Gloves in the Workshop

In the current issue of British Woodworking, Steve Prescott writes (in response to a reader’s letter in the previous issue) in the defence of his use of ‘grippy gloves’ while operating machinery. This is the kind of subject that can raise a lot of debate…

If you’ve had any formal training or education in the use of woodworking machinery then, you’re probably aware that gloves are generally regarded as ‘hazardous‘ as any loose, hanging threads can easily get caught in the moving parts. Where Steve argues that this risk is reduced when using a surface planer/jointer (as opposed to a thicknesser, which has an additional pair of feed rollers), I disagree, as I believe there is an equal risk of the same threads getting caught by the sharp knives and pulling your hand in to the revolving cutter block. Also, while wearing gloves, you have less of a ‘feel’ for what’s going on and exactly how close you are to possible amputation.

Of course, with the correct technique for keeping your fingers well away from any sharp, moving parts, this risk can be minimised. Although I would never recommend the use of any gloves while working with machinery, I do appreciate Steve’s “need” for extra grip when handling timber that’s already been prepared or surface on at least one face. If you follow my blog regularly then you’re probably aware that I frequently wear a pair of Irwin Carpenters Gloves at this time of year, purely because of the cold. Because two fingers and my thumb are both free on each hand, I still have some sense for what I am doing (I’ve also had the splinters to prove it!). Without condoning the use of gloves, they do give me more confidence than a cheap pair of £1.99 ‘disposable’ gloves.

When the power is off, the machine is isolated and you’re looking to handle a sharp blade or, particularly, when changing planer knives, I would strongly advise the use of a thick pair of gloves […been there, done that! :oops:].

Now, we come to the real meaning behind this post…

About a month ago now, at 16.30 on Monday, as I was winding down towards the end of another day, I decided I would give my planer/thicknesser a good clean after all the troubles with rust I’ve endured, recently. As irritating as this problem has been for me lately, it was only a thin coating and didn’t require a lot of work to remove (400g W&D paper with WD40 – didn’t even need the Rust Remover products). With the tables coming up nicely, I noticed some of ‘the dreaded brown stuff’ on the cutter block, in between the knives… :-S So, I started sanding and felt my right-thumb slide along what I later realised was one of the recently-sharpened knives – OUCH!!! [edited for the sake of any younger readers!!] After a delayed reaction, the pain kicked in and I yanked my thumb away, which was barely visible for all the claret running down my right hand!! 😯

WARNING: This first image contains lots of blood:

After about five-minutes of swearing at myself and holding it up in the air, I realised this was much worse than any accident I had previously endured. On this occasion, a plaster and a bit of masking tape simply wouldn’t do!! Reaching for my First Aid Kit [essential!], I managed to ‘mummify’ the thumb enough to keep the bleeding at bay. If you don’t have even a basic one-person First Aid Kit in your workshop, I strongly advise you to buy one ASAP! They’re not expensive and you never know when you might need it. I’ve had mine in the ‘shop for five-years and had only ever opened it for the plasters, before this incident (I always keep one in the boot of my car as well).

At this point, I probably should’ve sought proper medical advice. I was too ashamed to admit how careless I had been – I should’ve worn a thicker pair of full-fingered gloves. This does go to show that machines can still bite even when the power is off!! That first night was the worst; the pain was intense and it took a good couple of hours before I could settle off to sleep (…for a little while). After forty-eight hours, I was brave enough to remove the bandage and assess the damage; confident enough that the wound was no longer bleeding freely.

WARNING: This next image contains blood and an open wound:

While the pain had passed, it didn’t make for comfortable viewing – what you can’t see clearly from the above photo (for those who are brave enough!!) is that the knife had somehow removed a gouge from my thumb and I’m still baffled as to quite how I managed this… I have lost a slight sensation of feeling partially down that one side of the thumb but, fortunately, it still operates and functions correctly today. It took three-weeks for the wound to reach a state of healing at which I was comfortable enough not to cover it with a non-adhesive dressing. In all that time, it was a struggle to do many of the everyday things we all regularly take for granted – from brushing your teeth to trying your shoe laces. Certainly, I hadn’t spent much time in the workshop until recently.

This final image isn’t nearly as bad as the others; it plainly shows the wound as it was about a week ago; scarred, but almost healed:

This is a very dangerous game we are all involved in and it does pay to take a step back and assess all potential risks and hazards before attempting any operation, from time to time. I’m actually quite glad that this happened and even more-so fortunate that no greater damage was done (a couple of poor practices were creeping in to my working methods, in my home workshop…). I could have been much worse but it could have easily been prevented. If I was self-employed and running my own business, I’d have lost two-weeks worth of work without any sick pay or compensation.

I apologise if the warnings weren’t sufficient or if I have just put you off eating your meal but, please, whatever you do, put your own Health and Safety ahead of all other priorities within your workshop! This is even more important in a small space, where trailing cables and trip hazards are likely to be of greater threat to yourself. Gloves do have their place and guards are put on machines for a very good reason!

If you are at all concerned, there is plenty of FREE information available to read and follow at the HSE website:

Or, if all this wasn’t scary enough, I recommend some time browsing Jeff Gorman’s site:

Thank you for reading. Please, think about your own Health & Safety in your workshop!

7 thoughts on “Gloves in the Workshop

  1. Nasty Nasty stuff.

    I wear a pair of woolen gloves this time of year, the first 2 fingers have gone through an the thumb so similar to those gloves you wear.

    I don’t buy into the whole getting sucked into the machine bit, I never put my hands close enough to the blades for that, I must be a bit more cautious than most as I wince when watching the Wood Whisper his hands get very close to his TS blade! Also the thread on my gloves is so weak its easily snapped off if it gets caught as it does on bits of things all the time (thats how the fingers came through)

    I guess next time you’ll take the blades out to polish the block.

    PS Got a Jet260 on the way for the end of the month. 🙂

    1. Hi Chems,

      Yes, you’ve got a point when you talk about where and where not to put your hands though, I still wouldn’t like to say it is ‘okay’ to wear gloves… 🙂 I trust you won’t be removing the crown guard to cut raised panels on your SIP saw then!! 😉

      Another concern is that you have less of a ‘feel’ for what you’re doing – one of the dangers of working in the winter, even without a pair of gloves. At college back in 2005, there was one day where we ran out of heating… The workshops were so cold that we weren’t allowed to use any of the saws or any machinery at all (cold fingers on cast iron, and all that… :S).

      I’ve heard greater horror stories of people getting caught in the machines by either their loose clothing or, worst of all, long hair – people have been known to lose great lumps of their scalp to pillar drills and lathes!

      Next time, I would definitely wear that thicker pair of gloves I couldn’t be “bothered” to reach. Fitting the blades on a planer thicknesser is never a joyous experience – as you will soon discover with your new toy!! 😉


  2. I don’t, as yet, have any machinery that would go rusty, but have you tried a product like ACF-50. It’s a rust inhibitor that I believe was designed to stop military aircraft going furry while they’re on aircraft carriers.

    I got my can from a motorcycle tyre shop. It’s easy to apply with a paint brush – load up the brush and apply – and it goes a long way. I use is on my motorcycle, which doesn’t get cleaned that often, and it holds up through the winter salt spreading pretty well.

    1. Thanks, Barry, that stuff sounds ideal! I don’t currently use anything more than a couple of coats of wax to protect my surfaces. They do reduce friction but also need to be applied regularly. There are other products available that I’ve also been meaning to try but this wasn’t much of a problem before I sealed up the garage door for insulation and lost a my main source of ventilation (gaps around the door!).

      Thanks for your message,


  3. Tough to put something that sounds like a paint on a P/T blade as it could effect the balance of the block.

    I have never changed blades, I sold my last P/T before it ever needed doing.

    I had the guards off today Olly, I did a dado, and I also made a single sided tenon. I used my push sticks and feather boards and never even got my hands above the cast iron top. I need to sort out an overhead guard and trim down the riving knife because the TS is so much more versatile when used like that.

    1. Interesting point. Although, I’ve always had this horrible suspicion that the cutter block is out of balance on my machine, anyway… :-S When you ‘spin it’, it seems to rock back (this could just be the weight of the individual knives). I switched it on over the weekend and realised my outfeed table had moved :@ – at least one of the knives was catching it (you could hear it) but it sounded irregular… As if it was ‘missing’ the table on some revolutions… Very strange!

      Do make a new guard for your saw if you’re likely to be cutting more tenons and housings (“dados”) like this. I really like Steve Maskery’s guard; the one that locks on to the table with two large magnets. I agree about the riving knife. You could then lower the blade enough to give yourself another flat working surface for assemblies.

      Next, you’ll be wanting a proper dado blade!! 😀


  4. I’d love a dado set. I’d make a fence mounted guard for a dado I think as you usually use it with the fence right there.

    The SIP is well thought out, it retracts below the surface as standard, and the guard comes off tool-lessly.

    I’ll start a WIP on UKW for my saw modifications over the next few days as I’ve got a couple of good ones.

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