There are a lot of potential fire hazards in a woodworker’s workshop, especially if they store materials there. With the wood, sawdust and various flammable liquids that you might have in the shop, there’s a definite worst-case scenario in the shop that ends in flames. Because of this, it’s very important that you have fire safety measures and a solid fire plan in place.
How do you protect your workshop from fire, though? Since you’re not there all the time, your fire safety precautions will differ just a little from what you’d do to protect your home. If you aren’t sure how to make a fire safety plan for your workshop, here are a few essential ideas to get you started.
Ban Smoking from the Shop
A number of workshop fires are caused by cigarettes that get forgotten or that drop burning material while trying to knock off some ash. This is a 100-percent preventable cause of fires because there’s no reason for anyone to be smoking in a woodshop environment. If you do want to smoke while you work, set up a smoking area outdoors with a safe disposal unit for your cigarette butts.
Smoke and Heat Detectors
Smoke detectors are one of the most common pieces of fire safety equipment, letting you know when smoke is present (with the assumption that there’s a fire to go with it.) Heat detectors are less common, but they can be extremely useful in determining whether there’s a fire brewing even if there isn’t enough smoke to set off a smoke detector. If possible, install a smart alarm that will text you or otherwise notify you remotely; this way you’ll be aware of the danger even when you’re away from the shop.
Having a fire extinguisher on hand in your workshop can mean the difference between a small blaze getting put out quickly and that same blaze getting out of hand. Because you might have to deal with an electrical fire, combustible liquids or a wood fire, opt for a decent-sized ABC fire extinguisher so that it can handle any fire event that might occur. Get the fire extinguisher inspected annually and recharged when needed, replacing it if it fails any inspection.
Electrical fires are a major concern as you add more power tools to your collection. Some woodworkers use a number of extension cords and outlet extenders to get everything plugged in, but this can create a serious fire hazard. Get a dedicated breaker box installed in your shop and enough outlets wired around the building to meet all your needs.
Don’t overload the outlets and avoid using extension cords when possible. Inspect the outlets regularly for signs of damage or blackening that may indicate a short circuit within the outlet itself. If you need to use corded heaters in the shop, avoid coil-based heaters that could spark and opt for an oil-filled radiator heater instead.
Fire Suppression Systems
One of the best things you can do to prevent fires in your workshop is to have an automatic fire suppression system installed. This will help ensure that any fire is put out quickly before it can spread. Just make sure that the system you choose is designed for all the potential fire types that can occur within a wood workshop.
A secure metal storage cabinet is useful in preventing fires involving oil stains or other flammable liquids. Every container that holds liquid should be capped or closed when you’re finished with it, then placed on one of the shelves in the storage cabinet. Keep the cabinet closed when you’re not accessing it and lock it at the end of the day for more fire security.
Sawdust and spilled liquids are two common messes that you see in wood shops. Unfortunately, both of these are extremely flammable. Once you’re done at a station in your shop, take a few moments to clean it up. At the end of the day, give everything a more thorough cleaning to reduce the likelihood of a fire breaking out. If you have oily rags or other flammable materials to get rid of, have one or more metal trash cans with self-closing lids that you can use to hold these materials until you can dispose of them properly.
Insuring Your Investment
The more work you put into preventing fires in your wood shop, the safer you, your crew and your business will be. Of course, sometimes accidents still happen. Just in case, it’s important to insure your shop and your woodworking equipment against fire and other unforeseen damage. This will help you recover in case the worst really does come to pass.
Do you have a fire safety plan for your shop? If not, are you going to make one soon?