to take advantage of the most hands-specific protective equipment there is – gloves – in order to maintain your hands in tip-top shape.
Gloves have been protecting our hands for ages, and progress in design has developed all sorts of varieties for all sorts of safety hazards. Before you can even begin to select the correct pair of gloves, you need to consider what exactly what kind of work you'll be doing. Consider the fundamentals of what gloves protect the hands from:
• Cuts, punctures, and abrasions;
• Electrical or chemical burns;
• Harmful substances;
• Bloodborne pathogens; and
• Extreme temperatures.
Are you going to be using woodworking machinery that involves exposed sharp elements? Will you be working with a lot of heat-producing friction? Are there harsh treatment chemicals as part of the task? What is the state of the piece of wood with which you're working? Is it freshly cut and loaded with splinters? How prone are you to contact dermatitis? Ask yourself the right questions and take the time to evaluate the task ahead of you, and you're already on the right path to selecting the proper pair of gloves.
The most common materials used for gloves appropriate for woodworking jobs are metal mesh, leather and canvas. Those made of synthetic materials and light fabrics are generally designed only for protection from filth and some minor cuts, and should be mostly avoided in this trade while working with raw materials.
Metal mesh and other cut-resistant materials such as Kevlar will protect you from sharp objects and punctures. Leather is durable, good against splinters and rough surfaces, and protects against moderate heat. Canvas is resistant to heat, practical for gripping smooth surfaces, and protects from moderate cuts and abrasions.
Should hazardous chemicals be involved, vinyl, rubber, or neoprene coatings are a good idea. Keep in mind that there's no one material or fabric that can withstand every variety of chemical; always read the chemical's Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for information.
You won't get anything accomplished if you're uncomfortable, so make sure you've taken material composition and sizing into consideration. There are many designs of gloves that are composed of various materials and fabrics in a single pair. For example, you may find gloves made of leather or rubber on the palms and fingers and a light cloth covering on the back for breathability. There are varieties of gloves designed in this way that undergo a dipping process, coating vulnerable parts of your hands in a protective material while the foundation is made of comfortable fabric. Remember that it all comes down to what stage of work you're on and what hazards are present.
As far as sizing is concerned, the wrong size glove can become a hazard itself. Loose gloves can easily become caught in machinery or cause you to drop heavy pieces of wood. Choosing the right size glove for your hand is as easy as using a length of flexible measuring tape. Measure the circumference of your hand at the palm, wrapping the tape all the way around, excluding your thumb.
• 6" - Extra Small
• 7" - Small
• 8" - Medium
• 9" - Large
• 10" - Extra Large
• 11" - Double Extra Large
At the end of the day, your personal assessment of the hazards at your work station is what will point you in the direction of the most suitable pair of gloves for the task. You know your work and its dangers better than anyone. When you do find the perfect gloves, however, make sure you've given them a thorough inspection for any signs of damage to integrity. Overly worn, cracked, torn, or otherwise damaged gloves should be removed from use and repaired, discarded, or replaced.
Finally, take care of your hands' overall safety in or out of gloves. Moisturize regularly, since constantly sweaty hands may affect your skin's system of replenishing moisture with natural oils. Keep a first aid kit nearby and make sure you're properly trained on how to effectively use its contents. Splinters will likely happen at some point or another, so have a pair of tweezers and antibiotic ointment on hand as well.
Maintain your most precious tools in good health and safe conditions!
Jay Acker blogs regularly at safetyservicescompany.com and around the Internet. Safety Services Company offers a variety of personal protection equipment.
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