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


    Back in the day, I worked with a guy who had LONG hair. Well, 1 day he got a bit too close to the drill press.
    We nailed his small part of the scalp to the wall :>0
    Know your metals, a buddy was grinding the transmission of a VW years back, hit the steel chassis, sparks set his chest a blaze !!! He didn’t realize that the tranny was magnesium.

    Rings and metal band wrist watches. In my first year as an apprentice mechanic in 1965 I accidentally crossed terminals on an alternator with my metal band writ watch. B a n g – z o o m – band flew off and left a gash that started spewing blood…….OUCH! Since then have never worn these ‘accessories’ while working.
    Also finger rings can get your hand caught in tight places – B E W A R E !!

    Shorted a metal wrist watch band across an amp meter when I reached behind a dashboard in the mid 1970’s. I have not worn a watch or any rings since that day. The scar it left was visible for over 30 years.
    On the plus side I did not have to spend money a wedding band for me when we married.

    I am not much of a jewelry guy but I sat on a safety presentation one time in the USMC. A technician had climbed onto the fuselage of a plane to do some work and slipped down off the side. Not a big fall and no big damage……except he hooked a wedding ring on a protruding rivet. The ring ‘girdled’ the skin on his finger and he ended up losing the finger. Rings and work do not play well together for lots of reasons

    Excellent safety advice for the unaware, thank you!
    Fortunately for me, being trained as an aircraft mechanic both in the military and later in civilian life, Safety was always the #1 priority.
    Still there are times when something unexpected happens during the rushed routine job and safety takes a back seat.

    As far as spinning a roller bearing with compressed air just to hear the siren sound gradually increase with more speed, it can be a deadly ☠️ experience that no one will ever forget!

    After I was discharged from the USAF, I attended a civilian aviation school to receive a FAA A+P license.
    It was there that I witnessed two aviation student mechanics do the same trick using compressed air on a jeweled altimeter bearing, just to hear the high pitched siren sound.
    One of the aviation students died from the shrapnel and the other lost his fingers.
    It was a traumatic experience akin to some of the horrors experienced during the military that are embedded in my memory forever. You just can’t unsee someone’s death.

    As a USAF Logistics Officer, I had multiple locations of warehouse/storage/shipping facilities. Near the entry of every facility was a prominently displayed poster of a hand without a ring finger. The posters grabbed your attention.

    Wheel ramps on the front and than using a jack under the pumkin to lift up the rear tires. It only take being stupid once.

    An air embolism is a bubble of air in the blood stream, and needs to be pretty big to be dangerous. If you have IV, I would recommend not hooking the compressed air up to it, but otherwise, it would not be possible to cause an air embolism with it. Not to say compressed air is without its dangers, just not for an air embolism. (People have been known to kill themselves with prop guns by pointing them at their forehead and firing a blank that has blown a hole into their head. A similar thing could happen with compressed air, so I do advise caution)

    Take off necklaces and rings as well. They can not only catch and pull you in, they can also conduct electricity.

    And I pretty much only wear cotton or wool. Doesn’t burn easy, or melt into the skin…

    Couple ideas. Most folks don’t have huge quantities of windshield washer fluid but a local garage had a 55 gal drum that was apparently vented into the shop. In the cool weather with doors etc closed the vapor from the alcohol in the stuff got to high enough concentration that it blew up when a mechanic started welding something. A near by worker got burned so badly he died. Kind of a tragic wake up call for flammables not usually worried about. Drill presses are places for lots of injuries. Chips flying, swinging pieces, all kinds of issues.

    The wedding ring made of gold is an excellent conductor of electrical current. I discovered this while trying to determine if I was getting spark to a cylinder. Oh, it was getting spark alright, as it jumped to my wedding band. Instantly blistered finger.

    I had a house fire a couple of years ago. A brand new charger was plugged into the wall in my kitchen charging one of those lithium battery packs. The charger overheated and caught fire causing the cabinets above it to burn.
    We were only out of the house for about an hour. House was full of smoke when I opened the door.

    Be wary of Chineesium electronics!

    I charge the Lithium batteries then take them out of the charger. Sure the charger stops charging as far as I know but nothing to say it might not cause an issue.

    I guess age makes you think. As I have gotten older, I have become more cautious, actually just doing what I should have done way back when. I think my mantra now is that I ask myself……What’s the possible consequence of this going south? How much is the Emer Rm co-pay goanna cost me? How long will I be out of commission to complete the job…..if I don’t take my time and do it safely.

    I have read the battery instructions for li-ion batteries for DeWalt, Milwaukee, Ridgid, Royobi, Makita. All say leave them plugged in to the OEM charger. They have a fully charged safety cut-off switch, and will be ready for use as soon as you plug them into a tool. As for the other chargers found at Wal-Mart, Amazon, run away!

    Not much compares with the gold ring melting into a finger when caught between ‘hot’ and ground. Maybe that’s why it’s called hot?
    Or a tie caught in a rotating tool which will rip off your face. Yes, I know, “What’s a tie?”

    That’s exactly why IBM dictated that their service employees wear clip-on ties. Someone nearly choked when their regular tie got caught in a keypunch machine. Yes, I know, “what’s a key-punch machine?”

    I worked at a Porsche dealership in the mid 80’s and just did a oil change on it. So after 12 quarts of oil installed I fired it up, cause you have to get the circulated to the front oil cooler and check the level. We’ll a service wrighter came over to check out the car, my back was turned as I was filling out my paperwork .Then I heard a ungodly scream and a large thud and another mechanic yelled over to me to turn the 911 turbo off quick . Turned out the service wrighter had gotten his tie caught in the air cooling fan, pulled him in damn near choked him to death, his head was laid open badly cause his head bent the rear hood . Twisted the hell out of it the (hood) and probably spun his head like a ruellet wheel. He survived but his tie shredded as he wad quickly tried to pull away and fell forward jamming his head into the rear hood when I sat the car off. 28 stitches in his head and a ring around his neck. Very lucky guy to have survived that ordeal. I was 23yrs. old when that happened. Still remember the scream and thud to this day .From then on we all were told to back up the car on or lifts to prevent it from happening again cause our toolboxes were against the back wall. Sorry for the long read but it definitely scared everyone in the shop that day.

    Buffing wheels are my arch nemesis. Especially when polishing stainless steel trim. Many scars to illustrate my point.

    There are lots more danger. Buddy got crushed to death under a truck he was working on . Fell off the jack I guess. You forgot oxy/acetelene torches , very dangerous. You forgot exhaust fumes in a garage. Your hands in cleaning solvent , absorbs through skin , bad for you .

    Cordless power tool chargers hooked up when not in use, I dropped a piece of steel wool on one & it burst into flames in seconds!

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