The subject of this post has the potential to be somewhat controversial. What I want to talk about is wearing gloves in the machine shop. Many of you out there may have noticed that in some of the blog pictures or on my YouTube videos I am wearing gloves while operating machinery. I have received several comments asking about this practice so I thought I would explain it in more detail.
When I was an apprentice I got yelled at a few times for wearing gloves in a situation where it probably wasn't a great idea. Those old loud codgers were just trying to protect me which I thank them for. The typical metalworking shop is loaded with machinery just waiting to bite the unwary. They were doing their job and protecting me like one of their kids.
Not that long ago I did a shop study. The subject of the study was injuries to my hands while working in the shop. I actually called them insults but that's beside the point. As many of you well know in the course of working in a machine or metal working shop you expect a certain number of minor hand insults and dings as part of the job. As part of my study I recorded anything that happened to my hands during the course of working in the shop.
After some time had elapsed logging entries I reviewed the specifics of each insult. The object was to filter them into several groups. The first group was injuries or insults that would have been prevented by wearing some kind of a hand protection. The second group was insults that would have been greatly minimized by wearing gloves. And the final group were injuries that gloves would have not made any difference.
I admit this was a limited study conducted by a minor klutz. I will tell you there were no insults that gloves would not have made a difference. In other words everything that happened to me during the study period would have been totally prevented or greatly minimized. Also during this period there were zero close calls because of wearing the gloves.
Now before you jump down my throat and say how dumb this sounds lets talk about it. I've been working in metalworking shops for forty years now. I can say that I've done some pretty good dings to my hands over the years but they still have all the fingers and everything works fine. Also things have changed in that forty years.
When I first started in metalworking there were not a huge variety of glove options readily available. Thanks to manufacturing technology we now have a huge number of choices for personal hand protection for a large cross section of specialized hazards. Hand injuries are quite common and some smart business people realized the huge potential market there was for hand PPE. In the old days you just used your leather gloves for everything unless it was cleaning the shop toilet. For that you shared a pair of somebodies hand me down dish washing gloves. There was a fifty fifty chance of a hole or leak in them to add to the fun.
So where I'm heading with all this is my opinion is the risks of wearing gloves around many types of machinery are very manageable. Just having the right gloves on in the shop has a huge potential in reducing hand injuries and insults in the metalworking industry.
I have been experimenting with some gloves in the machine shop for more than a year now. I don't always wear them but I try to do it regularly and note the situations where my spidey sense tells me its a bad idea (like the belt sander) as well as when I note a positive effect like my hands don't cramp as easily from pinching small parts while de-burring. The gloves I have zeroed in on have some gripping abilities that enhance your hand grip and allow you to use less pressure or apply more pressure when needed.
The gloves I like and have settled on for most work are the Maxiflex Ultimate. These are a close fitting precision dry handling glove coated with nitrile foam. The dexterity is so good you can pick your scale off the bench or floor with them on. Some Airgas welding supply shops carry them and S&S safety solutions in Martinez CA stocks them.
The small injuries that occur most frequently are things like getting cut on a burr or chip, bumping a sharp tool bit or insert while handling a part in the machine, dumping scrap in the bin, unfolding a band saw blade etc. All preventable with gloves. As machinists and metalworkers we very rarely get cut from any rotating member on the machine. Those old guys yelling at us did their job well on that count. We get dinged by bumping into things, reaching for things, in other words all the other things besides the rotating machinery.
A funny side story about fingers. I had a welding student many years ago that came to class with one of his fingers swathed as only the medical industry can swathe something. When we asked him what happened his story sent shivers down my spine.
This particular student worked in a structural steel shop as a helper of some sort. He was helping rig a large I beam for rolling over with the crane. I guess the sling was offset from the center of gravity so the beam would roll when they lifted it. Well he somehow managed to get his finger between the table and the beam. The thing that gives me the willies was how he described the damage to his finger.
When he related the story to us I asked the question, Ouch, that sounds bad. What happened to your finger? He paused for a second thinking about it and said, "Well have you ever stepped on a hot dog?" Apparently the end of his finger burst out much like a stepped on hot dog. Youch! I can't eat a hot dog now without thinking of that story.
Now that is an example of an event that gloves would not have made any difference except getting less blood on the workbench.
The gloves I prefer for machine work I discovered by accident. We were in the process of moving and between my wife and myself must have 200 cubic feet of books that had to be moved. Now if you have moved you know not to load book boxes very heavy or else you kill yourself. What happened was my hands naturally dried out handling dozens of boxes. Take a look at the UPS drivers hands for a clue as to what happens when you handle cardboard boxes all day long.
After work one day we were loading a truckload of boxes to take over to the new place. I had a used pair of these gloves that I forgot to take out of my coat pocket. On a whim I put them on just to keep my hands from going UPS. I noticed the advantage immediately. The gripping force to hold the box securely dropped to roughly half. It was like spider man gloves for boxes. After having this dramatic example I started experimenting with the gloves for all kinds of things, like working in the metal working shop.
So here we are fast forward. My experience with wearing gloves in the shop has been manageable, positive and hand healthy. Here are some of the positive benefits I have seen from wearing gloves in the shop.
- Lower gripping force required to hold items.
- I can tighten the drill chuck significantly tighter by hand wearing these particular gloves.
- I can carry more weight in each hand than I could before.
- Hands stay warmer and cramp less without the sweating.
- Hands stay cleaner in general. Nice when you have to run to the office and do something.
- Cuts and nicks are reduced to near zero
- Vibration isolation
This article is just my opinion and observations from actual shop testing. Its okay if you disagree. I'm not forcing anybody to drink my flavor of Kool-aid. Gloves in the shop is not right for everybody. So in closing I suggest you conduct your own test and see if you find any similarities with my observations. Report back your own findings and opinions and please be careful when testing and don't do any of the following things,
Belt sand. Any converging gaps that the tip of the glove could get sucked into are bad. Plate rolls and moving chains and sprockets fall into this category.
Grind tiny tool bits on the bench grinder.
Don't polish on the lathe by gripping the paper directly to the work wearing gloves.
Don't stick your finger in a rotating bore to check the finish. In general don't touch anything rotating. But that's already a standing rule.
These gloves are completely useless for hot stuff.
Thanks for looking.