A Close Call – Tyler Reichelt

Article - May 2, 2011

This Safety Week special article is brought to you by MicroJig!

This cautionary tale was was written by community member Tyler Reichelt.

I had a close call today.

I’m relatively new to the craft and have read up on safety as I’ve gone along. I’ve heard a lot of the horror stories about oily rags and such, but I haven’t used many oil finishes to date, so that topic wasn’t at the forefront of my thoughts just yet.

In any case, I am in the finishing stages of building a workbench and am testing out a few different finishes. One of the finishes I was experimenting with was boiled linseed oil. I hadn’t specifically read up on linseed oil, so I wasn’t very concerned with it. After all, it’s an oil derived from a plant. How dangerous could it be?!

Boy was I was wrong! I was experimenting with both linseed oil and tung oil and was testing different mixtures in little Dixie cups. The linseed oil cup was just about full and the tung oil cup was just about gone. I didn’t think anything of it and poured the tung oil into the linseed cup, stacked them, and promptly poured the mixture right into my dedicated sawdust trash can.

Even when I’m not working in the garage, I still frequently have the urge to go out into the garage and just be around my tools; maybe practice my hand-planing. Well, about an hour after pouring out the oil, I had one of these urges, so I went out. I immediately smelled something burning, but the smell was unfamiliar to me. I thought maybe one of my neighbors was burning something, but when I walked out into the driveway, the smell was gone. I walked back into the garage to try to find the source and when I looked in the sawdust can, I saw a small stream of smoke steadily rising from the sawdust; right where I poured the oil. I immediately ran inside and grabbed a big glass of water and poured it all over the spot. It reminded me of putting out a campfire. When you pour water on it, even though it may not look like much on the surface, when the water hits it, you know something hot is down there. The same applied to the sawdust. Upon digging around with a stick, I pulled out a charred blob about the size of a softball. It was down there smoldering for an hour!

If I had left it much longer or if I had used something bigger than a Dixie cup, the computer I’m typing this on might not have been here right now. I had no idea about the oxidizing properties of boiled linseed oil. Boy do I know it now!

As you can see in the picture(s), this was a disaster in the making. Oily paper towels and linseed oil poured right in the sawdust bin. Lesson learned!

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