6 sneakily dangerous things in the garage

Kyle Smith

The garage is a space that can be many things. It can be a shrine to a favorite car or a workspace that’s chock full of tools. Depending on who you are and what you enjoy in the garage, there are a number of things that may conspire to maim and injure the relatively delicate human body. Some of those are obvious. They wear warning labels and tamper-resistant guards aimed at protecting us from ourselves. Other items in the garage are just as dangerous but come with no warning label. Like a snake in the grass, you have to be aware to even know you are in danger. Here are six of those items you might have and not even think about.


chuck in drill press
Kyle Smith

We all wear clothes. Okay, most of us wear clothes and all of us have likely said the old saying about rolling up our sleeves and getting to work. That saying exists for a reason. As much of a danger as it is to be working on your hot rod in the nude, it can be just as dangerous to have loose clothing on. The machines we work on are very powerful, even the small ones like cordless drills, and are capable of catching a bit of cloth and whipping it into a fury.

This is often discussed when working with big equipment like lathes or milling machines, but an alternator pulley or cooling fan is just as—if not more—powerful. Adjusting carburetor tuning or ignition timing on an engine puts us in a place where we can get pulled into things quickly if not careful. An unbuttoned flannel shirt or hooded sweatshirt with strings hanging down is just as dangerous as sleeves too, so it pays to be conscious of what you are wearing and how it might conspire to hurt you.


No, we aren’t going to stop you from crunching away on some Lay’s while in the garage, but there are chips to be scared of. Any time you are drilling or turning you are cutting away small pieces of metal that are called chips. These slivers of metal are dangerous at first because they are often hot and thrown away from the workpiece. Safety glasses are critical there. Once they hit the floor the danger is not over though. Those chips are hot for a little while, but often sharp forever. They can become prickly little tire deflators in short order if you forget to sweep up or roll a tire over them without thinking.

Heavy things up high

Car parts on shelf
Kyle Smith

I’ll admit I’ve stood on a stool to grab that bin off the top shelf only to find it’s heavier than I remember when it finally slips off and all the weight is in my hands. Luckily that ended okay but it was merely luck that I wasn’t injured due to falling off the stool or dropping that bin on myself or something I care about. Garages serve as storage as much as a workspace for lots of us and while it is funny to think that the storage side could potentially be dangerous, it happens.

The fridge contents

Garage fridge Kyle Smith 2
Kyle Smith

The garage fridge is a sacred place to some. It can help lubricate our tongues until the fun stories come out around our buddies. It can also help with press-fit parts by chilling them until they shrink just enough to make popping things in place a little easier. Lastly, it can cause us to forget the basics and not respect the power of the tools and vehicles we work on. When in doubt, stay sober until the project is done and it’s just the clean-up left.

Chargers or tenders

Sadly, we are not talking Dodge or chicken here. Seasonal storage is the (unfortunate) norm for many owners and that means keeping batteries topped up so cars will be ready when driving season arrives. There is also the rising popularity of battery tools which require occasional charging to keep in working order. Leaving either of these items plugged in for extended periods is often safe as the devices have fuses or safeties built in, but those are not fail-proof.

All it takes is a battery to get overcharged, or a wire to get rubbed a few too many times and cause an arc and suddenly there’s fire. It often happens silently and causes damage quickly. Check your chargers or tender regularly to see if they are warm to the touch or otherwise defective. If possible, unplug them when not needed as it will minimize the risk of something melting down without you being there to catch it.


compressed air gun
Kyle Smith

Yes, be scared of everything! Just kidding, this is really only for compressed air. As tempting as it is to use compressed air to blow dust and debris off your skin while working, it carries risks that not all are aware of. Most air lines in shops run at least 90psi of pressure and when that is funneled through a nozzle and pointed at our relatively porous skin there is the chance an air bubble can form under our skin. That is called an air embolism and causes serious health concerns. Blowing your skin off also can force contaminates into you skin rather than off of it. Human bodies cannot process many of the chemicals that are common in garage projects so on a long enough timeline this will poison you from within.


Of course, someone could make an argument that just about anything is dangerous and it would likely hold some truth. Anyone picking up tools and working in the garage accepts some risk but it is always best to understand the dangers you are engaging with and understand how to mitigate the risk if appropriate.


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Read next Up next: Never Stop Driving #43: I’ll take the parachute


    Under the air category:
    Never dry off wheel bearings by spinning them under a stream of compressed air. They become subject to greater forces then they experience when installed on their axles. They can literally explode due to the centrifugal force when they are spinning.

    When I was young and fun filled, I worked at a golf course. In college, I was fortunate enough to get some work during breaks working with the greens keeper in the winter months. One afternoon he left me and another genius working on changing out some bearings on a mower. He told us which to clean and repack, which to replace. I think he said don’t use air to clean the bearings that we used to soak in a tub of gasoline. Anyway, we figured using an air gun to blow out the crud was a quick easy way to clean up the caged bearings. Didn’t take long to see how fast we could get them spinning…..until the first one exploded. What fun. So we collected up all the discarded bearings and continued to blow them apart inside a big trash can. When my buddy just missed his eye with one bearing, we figured it was time to find something else to amuse us.

    When I was 18 I worked at a heavy fab shop and we used to launch the plastic caps that came with bandag hoses out of pipe (usually 2”). Snug fit the cap on the front, spin on a threaded metal cap with a hole in it, fill it with Oxy acetylene, aim at the light pole across the 4 lane highway, and hit the striker.

    Boss, a family friend, got a call from a city council member and I got fired.

    Never had one explode from air drying/spinning but I must have been really close. While working late at the gas station one night I decided to repack the front wheel bearings on my ’65 Dodge wanna-be street racer. Cleaned them out with gasoline, spun them dry, repacked them and put back into the front hubs. About 1,000 miles later both sides froze up and welded the races onto the axle shafts. Pretty embarrassing. Our mechanic asked what happened and I went through the routine – he actually laughed at me and explained why ‘real’ mechanics never used air to spin dry a bearing. Expensive lesson, I think the new axles and a ball joint that could not be salvaged cost me $30 in 1968 dollars. At least the brake drums were unscathed.

    On the insanity side, you’ve probably heard about the gentleman who had an air gun stuck up his anus and his buddy who was charged with assault and ended up in jail for a year. It had a happy ending, the inmates found out and used something other than air. Karma can be a pain in the —.

    Thanks for that spooky memory, and you have been quoted, cited and credited in the SDC WLEC newsletter “The Drivers Seat.” You may find yourself at wlecsdc.com on page 2. All profits from this month’s issue will be delivered to your shop. Fair chance that you’ve just saved some young-punk mechanic’s life.

    Having spent the first twenty-some years of my life in Detroit, 1954 to 1975, I thoroughly enjoyed browsing through the pictures posted on the SDC WLEC website!
    My dad was a new/used car salesman as I was growing up in the mid/late 1950s, and he’d bring home a different car from the used car lot every night, and seems his preference was for what are now called the orphan cars (I had a particular fondness for the step-down Hudsons and bullet nose Studebakers).

    Thanks for initiating that little stroll down memory lane!

    One circular saw I owned had it right in the instructions to not wear gloves when using it –I’m supposing glove pulling hand/fingers into the spin is worse than some splinters bouncing into your skin…

    I’m from a welding family… hot metal bits from grinders can cause all sorts of issues. Also sad when someone doesn’t cover up glass and let’s welding splatter hit it. Doesn’t look like much when you are doing the welding, but can look like you shook a peppershaker all over the glass after.

    Fire fighter connections have been telling me for years now that they get a lot of calls because of tools/tool batteries left on chargers as their resting space.

    I wear a welding apron, but one day didn’t have it handy and needed to make a quick tack on a small “bench project”. Just pull on gloves and helmet, fire up the machine, and ZAP, right? Yeah – wanna see the dark grey sweatshirt I have that clearly lets you know when I wear a white t-shirt under it? (It’s now my oil-change shirt in cooler weather…) 😣

    Also – remember to have your pants cuffs OVER your shoes – even a little gap can be exciting when a hot blob of metal calls into your shoe. Happened to my brother – boy did he dance while I laughed. (Its’ always funny until someone (like your brother) gets hurt – then it’s hilarious).

    make that “falls into your shoe” not “calls” – althought he did call out some interesting words…

    I had..(HAD), a rusted out pin holed 20 Gallon Cambell Hausfeld compressor. I inverted it, (got my favorite cleaning solution out) (Brakeclean) and rag cleaned the exterior, for many minutes, after I had ground off the rust and prepped the metal for welding… Mmmmmm , I fired up my MIG welder, (had my gloves on and Face covered) and when that MIG, sparked on the bottom of that tank, I was thrown back about 5’…lucky I’m still here. Wacked my head on a table on the way to the floor, had my mask on.. my lower neck was burned pretty bad, as were my forearm’s…. A great learning experience. I sprung for a new compressor.! Non Flammable cleaning agents are now part of my steel storage locker.

    Welded an emergency repair, upside down in a t-shirt (because Im an idiot) and got a hot bit of slag into my armpit. I have a crater and a scar to this day.

    If you’ve ever had gasoline in your armpit, hot slag feels like lava boring into your lung.

    Double ix-nay on the gloves with power saw. My coworker got to experience an 18hour surgery to reattach his (gloved) left hand after the circular saw snagged the glove.

    I keep my drill bit belt tight enough to cut with moderate pressure but loose enough to stop if anything hinky happens. I will take the time to be a bit patient with my work rather than getting wrapped up in a drill press or getting smacked by my work

    I have a set of various “holding tools” next to my grinder/wire wheel – mostly clamping pliers of various sizes and shapes – to firmly hold small items. Trying to de-rust a 1″ bolt, for instance, by holding it against a wire wheel with fingers only is a recipe for disaster.

    Yes indeed on the pants outside of the boots. My dad got welding Slagle in his boot back in the seventies. Every few years since then, his leg would swell up with a severe infection and hospitalized him for two weeks at a time. Up until the day it killed him.

    There is nothing dangerous here in the shop other than a Human.

    Each of those things listed and stated here have one common thread. They are either created or done by a human.

    The Human is the most dangerous thing in the shop. Just ask me I stabbed my thumb today with a knife doing something I knew better of doing.

    Tools do not hurt people people hurt people.

    What a great and true tale. I once ran a distribution warehouse with 50 warehousepersons. How many stories would you like to hear about the proper use of a box cutter? You don’t have enough time!

    The factory of the future will have only 1 person and 1 dog. The person is there to feed the dog, and the dog is there to make sure no human touches anything!

    Alongside loose shirtsleeves, long beards and hair should be “tucked” or otherwise kept away from moving things.

    In my Print Shop days, we had two people with long hair (one male, one female) get wrapped up in presses – fortunately, both while leaning over and turning things by hand rather than while the press was running (which could have been disastrous). HyperV6 is correct – when people slack off at being alert to dangers, the dangers will bite!

    A ponytail and a creeper wheel can be a most painful experience. Don’t ask me how I know. At least I kept my hair out of belts and pulleys!

    I will always remember my shop teacher kept a big mound of hair in his pocket. It was a reminder to everyone else to not get your long hair to close to the drill press.

    First photo of drill press made me think about using spring loaded / self ejecting chuck keys. At work we had problems with people not removing chuck keys before hitting the start button or leaving them in after removing a drill bit and walking away. Fortunately no injuries that I recall, but can cause injury, and damage equipment. No problems after replacing all of the non-ejecting keys.

    I remember the first time I saw one of those self-ejecting keys. After about a second I thought “oh, that’s a good idea!”

    The one in the photo actually is a self-ejecting chuck key. It hadn’t crossed my mind until reading your comment as to why. I’m looking forward to switching to a keyless chuck in the near future, but since this is functional it hasn’t been a priority. Neat thing to think about.

    A large chuck key (10″ handle, probably about 4 lbs.) once shot from the lathe in front of mine, right past my head and all the way across the shop. That was the moment I realized why all the lathes were angle parked against the wall. Possibly saved my life.

    I tell anyone who enters the garage, especially the little guys…..there’s things in here that can kill you. Be aware and show respect.

    The first thing I do when “little guys” enter my shop is to flip all the breakers on the load panel off. That leaves the lights on but cuts power to all the outlets.

    Wal Mart keep their group 27 batteries on the highest level of the rack. Heavy and awkward to remove and of course no one in sight to help…..

    “Are you headed into the garage wearing SLEEVES again…??”

    I dunno about anyone else but I already have a wife to tell me what an idiot I am and I drive a gas-guzzling muscle car & read car forums to get away from the nanny state.

    Work shoes! One of my pet peeves is seeing people in sneakers, sandals, or flip-flops (hello David Freiburger), working in their garage. Seems a lot of younger people don’t own work boots.

    Thanks for this reminder. It is a known, but often forgotten fact that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Maybe not today but some day. One of my tricks is to buy safety glasses by the dozen and have them everywhere. There is always a pair within reach, so no excuse to leave them off even for a 20 second job.

    The only good thing about having aging eyes: I really can’t do anything in the garage without glasses.

    They do make bi focal safety glasses, with the lens on the bottom (for normal activities and on the top for overhand, i.e. standing under car on lift, work).

    I had them made for work. looking up at the ceiling doing electrical and plumbing work. Took time to explain to the professional optometrist. Simple, please just make the glasses that way. Bifocals up and down. Have had a few sets made that way since the 80s.

    I met a guy on a worksite missing an index finger. He was operating a milling machine and tried to flick the metal shavings off the bit while it was spinning. It grabbed his finger and pulled it right off. That’s always in the back of my mind whenever I’m near a mill.

    I believe it was Neil Armstrong (though it might’ve been Buzz) who, years after the moon landing, jumped off of a truck and his ring got caught on the edge of the truck. It pulled his finger off. Fortunately they were reportedly able to reattach it.

    Along with the rings, a metal watch band can get snagged on rotating equipment. Also it conducts electricity. Shorted against a car battery cable it can (and has) quickly turn it into an electric branding iron.

    Exactly what happened to me when I had my hand up behind the dashboard trying to connect something when my steel watchband shorted out on one of the live wires and leaving me with a very painful 3/4″ wide bangle!

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