Padlocks and Pilot Lights

I have three young children, so it's important that I take extra precautions in the workshop to ensure their safety. Frankly, I'm not too worried about my own children as they have proven to be very good about never touching anything in the workshop unless I'm around and they ask me first.  But when you have young children, you'll have their friends around too. I don't want to worry about leaving a tool that could be accidentally or even deliberately turned on.
If you have children that can find their way into your shop, whether it's your children, or grand-children, their friends, or even just next door neighbor's kids who likes to wander in when your garage door is open, I encourage you to provide some means to protect them.
Here are some ideas:
I have a padlock on the switches of most of my machines. 

scroll saw

table saw

miter saw
Most machines available today have some means to lock the power switch. Either a removable plastic key or a hole in the switch where you can put a padlock that you supply yourself.  I buy padlocks in packages of 6 that use the same key so I don't have to fumble around with dozen different keys. I keep the padlock and plastic keys on the same keychain as my dust collector's remote control. I keep that either on me or locked up at all times.
My Makita LS1220 compound miter saw has a black round plastic pin key, which is easy to ignore or loose. So I simply drilled a ¼" hole in the trigger to be able to put a padlock in it.
I prefer a padlock because it's a more visible and more positive lock.
To keep from having to lock and unlock each machine when I use it, or when I leave the shop for a few minutes, I have a 30A breaker box that controls the power to my 110V and 220V outlets in my workshop.  I keep it locked, when I'm not in the shop, but as a reminder, I installed bright red pilot lights to tell me when I have power to my outlets. 

This switch also helps protect my portable power tools, like routers and drills, which usually are not lockable. They can't be turned on if the outlets don't have power.

The biggest benefit to having this switch is that if I need to leave the shop for a few minutes, especially if I have to leave in a hurry, I don't have to run around locking all the padlocks.  I can flip and lock this switch very quickly and leave the shop with the confidence that no one can wander in a turn on a tool or machine.

I also installed pilot lights on the switches of several of my machines.  These pilots lights indicate when power is present, not when the machine is running.
Here are the pilot lights on 220V Unisaw. This switch is attached to the Deluxe Uniguard, and is the primary switch which feed to the original switch below the tabletop.  It allows me to turn off the saw either over or under the table. I only use it to turn off the saw about 5% of the time,  but when I do it's really nice to have.

Here are the pilot lights on my drill press.  It runs on 110V so I didn't really need two pilot lights but I thought it looked more balanced.

Pilot lights are easy to install. Usually you just need to make a small hole with a drill and use small crimp-on connectors to connect to the switch. They are installed in parallel to the switch. If you connect them on the LINE side of the switch (same terminals as the cord from the plug) the pilot light will indicate when power is present and the machine is read to be turned on (i.e.. machine is plugged in). When you connect it to the LOAD side of the switch (same terminals as the cord going to the motor) they will indicate when the motor is running, which can be useful for certain machines like a jointer that you can't hear running over the sound of your dust collect.

On a 220V circuit, I use two pilots lights, one for each hot wire in the circuit.  On a 110V machine, I have put one or two depending on what fits near the switch.  The pilot lights cost a few dollars and are available at any Radio Shack store.

This addresses the safety issue concerning tools that can be turned on. A tool with a sharp blade, either powered or non-power, can still be dangerous even without turning it on. You need to use other methods to protect children from the blades and bits in your workshop. They need to be either locked away when you're not in the shop or out of reach for those times you need to leave the shop for a minute.  

Those woodworkers who have a dedicated workshop have the advantage of being able to lock the door, both when you're using it and when you're done.  Those of us with basement, or especially those of us, like me, who have a workshop in the garage, don't have that luxury.  Most spouses don't like when you try to install a lock on the door to the garage that they keep their van in.

Always remember, a child can wander into a workshop un-noticed and it doesn't take long for that child to get seriously hurt.  Take some time to protect them from the dangers of your shop.  And the more types of protect you have, the less likely something will happen when one method fails or is forgotten.

Remember: Modifications may void your new tool warranty and working with electricity can be dangerous, but then again a child wandering into a shop with tools that are waiting to be turned on can be more dangerous.

© 2008 Mark Goodall