Pinewood Derby Stories and Photos from Maximum Velocity
Think Safety while Building Your Car
(Updated from the original article published in Volume 1, Issue 4, November 14, 2001)
A few weeks ago, I was working in our shop and - through foolishness on my part - managed to slice open a finger. After an expensive trip to an urgent care center, I was the owner of several stitches. Needless to say, safe workshop practices came to the forefront of my mind.
So, to kick off this year, I would like to provide some safety guidelines for working on your car. 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 parents we need to teach our 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 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 and homes 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. They have adjustable temple pieces to fit your head, but can also be purchased on-line in children and adult sizes.
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. Consider wearing 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. An emergency room visit to remove a wood fragment from your eye is an experience you want to avoid.
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. Instead, 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.
Most 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.
When spray painting, consider using more serious breathing protection. Hardware and home store offer breathing masks with replaceable filters. These remove more particulates, and some of the harmful paint fumes.
PROTECT YOUR HANDS
During my junior and senior years in high school, I worked at a custom woodworking mill 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 large sliver of wood which embedded itself 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.
There is also one non-power tool to be very careful with - the 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. When using a chisel, ALWAYS POINT THE SHARP END AWAY FROM YOUR BODY. At a pinewood derby workshop two years ago, a parent was using a wood chisel and failed to follow this warning. He proceeded to slice open the palm of his hand, requiring a visit to the emergency room, and a significant blood clean-up operation in the shop.
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 ... well, 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 articles (including clothing) while working on your car. Any loose article can get caught in a revolving tool, leading to serious repercussions.
USE CAUTION WITH LEAD
Although other metals are available as ballast weight, due to the low cost and high-density, lead is still the most 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 sand or saw lead (creates particles). To cut lead, use cutting pliers or use a hammer to drive a flat blade screwdriver through the lead.
- Don't melt lead. Not only are the fumes toxic, but the lead could pop or splatter and cause a severe burn. Also, if melted lead is placed directly into a cavity in the car, it will cause the wood to smolder and can ruin a nice paint job.
A FINAL THOUGHT ON SAFETY
Oftentimes, accidents occur when people are in a hurry. In the rush to complete the task, good judgment is 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 derby experience.
P.S. Okay, I'll tell you how I cut my finger. I was using a drill press to drill a somewhat large hole in a strip of sheet metal. When doing this kind of drilling, the sheet metal must be securely clamped to the drill press table (or the work surface if using a hand drill). I knew this, but thought to myself, "I can hold it." Stupid me. Of course, the drill bit 'bit' into the metal, easily snatching it from my grasp, and proceeded to wield the sheet metal like a revolving knife blade. You can imagine the rest. I was fortunate to only get one finger cut.