Renovation & Design

MIKE HOLMES: Don't let power tools make you their victim

Jason Coates glues pieces of hemlock that will be part of Victoria's convention centre.

HAVE you ever heard the saying, A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing?

That's especially true when it comes to power tools, an area where someone who knows just a little could really use -- or lose -- a hand.

Now that power tools are more affordable and the DIY movement is in full swing, tools are flying off store shelves and into the hands of some people who have no business handling power tools. Lack of experience, mixed with too much bravado, or the opposite -- not enough confidence -- is a dangerous combination when using a power tool. And it's not just DIYers who have accidents; it's experienced contractors as well.

A power tool can be a lot like a wild animal: sharp teeth and an unpredictable nature. This demands that you not only learn the proper ways of handling such a beast, but you also know what makes it bite back.

Obviously, reading the manual that comes with the tool is a start, but what everyone really needs is an introductory course with an experienced operator to not only get the best results from their tools, but to know how to avoid catastrophic accidents. Community-college night courses and big-box stores offer power-tool courses. I can only imagine how many emergency-room visits they've saved in the process.

For instance, everyone could benefit from some instruction when it comes to the mitre saw and table saw. Both tools are so powerful that, in the event the blade pinches, the wood can be drawn towards the rotating teeth in a split second -- sometimes faster than an unsuspecting hand gripping the wood can let go. You don't want to witness what happens when things go wrong. Learning to respect the tool is half the battle.

The next tool on the list: the nail gun. You know, there isn't much difference between a real gun and a nail gun: They're both dangerous and they both fire metal projectiles at high velocity.

When building fences, it's common practice for one person to work on one side of the fence while another works on the other. If a nail is shot into a wood plank and misses the connecting piece of wood, the nail can shoot through the plank, injuring the person on the other side of the fence.

The hand-held grinder can also be a nasty piece of work because it can be used on so many materials and, depending of the abrasive disk, can be used for grinding or cutting tile, metal and masonry. The problem is that it's possible to operate a grinder with one hand. And so often the accident occurs because the material being cut, like a piece of tile, is held with the other hand.

The advent of battery-operated tools brings a new development in power-tool safety. Back when power tools were all the plug-in type, it seemed to make sense to most people to unplug the tool before changing the blade. But with battery-powered tools, it's not so obvious that the battery should be removed before making that same blade change.

Even those small hobby power tools can become dangerous when used improperly. The small tools have high revolutions per minute and require a firm grasp. The big problem is that many people use these tools while seated at a workbench. If the tool slips out of the operator's hand, it lands in his or her lap. Ouch.

The bottom line: If you're going to buy a tool, invest in your own safety. Take a course or have an experienced operator teach you proper operating technique. And understand what limitations the tool has. The odds of an accident skyrocket when a tool is used on materials it was not designed for, or when the blade has worn out.

If you need a power tool for a specific project and think you might only use it the one time, consider renting the tool. The rental company will also give you some basic instruction; it's in their best interest to get their tool back in good condition and to have repeat customers who still have all 10 of their digits.

Even when the tool is properly used, it can still cause problems if the most basic protective devices are not used, namely, safety glasses, dust masks, gloves and proper ear protection.

Operating a power tool safely means having confidence and the right amount of knowledge -- and giving the tool your complete, undivided attention while you're using it. Every power tool demands R-E-S-P-E-C-T and it will help you 'Make It Right.'

-- Canwest News Service

Catch Mike in his brand-new series, Holmes Inspection, airing Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on HGTV. For more information, visit

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