The last few years have seen a flood of wood carving attachments that fit onto a grinder and majority of these have been aimed directly at the hobby woodworker. While the idea sounds interesting and even appealing to some of us, the question remains…
Is it safe to carve wood with a grinder?
No, it is not safe at all, however some of the risks can be contained with planning and thought.
In the end, this is a query that only the reader can decide but being informed on how they work and the dangers involved can help you with your interest.
I have a few wood carving attachments that fit grinders and this is what I know.
- There are very real dangers of tool kickback.
- The grinder needs an attached handle.
- Carving with a grinder is noisy and dusty.
- Grinder carving discs can remove a lot of material fast.
- The discs and attachments are varied in type and size.
- The grinder can be fixed or variable speed.
The list above just briefly skims over the information and we think the topic deserves deeper investigation so we have put together the expanded version below for those of you who are interested. If that’s you, read on.
The Dangers of Grinders and Kickback.
Kickback is the action of the cutter or carving disc grabbing and ‘throwing” the spinning disc up and at the operator.
It can be very dangerous and is not just relegated to the wood-carving hobby. Any grinder with any rotating disc has the potential to cause kickback and harm.
When the carving disc is one of the more aggressive types like the chainsaw wrapped versions the implications of very serious harm should never be ignored as a trip to the hospital could be on the cards if the dangers are discounted and/or waved away.
Understanding the dynamics of tool kickback.
Grinders are simple tools where a body that contains the motor is held in the hand while the motor drives a rotating head. It can be a simple grinding wheel for steel work and it can also be a carving disc designed to remove wood.
Every type of grinder and every type of disc has the potential to cause kickback and it is up to the operator to recognize and understand the risks and the cause of kickback, preferably before the grinder is picked up and turned on.
Kickback occurs when the rotating cutter grabs and the spinning force from the motor is transfered to the grinder body.
This event we have called grabbing is a misnomer because what often occurs with wood carving discs is the carving forces imparted by the disc change from cutting towards the operator to cutting away from the operator and that directional change happens so quickly that the operator is caught off-guard and the tool runs away from the cut and climbs towards the operator as the arms and elbows pivot and bend.
It happens so fast that it is almost impossible to defend against once the event begins.
In a situation where a metal cutting disc grabs, the disc will often shatter and throw particles and pieces of the disc into the operators face and body.
In the case of the carving disc, we are dealing with a solid metal rotating component that will not shatter and the spinning forces have to go somewhere. These forces are translated into violent moves that can and will rip the grinder from the operators grip and then all sorts of things are possible.
Sometimes these tools have what is called a dead-mans switch where the power is cut to the grinder if and when the tool trigger is released and this is the best method of minimising the dangers once kickback has occured and tool control has been lost.
However, not all grinders have this dead-mans switch fitted so once control has been lost the dangers actually increase.
Once a spinning carving wheel has been dropped or ripped out of the operators hands it is free to start cutting anything around it. That can and has included feet, legs, and electric leads.
Even if the tool can still be held but some control has been lost, the rotating carving disc can grab hold of loose clothing and cause massive damage to body parts.
So we still want to carve? Well, the next question it ask is…
How do we deal with these dangers?
To avoid harm there are several things that you can do. The first is to wear safety equipment that may seem over the top at first but in time you will understand why this is needed.
Our suggested minimum safety equipment for wood carving with grinders is this.
- A solid full-length leather apron.
- Good quality leather gloves that have some flexibility in the fingers.
- A heavy duty full face shield. A welders helmet is something to consider.
- Heavy duty boots and good quality work jeans.
- A quality dust mask.
- Organize a dead-mans switch for the grinder if it does not already stop on trigger release.
And finally, if you are working alone, let someone know what you are doing and ask them to check in on you every now and then.
The kinds of wounds these tools are capable of creating could stop you from driving yourself to hospital in a bad case, and you never know how bad your case is until it happens.
Wear the correct gear, and tell others what you are doing.
The grinder needs an attached handle.
This could be in the safety list. The reason for the handle is for leverage and control. There will be times when you will remove the handle for access into an awkward spot and the handle gets in the way.
I would recommend that if the handle were to be removed then it would be beneficial to have a burr type of disc mounted on your grinder.
I don’t suggest or recommend removing the handle at all while a chain-wrapped disc is being used.
Handles provide control and leverage. Use them.
Carving with a grinder is noisy and dusty.
This needs your attention. Grinders are not the quietest tools at the best of time and will annoy people around you if you carve using a grinder for long periods. They also generate plenty of dust and the dryer the wood the dustier they become. It just so happens that they work best when the wood is dry so dust is a near certainty. Plan for it and figure out how to control it. If you are out of town and have space then a good blower fan can help. In the suburbs…not so much. The best way to contain the dust and noise in an urban environment is to have a dedicated room where a dust extractor can be set up and the walls can be soundproofed to a degree. It may seem over the top, but rest assured that neighbors will appreciate the effort.
The noise is an big issue and distance is the only method I know of that works every time. Distance also means it is often further from the hospital….just sayin.
Hearing protection is worth the effort and dust tastes terrible. Your lungs will appreciate a mask.
What size disc do I use?
There are discs that have chainsaw teeth around the edge, there are discs that have carbide cutters like planer blades, and there are discs that have many burrs protruding from the surface that kind of scratch away the wood.
Every one of these has potential for harm but some far more than others. We have more info on the different discs in “What discs are best for power carving wood with a grinder?“.
The chainsaw tooth discs are downright scary and only the brave should be interested in them. If these are the sorts you are considering then revisit the safety list recommendations above because sooner or later you will be relying on that equipment to save you.
The safest of the carving discs that I am familiar with are the burr discs. While they are slower at removing bulk material they are far safer, as the disc will leave a gravel rash effect rather than a slash and slice injury that the chain-wrapped disc will leave if the grinder grabs and comes at you while still spinning.
The choice of size really becomes the choice of aggression.
Start with a burr wheel and work your way up the aggression scale as you learn.
So there you have it. If after reading the above and you still want to try the grinder carving wheels, please keep safety in mind. After 30 years of woodwork experience I have no desire to use these items now as the potential risks outweigh the benefits 1000-1.
The answer to your query that brought you here can now be answered…but only by you.