Woodworking Safety 2012

It’s that time of year again, safety reminder week.

Many of the people writing on this topic talk often about protecting limbs, fingers and eyes. All are critically important. Yet, I rarely see mention of hearing protection. Virtually all of my shop work is with hand tools. Very rarely is there a screaming demon to interrupt the peaceful solitude of quiet music … or the constant ringing in my ears.*

Yet, I know that many of you often use saws, routers, and sanders for some aspect of your work. How many times do you just flip them on without thinking about hearing protection? No protection leads to constant tinnitus.

There are all sorts of hearing protection available and at a very wide range of price points. Most of the time that I write about this, it is for shooting sports where the noise is different, yet the need for protection is still very important. One of the prime decision points of most people is comfort. For a few minutes of sawing, comfort may not be an issue, but for hours of noisy work, it certainly is.

So, I’ve collected a lot of choices that some will find helpful:

Let’s look at some numbers. All of these devices offer different levels of protection. Most devices have a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) that tells in decibels how much noise they block. The more the better.


In other words… 30 db reduction is TWICE as much as 24 db.

20 db – custom molded “musicians’ plugs” (silicone) – $200

21 db – low end non-electronic muffs muffs – $15-$30

22-24 db – low end electronic muffs – $20-$60 – example: Peltor 7 Passive – 24db – $25-$30

24 db – polymer plugs – SureFire EarPro EP-6 – $15

24-26 db – better electronic muffs – $150-400 – example: Peltor 7 electronic – 24db – $280

25 db – Electronic custom molded ESP (silicone) plugs ($2000-2500) – NRR not published on the website, I got the number via mail from them.

25 db – E.A.R Insta-Mold silicon plugs (at 125 hz – the frequency closest to a shotgun blast) ($1000)

26 db – premium non-electronic muffs (Pro Ears Ultra 26) – about $40

26 db – mix it yourself custom molded silicon plugs – $7 – notorious for very poor results

26 db – SensGard ZEN, model 26, $25 – neither plugs nor muffs; dampens sound in air chambers

29-30 db – foam earplugs PROPERLY INSERTED – 50 cents/pair – see THIS VIDEO for proper insertion: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SPNPZJingZA

31 db – SensGard ZEN, model 31, $33 – neither plugs nor muffs; dampens sound in air chambers

31 db – non-electronic muff – Browning Buckmark Hearing Protector – $20 (looks like a very good deal)

32 db – E.A.R. yellow foam plugs – 21 cents/pair in bulk – again: PROPERLY INSERTED, see the video at the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SPNPZJingZA

Personally, I want as much hearing protection as possible. For a noisy shop, I suggest looking for 25db or better, typically simple muffs or the Zen SensGards. For shotgun shooting sports, I find foam plugs superb … but they are slower it insert than just putting on muffs. For indoor pistol ranges, both plugs and “cans” (muffs).


* The reason my ears ring … and why you should use more ear protection than you think you need.

It takes only about 10 minutes to change a tire on a KC-135 Stratotanker, less if you arrive to find its engines already running, idled down to minimums, and a crew eager to be on its way. (Killing the engines means another pre-flight and probably filing a new flight plan.) The crew chief jacked the bogie while I set about changing the tire. I had hearing protection, but not enough, plugs, no cans. I was changing the front starboard tire and wheel on the starboard bogie, with engine #3 about 5 feet directly behind me. Remove the safety wire from the hubcap screws – remove the screws and hubcap – remove the safety wire from the nuts of two bolts that lock the large wheel hub nut from turning – remove the lock bolts and their nuts – remove the hub nut – ensure the flight crew has the disc brakes locked – wiggle the wheel and outer bearing off the axle – pull off the inner bearing – push on a freshly cleaned and repacked inner bearing – wiggle the new (about 200 pound) wheel on, aligning brake keys with the notches in the brake rotors – push on a freshly cleaned and repacked outer bearing –  install and tighten the hub nut, aligning castellations with lock bolt holes – reinstall the locking bolts and their nuts – tie the nuts with safety wire so they don’t loosen – reinstall the hubcap and tighten its screws – tie down the hubcap screws with safety wire – drop the jack – gather up the tools, old wheel and other parts – get out of the way. 8 minutes 20 seconds! Forty some years later I benefit from the marvels of ultra miniature electronics which compensate for much of the hearing loss. Yet, I can assure you from my ever present tinitus that engine #3 was idling at 8520 rpm and engine #4 was idling at 8780. No more loud machines for me!

One Response to “Woodworking Safety 2012”

  1. Christopher Landy Says:

    Well said Bob. Thanks for sharing.