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Model Maker Shop Safety

Upon entering the shop portion of KiwiMill, I’m struck by the vast amount of large equipment: machine lathe, various table saws, a turret punch, laser cutter, bridgeport mill, CNC mill, band saw and paint booth. How does a model maker keep it all straight? More to the point, how does he stay safe? Add to the large machinery the hand-held tools for welding, sanding, routing, brazing, soldering, drilling, molding, painting and casting, and it seems clear to me that safety must be as inborn a trait in model makers as the ability to think visually in 3D.

Talking with KiwiMill’s production manager, I find that while safety is inherently part of any good model maker, there are a few simple practices and tips that can help keep a shop injury-free:

Know the equipment you are working with:

  • Visually familiarize yourself with the machine, how it operates, the way the blades are spinning.
  • Know what materials can be cut on it.
  • Understand the nuances of the equipment, what its reputation is and what can go wrong.
  • Be aware of where your hands are, and where they’ll end up if the material you are working with breaks, flies off or disintegrates.
  • Predict what direction a piece will go if it comes loose and position your body out of that pathway.
  • Find out what debris (dust, chips) will be coming off the product and use goggles and/or mask as needed for protection.
  • Read up on the Material Data Safety Sheet of a particular substance to understand its particular properties.

A confident, proactive attitude works best:

  • Always ask someone if you don’t know how to operate a piece of equipment.
  • Stay focused on the task you are performing.
  • Have a healthy respect for the machine but don’t approach it with fear.
  • Don’t rush through a movement.
  • Take breaks from repetitive or frustrating activity.
  • Watch out for each other while operating equipment. Notice if something looks or sounds strange and don’t hesitate to point it out.

Keep a well-maintained and well-stocked shop:

  • Have plenty of fire extinguishers throughout the shop.
  • Provide goggles, safety glasses, headphones and masks.
  • Clean up spills immediately.
  • Contain oily rags, and towels in a special bin to avoid spontaneous combustion.
  • Keep machines and tools well maintained and blades sharpened regularly.
  • Don’t allow loose clothing or any dangling objects near a rotating piece of equipment.

While it turns out safe work habits are not simply a trait you are born with, they are based in common sense practices, that with experience, become second nature to a professional model maker.

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