I have a mental streak that says I'm too old to worry about safety things like sawdust. It usually takes years to develop into something that seriously harms health or causes severe allergy. And I don't think I have years. My kids tell me not to think that way, and if my health were good I would agree. But having had 4 heart attacks and cancer something like 7 times (I lose track), I don't think I have a lot of shop time to lose. But I never thought I would get to be this old, so......
Now being careful of my eyes, that's something else. I wouldn't want to lose them, even if I were bedridden. And I don't have that attitude 'it won't happen to me'. When I'm using the router or table saw I am now very careful.
I was cutting a series of small blocks with my table saw. I soon got into a rhythm. I could push the block thru the saw with my right hand and reach up quickly and easily with my left hand to pick up the block to bring it back to a stack, while my right hand started to push another thru again. Such a nice rhythm, I was feeling a bit proud of having developed it. Then as I was reaching for the block I had just cut, I didn't reach quite far enough, and I stuck my thumb into the blade. I was highly fortunate. It healed quite well. And I still have my thumb. But I never want to experience that feeling again, when my thumb hit that blade. Shocking!!
A scrollsaw is about the safest woodworking power tool. But you can still be hurt. The blade can cut, especially when you get into the larger blade numbers, running at high saw speeds. And a cut can get blood all over that project that was so nice. Well, maybe that last factor isn't the most important, is it?
When a blade breaks, one end can cut quite effectively, even if you won't lose your finger. And a piece of the blade could put out an eye. That's why safety glasses are a prime recommendation. Regular glasses are only a protection if the lenses are plastic or of hardened glass. Is it reasonable to choose not to use safety glasses because the odds may say a broken blade would hit your eye only once every thousand breaks? Or 5,000 breaks? But maybe it's only 500 or 50.
Have you been told that you can get carpal tunnel syndrome from scrolling? Yes, you can. It is a repetitive motion injury, so it can be caused by hours of holding down wood on the saw table while cutting. It could eventually require surgery if you can't stop often for a couple of minutes to stretch and rest.
Even better, schedule things so you switch jobs every couple of hours. Move to your light box (plug that into the Search box!) to make final revisions in your latest pattern. Then back to the saw for awhile. Now you need to sort your wood box for just the right pieces for that next project, right?
Virtually all saws have a variation of some kind of 'Harold's' adjustable dust blower. It was invented by Harold Foos, almost my neighbor in Lakewood, CO, and a fellow member of the Colorado Woodworker's Guild. Some method of keeping saw dust off the pattern has to be used, and this is the best. Virtually every new saw now comes with one, and many older saws can be fitted with Harold's blower.
When using yours be sure to direct the blower so it is blowing the sawdust from the side. If it blows from the back it is into your face, and inhaling sawdust is highly unhealthy. Some sawdusts are very dangerous, especially to those subject to allergies. Sawdust is probably the greatest hazard in your shop. You need a dust mask.
Some woods, especially some exotics are highly toxic to many people. And safety articles say that working with some woods only a couple of times can trigger a highly allergic reaction, which can last for life. So anyone not already 80 should get used to using a mask. Yes, I know it's uncomfortable, especially in the heat, but 'they say' if you get used to it, it isn't bad at all.
Sort of like using a seat belt. Long ago I didn't want to bother, and besides it seemed kind of unmanly. Then I was heading out into the country (rural land) in January in North Dakota and there was frozen snow on the curve. I was going slow and knew how to drive on ice, but it started sliding, then caught some snow that wasn't frozen. Over it went.
I wasn't hurt (very bad), but without the belt I was upside down in the driver's seat. And it could have been serious. And what was I doing upside down in the first place? What was showing in this? My pride in not wearing a belt? No, but my stubborn stupidity in not having it buckled showed a lot.
So now I feel uncomfortable when I'm not buckled. If the corner is a bit sharper than I thought, I'm not thrown half into the passenger seat, but am solidly in the driver's bucket. OK.
The same lesson applies to woodworking safety. There will shortly be some toxicity charts to put in this article at this point. They aren't quite ready yet.
Charts are only reliable to a certain extent because every person has a different reaction to every stimulus. Tolrances vary from person to person. And some toxins are cumulative. Some sawdust may cause a mild rash, itching, sneezing or coughing, while others can cause deadly closing of the throat.
Plywoods and compositions boards can especially be problems. They can contain chemicals such as urea-formaldehyde and phenol-formaldehyde resin glues. Some wood preservatives and treatments are also hazardous. Reactions can occur after inhaling the sawdust, from handling the wood or when the sawdust settles on the skin.
A dust respirator should be approved by NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health). Your shop should have a good dust collection system. In addition the book says to wear gloves, but it's difficult to properly control the project wood with gloves on. Tight-fitting nitrile/latex gloves can solve that problem. But if you don't wear gloves, after a shop session wash your hands, forearms and face.
Your shop vac can be plugged into the foot switch on the scrollsaw. That way the vac runs only when the saw does. The vacuum hose can be rigged to pick up the sawdust. Some saws even have a designed vacuum port.
You'll use paint thinner at times. Sometimes you'll use lots of it. Be sure to buy 'odorless' mineral spirits. It has odor, of course, but far less strong than the original stuff. Just be sure to remember that it is still dangerous, as the label says. And besides that it's highly flammable. Even though it doesn't smell strong, it is there.
And all the various finishes have dangerous vapors of one sort or another. I don't know how much of what will reduce a person to a 3rd grade mind. But even at my age I'd not want to risk that.
In every climate there are times we don't want the doors / windows wide open. And the wind is too strong and dusty to work outside. There's no money for a heavy duty full room air quality controller. What to do? Postpone the finishing until nice weather? Maybe it's time to swallow hard and go watch an 18-year-old This Old House or something.