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Basic Woodturning Safety Checklist


by Warnie Lore

Mounting turning stock on the lathe, flipping on the lathe switch and engaging the tool into the wood, at first glance may appear to be a simple process.  But, in reality, there are dozens of actions and considerations that go into the process of safely producing a turned wood object.  Experienced turners essentially perform these actions without giving them much thought as they begin the process of setting up to turn.  However, when you consider the potential for accidents and injury when a chunk of wood is spinning at 1000 RPM or more, a sharp piece of steel is being inserted into it, and wood dust and shavings are flying everywhere, then you must be absolutely sure that no safety consideration has been overlooked. With this in mind, it is obvious that all wood turners would benefit from the use of a safety checklist.

Numerous sources of safety tips are available to wood turners.  They can be lengthy and overwhelming.  Therefore, I have developed a list of basic safety considerations that should be a good starting point, especially for novice turners. It would be good if each of us were to print a copy of this checklist and post it in a conspicuous place adjacent to our lathes for, at the least, an occasional review prior to commencing a turning session.

Basic Woodturning Safety Checklist

1.   Prepare the turning blank

When preparing a turning blank for mounting on the lathe, inspect it for cracks, splits, bark inclusions, knots, or irregular shapes that could result in separation of the blank into flying fragments or chunks as it spins on the lathe.

2.   Mounting the blank on the lathe

Make sure that the method you use to mount the blank on the lathe is appropriate and provides the necessary security for the size, shape and weight of the blank.

3.   Live center for security

Use a live center in the tailstock for added security whenever conditions allow.

4.   Lathe locking devices

Check that all locking levers on the tailstock, the toolrest and the toolrest base are tight and that any index locking device is disengaged.

5.   Rotation interference

Rotate the wood blank by hand after mounting it on the lathe to ensure that there is no interference.

6.   Tools

Select the appropriate tool for the operation that is to be performed (e.g., never, ever, attempt to use a roughing gouge on a bowl).  Sharpen the tool!  Gouges, skews and such must be essentially razor sharp.  You may have to frequently sharpen/hone the tool as turning progresses.

7.   Face and eye protection

Face and eye protection are mandatory.  A full face shield meeting or exceeding ANSI A87.1 is best.  As a minimum, safety goggles or safety glasses with side shields should be used.

8.   Lung protection

Protect your lungs.  Collection of wood dust at the source through a hood connected to a dust collector, by an overhead room air cleaner, or both, are good aids in protecting your lungs; but, they do not do the full job.  A dust mask meeting or exceeding the NIOSH N95 standards is highly recommended.

9.   Hearing protection

Hearing protection may be needed in some circumstances, particularly during long turning sessions.

10.  Dress

Make sure that shirtsleeves, long hair, etc., cannot catch on the spinning wood or lathe parts.

11.  Chuck key, wrenches, index lock

Make sure that chuck key, wrenches, etc., are removed and that the index locking device is disengaged before turning on the lathe.

12.  Lathe speed

Check and adjust the lathe speed before turning on the lathe.  Start at a slow speed for large or unbalanced blanks and incrementally increase the speed as the blank is trued up and comes into balance.

13.  Standing at the lathe

Stand to the side of the project blank, not behind or in front of it, when turning on the lathe. This applies to spectators as well as the turner.  Be ready to switch the lathe off immediately in case of emergency.

14.  A-B-C rule

Engage the gouge or skew with the wood, keeping in mind the A-B-C rule:

A-  Anchor; first, anchor the tool on the tool rest

B-  Bevel; second, rub the bevel against the wood

C-  Cut;  start the cut by rotating and/ or lifting the tool handle as appropriate for the tool

15.  Toolrest adjustment

Always turn the lathe off before adjusting the toolrest.

16.  Tool reach

Do not overreach the tool beyond the toolrest.  The distance from the end of a turning tool handle to the toolrest must be at least five times the distance from the toolrest to the tip of the tool.  For example, for a gouge reaching 3 inches beyond the toolrest the tool handle should extend a minimum of 15 inches out from the toolrest.

17.  Safe footing

Maintain proper footing and balance.  Keep the floor clear of wood dust and shavings under your feet to avoid slipping.

18. Stay alert

Pay close attention to unusual sounds or vibrations while turning.  For example, sometimes a live center will become loose (i.e., lose its grip on the wood blank) and emit a squeal or allow the wood to vibrate.

19.  Turner limitations

Know and acknowledge your capabilities and limitations.  If you are unsure or uneasy about performing a certain operation at the lathe, then stop and call a more experienced turner friend for advice.


This checklist is not intended to be a comprehensive list of safety considerations for wood turners.  Please use the AAW Lathe Safety Guidelines ( and other sources of woodturning safety tips for more information.