With springtime coming, you’ll be spending more time in your workshop getting your vehicles ready for the car show and cruise season. It’s a great time to protect against two “open invitations” for accidents. First, if you haven’t worked in the shop for months, you might find yourself making mistakes due to lack of familiarity with tools and equipment. On the other hand, if the shop is heated and you’ve been working in it all winter, you may find yourself getting complacent about safety precautions because nothing wrong has happened so far.
To avoid accidents in the shop, always keep your guard up. Refresh your tool and equipment skills by re-reading their instruction sheets. Do a check of the shop: Look over all wiring, make sure there are no burned-out light bulbs, check your fire extinguisher to be sure it works, take out any rubbish that accumulated over the winter months and eliminate as much clutter as you can. Most importantly, review all the procedures you follow in your shop and try to eliminate sloppy or potentially dangerous practices.
Many of you probably have a grinding machine, which may include a buffer wheel or a wire wheel. While grinder safety seems like a minor concern to restorers who cut, chop and weld, a small grinder can cause big problems. (Remember, it’s usually when you let your guard down when accidents occur).
When buffing or grinding, avoid wearing loose-fitting clothing and jewelry. A hanging sleeve or wristwatch can easily get caught in the spinning machine. Wear a hat, hairnet or shop helmet to keep long hair out of the machine’s way.
Things that get caught in a wheel can fly pretty far. The operator should at least wear safety glasses, but a full-face shield is even better. Work gloves or mechanic’s gloves are a must for jobs like this. For about $25, mechanic’s gloves may seem expensive – until they save your hand.
Your grinding wheel should be equipped with a tool rest and a glass shield. When grinding, the tool rest should be within a 16th of an inch from the surface of the wheel. Do not grind anything against the sides of the wheel, only the edge. Go slow and easy – don’t jam your work into the grinder. It may get snagged and go flying across your shop or, even worse, fly back and hit you.
Grinding wheels make sparks and sparks can cause fires or even explosions. Be sure that combustibles in your shop are stored far from any type of spark. Do not permit smoking in your shop. Cigarettes can cause explosions too. Buy an oily-rag can with a flip-up lid. They cost about $20 in discount tool stores. They work great and look just right in a home shop. Old batteries emit explosive hydrogen gas – don’t store them near a grinder throwing sparks.
Don’t store oxygen or welding gas near ignition sources in your shop. Wherever you store “bottles” of gas, close the valves tightly when the cylinders are not in use.
Home shops often have dozens of other tools for special jobs. Make sure that the safety guards on all of them are used. If they’re powered by electricity, check for frayed cords and damaged plugs. You should keep a maintenance checklist for machines that require periodic oiling or service. You can use long electrical ties to attach a card with the maintenance schedule printed on it right to each machine. Inspect the condition of abrasive wheels and cutters. If they need replacing or sharpening, do it now, at the start of the season.
Housekeeping counts. A floor littered with tools and jack stands is an invitation to trip and break your neck. If you’re hopping over cords and hoses each time you walk across the shop, you may need some reels to organize them. You can get manual reels in a discount tool store for as little as $15 and the coil type starts at about $35.
The personal protection equipment you should have in your shop includes cloth and leather work gloves, mechanic’s gloves, nitrile gloves for chemical and paint handling, latex-free examination gloves, goggles, safety glasses, full-face shield, ear plugs, ear muffs, face mask and a respirator. If you weld, you’ll need a welding helmet. You can buy the self-darkening style on eBay for about $40–$50.
If you use chains or cables for lifting or securing vehicles and heavy parts like engines, they should be checked each spring. The chains, no matter how heavy, may have damaged or broken links that can snap under pressure. Frayed cables can also snap. Cables may also develop light rust, in which case you should spray them with silicone.
Also make sure your hydraulic jacks are filled with fluid. Never slide under a vehicle supported only by the hydraulic jack. Use jack stands to support it. Use more than you think you need and make sure they are positioned to support the car or truck securely. You can try 4x4 wood cribbing for support; just cut the cribbing blocks about 3-feet long and nail rope handles on one end to make them easy to carry.
If you have a two- or four-post lift in your shop, don’t assume it’s maintenance-free. The cables used for lifting are supposed to be sprayed with silicone every month. You should also check the electric motor to make sure it’s filled to the right level with the proper fluid (usually automatic transmission fluid). If you’re lift isn’t powder-coated, abrasions and chemicals may have caused paint damage since last year. Think about applying new paint before the metal starts rusting.
John "Gunner" Gunnell is the automotive books editor at Krause Publications in Iola, Wis., and former editor of Old Cars Weekly and Old Cars Price Guide.