Lathes are exceptionally useful for cutting sheet metal or wood, but if used improperly they can be incredibly dangerous. The Consumer Product Safety Commission says that the most common injuries caused by lathe accidents are broken fingers, cuts to the hands and hot shrapnel in the eyes. When using a lathe, it's important to take safety precautions such as wearing proper clothing, maintaining the proper speed and practicing safe cutting techniques.
Educating yourself about the lathe before using it can prevent many accidents. Read the user manual, including all safety procedures, before you start work. Examine the lathe for any loose, damaged or missing parts and be certain that all guards and shields are in place. Lathe cutting tools should also be sharp. Do not use the lathe if you notice any problems.
Lathes often spit out chips and other pieces of hot, sharp metal. Wear industrial safety glasses with side shields to protect your eyesight.
Clothing and Accessory Safety
Lathes can easily catch long sleeves and loose clothing. It's best to wear short sleeves or long sleeves with fitted cuffs that cannot get caught and drawn into the lathe. Wear long pants and sturdy work shoes to protect your legs and feet from hot metal. Remove any jewelry or wrist watches that could get caught on the lathe. Pull back long hair as well.
Securing Work and Starting the Lathe
Before you begin working the lathe, make sure the work piece is centered and tightly clamped to the lathe's chuck. Adjust the cutting tool and rest so that they are just above the center of the work piece. Remove the chuck key from the chuck before you turn on the power. When you start the lathe, begin on a low rotational setting and gradually increase the speed as necessary.
As you cut with the lathe, follow the manufacturer's recommendations for rotation speed, feed and depth of cut for the material you are working on. Keep your hands and fingers away from any moving parts or cutting tools. Avoid reaching across the rotating chuck or work piece when you are filing or burnishing. Never use your hand to stop a moving chuck. Instead, move the cutting tool away from the metal, turn off the lathe and remove the work piece.
Clean Up Safety
Remember the old adage that "a clean workshop is a safe workshop." Thoroughly clean your work area after using the lathe. Sweep up any metal pieces from the floor or work area with a brush or broom. Do not touch the metal pieces with your hands as they may cut or burn you.