Weekend Project

Justin Newcombe's tips on outdoor DIY projects

Weekend project: Always use protection

By Justin Newcombe

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Starting a new DIY project is pointless if an injury means you can't finish the job. Be safe and take precautions, writes Justin Newcombe.

It's great to push those boundaries and create wonder things, but, like Justin, make sure you cover up and clean as you go. Photo / Natalie Slade
It's great to push those boundaries and create wonder things, but, like Justin, make sure you cover up and clean as you go. Photo / Natalie Slade

It's easy to get carried away when you're enjoying yourself in your workshop, or you just want to see something finished, but it's important to be able to sit back and enjoy your handiwork.

There's nothing worse than an almost finished project and a debilitating injury making completion seem so close, yet so far away (I call this tantric completion).

So, before you send dad off to enjoy his well-earned new toys in the workshop, there are a few obvious hazards he needs to avoid.

Start with electricity. I use a surge switch on my mains board as well as a safety switch on my power lead. This means if I accidentally cut the cord, the power will automatically cut before I fry. You can get safety switches from Bunnings for around $20: I use them inside and out.

Even if you break out the tools only once in a while, having a few dust masks handy will certainly help. If you've got something on the go all the time, controlling dust can become a major.

Good ventilation is important, so working outside is a good option. I do this especially for large sanding jobs, but in the workshop I've recently started using an extractor with many of my power tools. This has had a big impact on getting rid of dust, fast. Another tip is to try to wear a mask as much as possible, especially when you are sweeping up. If you are dealing with toxic materials such as spray paint wear a ventilator with filters. But do remember to store the filters in an airtight plastic box, as they deteriorate if left in the open air.

Protecting eyes and ears is a no-brainer. You can get some pretty fancy earmuffs now which let in low level sound but once the decibel rating climbs they filter out the damaging noise.

And always, always wear safety glasses. If you're always building something you can get a good pair of safety glasses that double as sun glasses. However, a good pair of sunnies don't necessarily make good safety glasses so it is important to check they have a safety rating.

To avoid tripping hazards, try to keep things tidy. I really struggle with this but I try to have a tidy up at the end of each day and, better still, put things away as I go. Even so, my workshop still tends to look like someone (probably a bus driver) drove a bus through it.

A first aid kit is a handy thing to have tucked away in the tool cupboard although I haven't had to use it yet (touch wood). When you do pick up a kit, spend some time going through it so you know what is there and what it all does.

A year or so ago I received an email from a reader concerning my unsafe workshop practices, specifically in regard to my use of a skill saw as a bench saw. The reader had spotted my upturned saw screwed to the underneath of my bench in the background of a photograph and raised several points about this. Well, all I can say is I fully concur, thanks reader. After some experimentation I abandoned the idea. It's a great way to lose a finger or two, and turns offcuts into projectiles. It was inaccurate and with the price of bench saws now being so low, unnecessary.

I actually found running lengths of timber through a bench saw also required a lot of extra room which in my small workshop is a problem. I've reverted to using a length of galvanized square pipe as a straight edge and a little Ryobi skill saw with a good blade to make the cut. It's convenient, manageable, versatile and safe. Pushing the boundaries is a wonderful part of the human condition; just make sure it's survivable.

Ask Justin

From September 15 we are re-starting our Ask Justin column for the spring. Justin is happy to answer your questions on gardening, plants and all things handy around your property each fortnight. Send your questions to gardening@nzherald.co.nz. We look forward to hearing from you (sorry, he can't answer questions personally).

- NZ Herald

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