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Think Safety while Building Your Pinewood Derby Car

I know what you are thinking; "Here comes the tool safety lecture." Well you are right. I am going to provide some safety guidelines for working on your pinewood derby car. But please bear with me and read this information. A refresher course in safety never hurt anyone, and it could save you or a member of your family from getting hurt. Also, as a parent you need to teach your children to work safely by modeling good safety practices and making sure they take safety precautions seriously.

Protect Your Eyes - I am sure everyone reading this has had some foreign material get into an eye, and many of you have had a scratch on the surface of your eye. As you found out your eyes are very sensitive, and easily damaged. While working on your pinewood derby car all manner of material will fly around so ALWAYS WEAR EYE PROTECTION. Two types of eye protection are available for a reasonable price at hardware stores: safety glasses and safety goggles.

Safety glasses have clear protective lenses with side shields. They are used when you don't wear glasses or when you wear contact lenses. Safety goggles have a clear protective lens and fit over regular glasses. Safety goggles do a better job of keeping floating dust out your eyes than do safety glasses. So, even if you don't wear glasses, you may want to consider safety goggles. I personally wear safety glasses when drilling, sawing, chiseling, etc., but wear safety goggles when sanding, painting, and using graphite.

I know that eye protection is a hassle to wear, but don't risk your eyesight
over a little comfort.

Protect Your Lungs - You will create a considerable amount of wood dust while working on your car. Don't breathe that dust into your lungs. WEAR A PARTICLE MASK whenever you are sanding, filing, drilling, or lubricating with graphite. Also, when spray painting, work in a well-ventilated area, and wear breathing protection.

Our home supply store sells two types of particle masks. The first type, a 'Comfort Mask' is less expensive. It is made of a relatively thin material, has one thin rubber band to secure the mask, and does not have a seal on the edge of the mask. The other type of mask is intended for drywall installers and painters and is sometimes referred to as a 'Particulate Mask'. This mask is thicker, has two sturdy rubber bands, has a seal around the edge, and is slightly more expensive. Admittedly the 'Comfort Mask' is more comfortable, but it does a poor job of filtering sawdust. I strongly recommend using a 'Particulate Mask'.

Protect Your Hands - During my junior and senior years in high school, I worked at a custom woodwork manufacturer during the summer. I personally had several close calls with power tools, and witnessed a few injuries.

In one close call, a table saw (with the safety guard removed) kicked-back a sliver of wood that embedded in a board across the room. Fortunately no one was in the way. In another case, a different saw kicked back a sliver that went through two fingers of the operator's hand. Fortunately the wood missed the tendons, and he regained full use of his hand.

The point of this is to encourage you to BE VERY CAREFUL WITH POWER TOOLS. Make sure you know the proper way to use the tool and don't remove the safety devices.

In my opinion, there is also one non-power tool to be very careful with. That tool is a wood chisel. Wood chisels need to be very sharp to work properly, and considerable force must be applied to the chisel to gouge out the wood. Both of these characteristics (sharpness and force) can lead to gouges in your hands. So make sure to keep fingers away from the cutting edge of the chisel.

Protect Your Hair - Even after more years than I care to remember, I will never forget a photo that hung by the drill press in the machine shop at our high school. The photo showed a mass of hair mixed in with metal shavings, lying on the table of the drill press. Someone with long hair had used the drill, the loose hair got caught in the drill bit, ... and you can imagine the rest.

The clear lesson is to SECURE LONG HAIR when working in the shop, especially when using any revolving tool (drill, power saw, etc.). Also don't wear necklaces, bracelets, scarves, and other loose clothing while working on your car.

Use Caution with Lead - Lead is a common weighting material for pinewood derby cars. But as you probably know, lead is toxic if taken internally. Therefore:

- Wash your hands after handling lead (and don't put your fingers in your mouth).
- Keep lead away from food, water, and food preparation areas.
- Collect and properly dispose of any lead pieces.
- Don't melt lead. Not only are the fumes toxic, but the lead could pop or splatter and cause a severe burn.

A Final Thought on Safety - Oftentimes, accidents occur when people are in a hurry. In the rush to complete the task, good judgment can get put aside, which greatly increases the chance for an injury. So, don't wait until a few days before the race to build your car. Instead, plan ahead and get started as soon as possible. By working slowly over time, you will work more safely, and the end result will likely be a better car.

I wish all of you a wonderful and safe pinewood derby experience.

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 1, Issue 4

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