American River Watershed Institute
Fire Safety Project | Homeowners Equipment Safety Manual

Hand Tools

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Because hand tools seem easy to use, people may expect them to do more than they were designed to do and frequently use the wrong tool for the job. Using wrenches as hammers and hammers for striking wrenches when working with particularly stubborn nuts are two typical examples.

Safety Practices

The following guidelines are recommended when selecting and using a tool:
  1. Select ergonomically designed tools (weight, size, and type) and consider buying several versions or sizes of the same tool. Use each tool only for the job it was designed to do.
  2. Keep jaw teeth, cutters, and blades sharp for better results. Sharp tools improve accuracy, lower fatigue, and lessen the risk of accident and injury. Inspect hand tools for distortion, cracks, chips, wear, or mushrooming.
  3. Keep all tools clean and in working order. Protect them against corrosion damage. Wipe off accumulated grease and dirt. Lubricate moving and adjustable parts to prevent wear and misalignment.
  4. Keep handles tight; secure them with wedges when necessary. Inspect wood handles for splitting, cracking, checking, warping, and slivers. Do not use a tool with a loose or damaged handle.
  5. Before using a tool near electricity, shut off the current in near-by circuits.
  6. In the presence of flammable materials or explosive dusts and vapors, use nonsparking tools. Do not expose tools to excessive heat or use urethane-coated tools in excessive temperatures.
  7. Never throw tools under any circumstances.
  8. Discard or repair damaged or abused tools promptly.

Chopping Tools

Chopping tools include axes, adzes, brush hooks, hatchets, machetes, and pulaskis.

Safety Practices

These basic safety practices are recommended for maintenance and use.
  1. Be aware of proper chopping and tool sharpening techniques. When grinding, grind slowly toward the cutting edge, taper properly, avoid overheating, and use a file and stone to remove burrs or rough spots. When filing, secure work in a clamp or vise. Stroke the file across the edge. Finish the edge with a hand stone. Wear gloves and use a file equipped with a handle and knuckle guard. Replace and discard chopping tools that are excessively round-cornered. Inspect for loose or cracked heads and split, crooked, warped, or splintered handles before using.

  2. Carry a chopping tool by grasping around the shoulder of the handle close to the tool head. Hold the tool so that the flat surface of the blade is vertical (parallel to your leg), with the arm hanging naturally at one's side. Never carry a chopping tool on your shoulder. Carry the tool on the downhill side so that it can be more easily discarded in case of a fall.

  3. Always remove branches, underbrush, or debris that might interfere with chopping. Following these general rules is recommended:

    1. Do not allow people to stand in the chopping area, and alert other workers of the distance chopped materials may fly.
    2. Protect all workers against flying chips and other chopping hazards by wearing appropriate PPE.
    3. Remove all overhead obstructions the tool might strike or hang up in. Always position your body securely while working with a tool.
    4. Never chop cross-handed; always use a natural striking action.
    5. Be alert when working on hillsides or uneven ground.
    6. Be especially watchful for spring loading, if cutting a sapling that is bound down. Be alert for sudden breakage. If there is not a need to cut it, leave it.
    7. Standing on a log to chop is not recommended. There are exceptions, exercise caution in such situations.
    8. Never use chopping tools as wedges or mauls.
    9. Do not allow two people to chop together on the same tree.
    10. When chopping limbs from a felled tree, stand on the opposite side of the log from the limb being chopped and swing toward the top of the tree or branch.
    11. Do not allow the tool handle to drop below a plane that is parallel with the ground unless chopping on the opposite side of a tree from where your body is positioned.
    12. If the cutting edge picks up a wood chip, stop. Remove the chip before continuing.
    13. To prevent glancing, keep the striking angle of the tool head almost perpendicular to the tree trunk.
    14. Use special foot and shin/leg protection if needed.

Cutting Tools

Cutting tools include saws, knives, chisels, files, shears, and snips.

Safety Practices — General Guidelines

Cutting tools must be handled with extra care. Do not store them with other tools in a drawer where someone could be cut accidentally by inadvertently grabbing a sharp edge. Wear safety goggles or other appropriate eye/face protection and gloves when working with cutting tools. Always select the right size and type of tool for the work project or activity. The nuts and bolts on tools, such as shears and snips, require frequent adjustment. Wipe the edges of cutting tools frequently with a lightly oiled rag. Never hit a cutting tool with a striking tool.


Keep saw teeth sharp and properly set. Protect saw teeth with a sheath/guard when not in use. Consider the shape and correct teeth for the material to be cut. Examine materials being cut for nails, knots, and other objects that may damage the saw or cause the saw to buckle. Hold pieces being cut firmly in place. If long pieces are being cut, use a supporting bench to prevent pinching at the cut. Hold the saw firmly and begin slowly to avoid jumping the blade. Pull upward until the blade bites. Start with a partial cut; then set the saw at the proper angle.

Bow Saws

Specific techniques include:
  1. When inserting a blade in a bow-saw frame, keep your hands and fingers in the clear when the tension lever snaps into or against the saw frame.
  2. When removing a bow-saw blade from the frame, ensure that the blade guard is in place.
  3. Carry a bow saw over your shoulder with the guarded blade to the rear and on the downhill side when applicable. Ensure the cutting edge faces away from your body, even when the guard is in place.
  4. Do not push or force the saw. Begin with light gentle strokes until the teeth begin forming a kerf.


Specific techniques include:
  1. Select the proper blade for the material being cut.
  2. Point the blade teeth forward. Always keep the blade taut and the frame properly aligned.
  3. Use strong, steady strokes, directed away from your body. Use the entire length of the blade in a stroke. Cut hard materials more slowly than soft materials.
  4. Do not cut thin, flat pieces from edge to edge, always clamp them securely and cut so that several teeth are cutting at all times.


  1. Keep handles in place and cutting edges sharp and free of nicks.
  2. When using drawknives, place material at working height, firmly anchor it, and hold it steady. Do not use a drawknife on material being braced by a worker's knees. When possible, use pocket knives that lock open. Keep your fingers away from the knife's edge as you close it.

Other Tools and Equipment

Safety Practices

Pry, Digging, and Tamping Bars

  1. Wear appropriate PPE, such as eye/face protection, foot protection, gloves, and hardhat.
  2. Transport bars separated from people and secured from movement.
  3. Secure fulcrums and toeholds. When prying, push with your palms. When applying leverage, keep your feet and other parts of your body out of line with the bar.
  4. When breaking, chipping, or prying rock or similar materials, ensure that other people are not within the striking distance of flying particles.
  5. Carry bars at their balance point and on the downhill side.
  6. Lay the bar flat and in the clear when not in use.
  7. Maintain bars by keeping them straight. Sharpen the tip to retain the factory bevel.
  8. Replace bent or twisted bars. Bent or twisted bars can rotate during use and strike the user.
  9. Store bars so that they do not present a tip-over or falling hazard.

Grubbing Tools

Such tools include grub hoes, mattocks, picks, pulaskis, combination tools, McLeods, and various types of hoes.
  1. Keep the blade eye tight-fitting and secured. Repair or replace defective or excessively worn tools immediately.
  2. When working, ensure secure footing. Maintain a tight grip on the handle, and keep legs and feet in the clear when swinging. Avoid directing the tool toward the body. Keep the tool out in front. Use gentle but deliberate swinging or hoeing action.
  3. Do not allow people to stand in the chopping, grubbing, or hoeing area. Alert other workers of the distance that debris may fly. Watch for rocks or objects that will cause the tool to glance, rebound, or create excessive flying material.
  4. Maintain 10 feet (3 m) minimum between people when they are walking or working.
  5. Remove all overhead obstructions the tool might strike or hang up in.


  1. Keep shovels sharp and replace them if they show cracks, ragged edges, or splits. Follow sharpening guides carefully. Never sharpen cutting edges all the way to the foot plate.
  2. Never use a shovel as a pry bar.
  3. When shoveling, support your upper body by bracing the forearm closest to your body against your thigh as you pivot the blade sideways.
  4. Check handles for splits, cracks, and slivers before using. Replace defective handles.


  1. Select the appropriate wheelbarrow for the job, with a strong, straight frame and strong wheels that are well secured to the frame.
  2. Keep your back straight and use your legs when lifting the handles of a loaded wheelbarrow. Never overload a wheelbarrow; keep the load evenly balanced, with weight well forward to avoid lifting strain. Push, do not pull, wheelbarrows.
  3. Keep handles free of splinters, jagged edges, and burrs. Remove cracked or broken handles from service.
  4. Watch for obstacles that will stop or tip a wheelbarrow. Do not run with a wheelbarrow. Check the route before moving the wheelbarrow. Allow enough clearance to avoid injuring fingers and hands. Exercise caution when ascending or descending ramps that may be wet, frosted, or snow covered.