Proceed with Caution: 10 Power Tools That Can Kill You

From circular saws to cordless drills, power tools simplify and speed up building and remodeling projects as well as general woodworking tasks. But when used incorrectly, these household helpers can injure, maim, and even kill. The best way to prevent a trip to the emergency room is to familiarize yourself with a power tool’s safe operating practices before you ever turn it on. Knowledge and preparedness are key, so click through to read about some of the dangers associated with 10 of the most popular power tools.


Chainsaw Safety

The biggest cause of chainsaw injuries is kickback, a violent upward jerk of the saw that occurs when the tip of the guide bar makes contact with an object. The violent motion of kickback sends the bar—and the razor-sharp chain— flying back toward the operator, potentially slicing through skin in a split second. Before using a chainsaw, always read the entire owner’s manual, receive proper training, and know the safest tree-cutting practices.

Related: 10 Accidents Waiting to Happen—and How to Stay Safe

Hedge Trimmer

Hedge Trimmer Safety

Because most hedge trimmers are corded, injuries often involve electric shock or electrocution, either of which may occur if the user inadvertently cuts through the extension cord. To prevent this mishap, always keep the cord safely out of the way of the blade and your feet. Don’t use a hedge trimmer during rainy weather, or when the ground is wet and slippery. Wear shoes with nonslip soles, keep your body balanced at all times when operating the machine, and don’t overreach.

Circular Saw

Circular Saw Safety

One of the most popular power tools for home projects, circular saws, like chainsaws, are subject to kickback, which can cause serious harm. Kickback often happens when the moving blade gets pinched in the lumber, causing the saw (or the wood) to jerk back toward the user’s body. Avoid kickback by cutting straight lines and allowing cut-off ends of boards to fall during the cutting process. Restricting the end of a board can cause the blade to get pinched as the wood bends downward with nowhere else to go.

Related: Don't Try This at Home: The 7 Most Dangerous DIYs

Pneumatic Nail Gun

Nail Gun Safety

Although pneumatic tools like air-powered nail guns come with safety mechanisms, improper use can cause a fastener to be fired at high speed in the wrong direction, potentially injuring the operator or a bystander. High-velocity fasteners may also hit knots in wood and come hurtling back toward the user. Always read the owner’s manual and practice proper safety techniques when using the machine.

Cordless Drill

Drill and Ladder Safety

Always hold a drill perpendicular to the work surface to prevent the bit from catching in the wood and twisting the drill violently. Working from a ladder increases the likelihood of this happening, because the precarious position often causes users to drill to one side. A twisted drill could lead to broken fingers or a fall from the ladder, so always practice proper technique when drilling from a ladder, and recruit a friend to keep watch.

Related: 9 Handy Uses for Your Cordless Drill/Driver

Table Saw

Table Saw Safety

Avoid maiming fingers while using a table saw by ensuring that the “fence,” a guide for ripping wood, is parallel to the blade. This will keep the wood from pinching the blade and causing kickback, which can pull the wood—and your hands—into the moving saw. Do not, however, use a fence while simultaneously cross-cutting material with the miter gauge.

Powder-Actuated Nail Gun

Powder-Actuated Nail Gun Safety

Powder-actuated tools employ 0.22-caliber charges, so they’re very effective at firing nails through wood plates into concrete or metal. If the tool’s trajectory is slightly off, however, the fastener can ricochet and strike the user or a bystander. Manufacturers of these tools, such as Ramset, offer free training.

Related: The 7 Essential Tools of Deconstruction

Miter Saws

Miter Saw Safety

Users operate miter saws by placing wood on the saw base, then pulling the spinning blade downward to cut it. If the blade binds, the spinning saw kicks upward toward the user, putting fingers, hands, and forearms in the path of the blade. Minimize the risk of kickback by starting the blade before it makes contact with the wood, and keeping the wood firmly pressed against the fence to minimize movement.

Wood-Turning Lathe

Wood Turning Lathe Safety

A lathe helps DIYers create turned wooden items, such as rounded spindles and bowls. But as the tool spins at more than 9,000 rotations per minute (RPM), it can reel in loose clothing, long hair, or dangling jewelry. Ignorance of correct lathe operation is the biggest cause of injuries and fatalities. If you ever plan to operate a wood-turning lathe, we recommend that you enroll in a class or workshop to learn your way around the tool.

Related: 7 Tools That Contractors Swear By

Extension Cords

Extension Cord Safety

More than 3,000 house fires are attributed to the incorrect use of extension cords each year, according to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI). Furthermore, the organization says that annually 4,000 people visit the emergency room for extension cord-related injuries. Stay safe when working with extension cords by using at least the minimum wire gauge required for your power tool, and ensuring that the cord is rated for outdoor use if you're working outside. Also, secure the cord to the ground with duct tape to prevent injuries caused by tripping over the cord.

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