8 Bad Workshop Habits You Should Drop Today

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Want to improve your skills as a DIYer or woodworker? Learn how to avoid these bad workshop habits and the problems they cause.

Most of us learn hands-on skills in informal settings, and that makes it really easy to pick up bad habits. How many of these workshop bad habits have you been doing all along?

Neglecting Dust Collection

If you plan on serious woodworking with power tools in your shop, a proper dust collection system isn’t just a good idea — it’s essential.

Tools such as a table saw, miter saw, jointer, thickness planer, power sander and others have different jobs, but work on the same principle — removing wood from your workpiece. This creates a varying blend of medium-sized flakes of sawdust and fine particles of airborne dust. Neither are good for your shop’s cleanliness or air quality.

That’s where dust collectors can help. They are essentially motors that pull sawdust into a centralized chamber through a network of rigid ducts and plastic hoses from each power tool in your shop.

Failure to Put Tools Away

The more tools you own, the more keeping them organized matters. Though it’s tempting to leave tools lying on your workbench as you move from one stage of an exciting project to the next, this impulse should be resisted.

If you don’t take the time to put tools away, your shop will quickly become congested. This not only reduces your available workspace, but makes it harder to find the tools you need. It’s also a whole lot safer and easier to stay mentally focused on the job at hand when your shop is neat.

Not Disconnecting Power Tools Before Adjusting Them

Adjusting tools for particular jobs is a common part of every serious DIYer’s time in the shop, and that’s why doing it safely matters. Operations like changing table saw blades, removing jointer or planer knives for sharpening and others require reaching into their inner mechanisms with care.

Always unplug your tools from the electrical outlet before working on them. No exceptions. Spinning blades in power tools will change your life forever if your fingers are in the wrong place at the wrong time. It only takes a fraction of a second to do permanent damage.

Alternatively, you could switch OFF power to the tool if it’s hard-wired into your electrical panel. Either way, check and double check that the tool isn’t powered by hitting the ON switch. If nothing happens, you’re free to start work. Be careful with cordless tools, too. Unplug the battery before touching anything on a tool that could cut you if it accidentally switches ON.

Marking Fine Cuts With a Pencil

Precision matters in fine woodworking. As any experienced furniture builder, finish carpenter or cabinetmaker will tell you, a tiny gap in a woodworking joint looks terrible and sticks out. No matter how good the rest of the project is, people’s gaze will be drawn to that gap before anything else.

That’s why marking your cuts with a pencil is a bad idea. Even a sharp pencil creates a line with some thickness, leaving the exact spot of the cut open to interpretation. A sharp utility knife is much better for precise marking. It makes a razor thin, crisp line that shows exactly where to cut. As long as you’ve marked the right spot and cut accurately, you’ll have a perfectly tight joint every time.

Leaving Sharp Blades Unprotected

Successful woodworkers and DIYers understand the value of extremely sharp hand tools. Chisels, hand planes, carving knives, saws and spokeshaves won’t work properly without a razor sharp edge.

Part of your success as a woodworker/DIYer comes down to knowing how to establish surgically sharp edges on your tools. Another part is protecting these sharp blades and keep them cutting crisply for as long as possible. Although there’s a tendency to hurry when putting away tools, failing to protect your blades isn’t worth it to save a few seconds.

Always fully retract the blade of your hand planes and spokeshaves, cover the ends of your chisels and slide your handsaws into protective sleeves before putting them away. This keeps those sharp edges from rubbing against other tools or the inside of your tool cabinet, which could dull or damage them.

Measuring Instead of Custom Fitting Wood Parts

Tape measures have their limits. They’re fine for measuring down to 1/16-in. or so, but what if you need to go finer?  Extremely fine measurements are the stock-in-trade of skilled woodworkers and cabinetmakers. With fine woodworking projects, measurements often are so precise that cutting to fit a particular space is the only method that works.

Take your workpiece and hold it in place where it will go in the project. Use a sharp knife to precisely mark where it needs to be cut, then make the cut with a properly adjusted miter saw. By eliminating measurement numbers, you’re far more likely to achieve the extremely precise cuts needed to make your project look great.

Failure to Use Eye and Hearing Protection

Every productivity-minded woodworker and DIYer appreciates efficiency. Trouble is, this tendency sometimes leads to ignoring important things to save an insignificant amount of time.

Hearing and eye protection are a prime example. Always wear safety glasses and ear plugs or muffs while using loud power tools. It’s well worth the few seconds it takes to grab muffs and goggles from your tool cabinet to safeguard your vision and hearing. Use them every time.

Not Predrilling for Fasteners

If you’re new to woodworking, you might be tempted to fasten wooden parts with screws driven straight into your workpiece, without predrilling holes. Resist this urge!

Screws are great for strongly holding parts together. But without predrilling, the chances of your work splitting and breaking as you drive the screws goes way up. Different species of wood vary in their propensity for splitting, with hardwoods on the higher risk end, and more compressible softwoods like pine and cedar a lower risk. Still, if the parts matter, you should always predrill.

Choose a drill bit the same size as the inner shank of the screws you’ll be using. Your holes should be big enough to allow the screw to enter the wood with much less risk of splitting it, but small enough to allow the threads to bite into the wood and firmly engage. In most cases there’s no need to predrill for screws used in large outdoor projects, but finer woodworking and furniture building always benefits from predrilling for fasteners.