Bench grinders are very versatile – great for prepping metal components for welding/fabrication, removing sharp edges from cut metal, sharpening a wide range of blades and tools and many other uses. As with any workshop equipment though, it is important to follow some essential safety procedures to minimise the risk of injury or harm to health. Here is our guide to using bench grinders safely.
What are bench grinders?
The standard model workbench grinder you can find in most tool or equipment stores consists of a central motor with a grinding wheel on either side. These are usually different from one another: one will provide a coarse grinding surface while the second one is finer. These wheels spin extremely rapidly, and when a blade, tool or metalwork is pushed onto the spinning surface the grinder removes a fine layer – depending on the angle you have approached the wheel from, you can sharpen, dull or shape the metal as required.
Other models have sanding belts or wire wheels in place of the second grinder – these can be used for basic sanding, cleaning and polishing tasks.
Always use your grinder on a stable, reliable surface. You’ll be pushing your workpiece into the surface of the grinder fairly strongly, so you need to make sure that the machine will not slip, move around or fall to the floor as you do so.
Check your machine over before you start it up. Make sure it is clean, that power cables are intact and safely away from sharp items/the grinding wheel and that there are no blockages that could force the wheel into misalignment or break it.
Periodically, you’ll need to clean the machine or replace the grinder wheel: always unplug the machine before you do so. You’ll also want to make sure that the new wheel is intact, undamaged and not mis-shapen.
Wear your personal protective equipment. Specifically, you will definitely need high-quality safety goggles – metal filings and flying shrapnel are inevitable when grinding, as is the potential for sparks: you do not want any of those things to go into your naked eye. Consider a leather apron to protect your clothes and torso, and a decent pair of gloves that offer protection but do not sacrifice dexterity.
Know how to turn the equipment off quickly in an accident or an emergency. In professional settings there should really be an emergency isolation switch but, in the home, you’ll likely be using a standard socket. Make sure that it is accessible – you can’t waste time moving a cupboard or pulling out your workbench if there is an issue.
Use the built-in safety features. A good quality bench grinder will have integrated safety features including spark arrestors, adjustable eye shields and side panels to prevent accidental wheel contact. Do not bypass these safety measures – they are there for a good reason and removing them or finding a way to work around them will increase the risk of injury exponentially.