Performing repair tasks around your home should be satisfying and safe. (You won’t feel satisfied if you have to visit the emergency room because of a cut or fall!) In this article, we’ll discuss how you can choose safe tools and use them correctly, and how to properly employ equipment, such as ladders, to avoid injuries.
The first rule of tool safety is to buy good quality, as suggested at the beginning of this chapter. You don’t have to buy the best, but the lowest cost can often mean the lowest value. The best value is typically higher-quality tools and equipment purchased at a discount. It’s also important to use your tools correctly. It may be tempting to use a screwdriver as a chisel, but doing so can damage the tool and, more importantly, damage you.
Also, never remove the safety guards installed on power equipment, and always wear safety goggles when working with power equipment. Safety glasses should also be worn when sanding, filing, or doing any other job that produces flying particles. Make sure your safety glasses wrap around the sides to keep deflected particles from reaching your eyes from any angle.
Once you’ve purchased high-quality tools and learned how to use them properly, you’re good to go — right? Not quite. The most dangerous tool is one that isn’t well maintained. A dull saw is less safe than a sharp one. A hammer with a loose handle can do more damage than one in good repair. A power tool with a frayed cord can electrocute you. So, be diligent about tightening loose parts, fixing damaged cords, and sharpening dull blades.
Quick Fix Tool Care
Quality tools aren’t cheap. Fortunately, with care, they can last many years and be a better long-term investment than cheap tools. Here are some useful tips on tool care.
- Protect your tools from moisture. Keep a thin coating of oil on metal parts, wrap them in plastic wrap, or keep carpenters’ chalk or mothballs (both of which absorb moisture) in your toolbox.
- A piece of garden hose slit open is a handy protective cover for the teeth of a handsaw between projects. Circular saw blades are stored conveniently in heavy shipping envelopes.
- To remind yourself to unplug an electric drill when changing accessories, fasten the chuck key near the plug end of the cord.
- Tack rags will last longer if they’re stored in an airtight container to keep them from drying out. Airtight storage also prevents spontaneous combustion, which can be very dangerous. (This safety tip applies equally well to other rags, coveralls, work gloves, and any other clothes that might absorb flammable oils and solvents.)
- Don’t take a chance of hitting a thumb or finger when hammering a small brad, tack, or nail. Slip the fastener between the teeth of a pocket comb; the comb holds the nail while you hold the comb. A bobby pin or a paper clip can be used the same way as a comb.
A sturdy stepladder will make lots of quick fixes easier, from changing lightbulbs to painting a room to cleaning gutters to replacing a smoke alarm battery. If you don’t already own one, get one. Invest in a good ladder, and use it for all those out-of-reach projects.
Most home-use ladders are made of wood or aluminum. Depending on quality, both types are reliable. Aluminum, however, weighs only 20 to 50 percent as much as wood, which means it’s easier to take it in and out of storage or move it around. On most good ladders you’ll find labels that indicate a rated strength. For example, a Type I industrial-grade ladder, rated at 250 pounds, is the strongest. A Type II commercial-grade ladder is rated at 225 pounds; Type III is rated at 200 pounds. Fortunately, each type has actually been successfully tested at four times its rated load. For around-the-house purposes, invest in security and durability and buy a Type II ladder. One that’s 6 feet tall will do for most homeowners, but taller ones — 8, 10, 12, and all the way up to 16 feet — are available. For an extra measure of safety, get one with rubber or plastic feet so your ladder won’t skid on hard floors.
If you’re painting a ceiling from a single stepladder, you’ll find yourself going up and down like a yo-yo, constantly moving the ladder to reach unpainted areas. A safer alternative is to buy a second ladder of the same size. Then, using a pair of 2-by-8-foot boards, make a scaffold between them — a platform from which you can paint for longer periods of time by moving from one end of the bridge to the other. For stability, don’t make your scaffold higher than is absolutely necessary and no longer than 6 to 8 feet in length. Use C-clamps to fasten each end of the 2-by-8s to a rung of each ladder.
Using Ladders Safely
There’s no such thing as an absolutely safe ladder. Gravity is always an unrelenting enemy. However, below are ways to greatly reduce your risk of accidents and injury with ladders.
- Always open a stepladder to its fullest position, lock the spreader braces on each side in place, and pull down the bucket shelf.
- Whether you are going up or coming down, always face the ladder head-on, and use both hands to hold onto the side rails or rungs.
- Don’t climb higher than two rungs from the top; don’t sit or stand on the top of the bucket shelf.
- To keep yourself from overreaching and getting off-balance, never let your navel go beyond either of the ladder’s side rails.
- If you must work on a ladder in front of a door, lock the door.
- Put the paint can or tray on the bucket shelf before you climb the ladder. And don’t go up the ladder with tools in your hand or in your pockets.
Always open a ladder to its fullest position, always face the ladder head-on,
and never climb higher than two rungs from the top.
Electricity can help you — or it can hurt you. An appliance can make your coffee in the morning. A frayed cord can electrocute you. Here are some rules for working safely with electricity.
Quick doesn’t mean working as fast as you can move. It means planning out the task in advance and doing it safely and well.
Wear latex gloves when working with adhesives so you don’t bond your fingers together.
Wear a painter’s mask, particularly if you are using alkyd paints indoors. When painting overhead, wear goggles to keep paint out of your eyes.
Wear safety glasses when sanding, filing, or doing any job that produces flying particles.
- Never work on an electrical circuit that is life or attached to an electrical source. Unplug the circuit, trip the circuit breaker, or unscrew the fuse before you begin working.
- Use only equivalent replacement parts. That is, replace a controller with one that has the same function and rating. Don’t replace a 10-amp appliance cord with one that is rated for 5 amps.
- Some appliances use capacitors, which are electrical components that store high voltage. Touching a charged capacitor, such as those in a microwave oven, can electrocute or burn you.
- Carefully check all loose wires for related damage or stress, and reconnect them using electrical tape, wire nuts, or other enclosing fasteners. Not only can a loose wire break an electrical circuit, it can also injure you if you touch it while it is energized or hot. Loose wires are caused by vibration or other factors.
- Most important, think before you act. Electricity follows strict laws. You must follow the same laws in order to repair electrical systems safely.
Using common sense and the right tools will help you tackle home improvement repairs or projects safely and with confidence.