Safely Moving and Storing Lumber

Woodworker's Safety WeekWoodworker’s Safety Week  is always full of great information about working with sharp tools and awareness about dust from working the lumber.  I want to take a few step back to the lumber yard and talk about safety when it comes to moving rough lumber around.

Most lumber yards sell 8-12 foot boards and these get heavy really fast.  A piece of typical FAS 8/4×6 Cherry that is 8 feet long will run about 17 lbs.  That doesn’t sound like much but it can still break a toe when dropped on your foot.  Moreover, the length can be unwieldy forcing you to engage muscles that don’t get used much.  Now imagine an exotic that can weigh 3-4 times as much and add some inches to the width and feet to the length.  This is lower back hurting territory.  Hopefully it goes without saying but always lift with your legs and whenever possible let one end of the lumber rest on something else to take the weight.  When pulling boards from a horizontal rack, lever them off and on to the floor.  Most lumber yards will provide rolling carts and take every opportunity to use them as well.

Lumber Stack of Sapele

Imagine trying to get the piece on top only to have the whole stack fall over on top of you.

Just talk to someone who works all day moving lumber they will have plenty of bumps, bruises and scars to show you how lumber can bite back when it is in motion.

Wear tough work gloves when handling rough sawn lumber.  Splinters may seem like a necessary evil, but they can be painful and quickly get infected, causing much bigger problems.  Exotic woods are notorious for oils and resins that cause nasty reactions when the splinters get under your skin.  If left in place painful scar tissue and even blood poisoning can result.  I have seen many an instance where an untreated splinter has resulted in a visit to the hospital and some judicious slicing with scalpel to remove the foreign body.  It isn’t just exotics to be wary of either.  There is no telling how your body will react to a species of wood, but White Oak and Walnut are common offenders of allergic reactions.  Any wood that smells strongly while being milled is an indicator as you are smelling the resins and oils that will cause the reaction.

Of course I’m overlooking the obvious thing there that a splinter is really nothing more than a wood spear.  The small ones are annoying but they come in all sizes and will skewer you quickly.  If checks or wane exists on a board be wary of long splinters that will catch on exposed skin or loose clothing and quickly tear through anything in the way.

On the whole when compared to high speed spinning carbide, rough lumber injuries may seem trivial.  I find that it is exactly when we think things are safe that we let our guard down and get hurt.  Be safe, know the weight of what you are moving, wear gloves, and don’t try to carry lumber in vehicles when it isn’t tied down securely.  Remember Newton’s first law of inertia and make sure that sudden stop at the stop light doesn’t turn your lumber yard treasure into a missile.


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