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Head-To-Toe Safety Gear Guide for Furniture Painting & Refinishing

What is UP my friends and fellow busybees! I hope you are all doing well and you’re staying safe out there in your workshops and garages and wherever else you choose to do your furniture flipping!


I had mentioned in my post Five Mistakes To Avoid On Your Furniture Makeovers that one of the mistakes I made early on in my furniture refinishing journey was not being vigilant about wearing my safety equipment consistently, which is a big no no. I had some people reach out and express interest in a full post dedicated to the safety equipment that you should be wearing in order to keep yourself properly protected so here she is! There is truly so much information out there and I didn’t want this to be too long so I decided to only talk about safety equipment you can wear on your body, but down the line I may do one on other safety equipment that can help keep you safe and secure doing this work as well.


To start off, just a disclaimer that you should never take anything that I say here as official advice, especially as it relates to health and safety. I always try to do my research to bring as informed information to you guys but at the end of the day, I’m just a normal person so I make mistakes all the time so please do always do your own research and check official, trusted resources and medical professionals when making decisions as they relate to your body and health. That being said, today I’m going to bring you my recommendations and what I do based on my own research and experience to keep me and my body safe and in good working order to be able to continue to do this work long-term. I’m also not perfect, so there are definitely times when I find myself not adhering to all of these things and ultimately, my health could be impacted as a result of that and that is something that I am fully aware of– it basically just comes down to laziness, if I’m being honest, or cutting corners if I am just popping into the garage to do one quick step on a piece. Ironically I also find that when I’m trying to remember to snag some content and film my processes, that’s when I end up forgetting to adhere to these things which doesn’t end up being ideal because I always want to be modelling good, safe behaviour to those who are looking to me as someone to mimic so I always try to be sure to add a PSA note to those videos in which I don’t have the proper stuff on so viewers know to do as I say, not as I do.


All of these items are important, so I didn’t want to rank them in terms of level of importance or which ones I think you should use the most or whatever, so we are starting from the toes and working our way up to the tippity top of your head and going over the different pieces of protection and safety equipment you could and should be wearing while doing your furniture makeovers.


So let’s start with wearing proper footwear, which is important for both your protection and your agility. You don’t necessarily need steel-toed boots (although if you already have them, it doesn’t hurt to wear them anyways!) but you definitely want to be wearing proper footwear that covers the entirety of your foot and fits well. Something that fits well and isn’t going to fall off easily like slides or Crocs (before they go into sport-mode, at least) is important because there is always the possibility of you tripping or slipping and falling which could cause you harm, especially if you fall onto something sharp or hit your head or tailbone or something else and cause damage. If you’re using a step ladder, there’s also the possibility of tripping and falling off, especially if you have the elegance of a clumsy baby deer like me 🙃


For protection, you want to have something durable because there’s always the risk of stepping on sharp objects in the workshop like staples, nails, screws or pieces of wood that could poke through your average shoe’s sole, and there’s also the possibility of dropping a piece of furniture that you’re moving on your foot or a tool that you’re using. Just the other day I was using a carbide scraper and scraping the door of a chest of drawers unit I’m working on and it slipped out of my hand and fell. Luckily it missed my foot but if it had hit my foot it definitely wouldn’t have felt great and would bruise at a minimum, but could also cut me if I had skin exposed and since there’s so many tiny bones in your feet, there’s always the chance of breaking some of them as well. And ideally you want it to be comfortable to wear since you’ll be on your feet for long periods of time. So proper footwear is key!


Moving our way up the body, being cognizant of the clothes you wear while refinishing is also important. Ideally, wearing long sleeves and pants that cover any exposed skin will keep you the most protected. Not only is there the hazard of having chemicals like strippers and solvents and stains come into contact with your skin, but having sawdust and other airborne particles land on your skin and sit there for an extended period of time is good to avoid as well. From a protection standpoint, it also helps to guard against any unruly tools that go awry– I’ve had it happen before where a sanding disc that was on my orbital sander was either too old or got too much dust up under it so it no longer adhered properly to the sander and it flew off like a ninja star which can cut your legs if it hits you, and there’s also been times where an electric sander has hit a corner of something or, I dunno, maybe you twitch hard or something and the sander jumps across the piece– if it hits your arm or leg and it’s exposed, you’re more at risk so weather-dependent, consider bundling up a bit! Even if you live somewhere where it’s super hot, getting a shirt and pants that are in a durable but lightweight material might make a good investment. Another thing that you can wear if you find you need them for projects you’re working on is knee pads, which I just pick up from Dollarama.


Then we make our way down our arms to our hands, the star of the show because those are the money makers that get the refinishing projects done. You should be wearing gloves for the large majority of tasks that you perform in your furniture flips, and there’s some different types of gloves that are recommended depending on what you’re doing.


For water and oil-based paints, you can likely just use disposable gloves to keep the finishes from getting onto your skin. You can typically buy these in bulk for pretty cheap, and they come in different materials like latex, nitrile and vinyl. If you want a more sustainable option, I have seen biodegradable options but they typically cost a bit more, or you can just grab gardening gloves or dishwashing gloves from the dollar store like I typically use and they last a lot longer and still provide the same amount of coverage and protection.


Now when you’re handling things like paint thinner and strippers, solvents and other harmful chemicals, you need to be wearing solvent-resistant or chemical-resistant gloves. If you use just regular gloves with these products, you risk the product potentially eating through or melting through your glove and what’s under that glove? Your beautiful skin. And if it was strong enough to eat through plastic, better believe those chemicals won’t treat your skin any better!


Typically if you read the directions and manufacturers recommendations on the product label then it will outline specifically what is needed for that product and whether or not you need this type of gloves. Chemical-resistant gloves essentially look like those dishwashing gloves I mentioned earlier, but they’re made of rubber polymers that will hold up against things like solvents, acids and oils. So just to reiterate: latex is not resistant to chemicals, so if you’ve been historically wearing those when dealing with these types of chemicals, my recommendation would be to switch to nitrile ones or others that advertise specifically that they are chemical resistant.


There is another type of glove that I have started wearing over, oh, maybe the past year that I personally recommend however I haven’t really looked up the scientific backing of the effectiveness of it. These are anti-vibration gloves and I have really noticed a difference when I wear them when using an electric sander and other power tools that tend to vibrate a lot. I have an existing injury or issue in my left wrist from a party injury back in the day and since I’m left handed (fun fact, if you didn’t already know), I found that when I would be using my electric sanders a lot, it would irritate my wrist and I would get pain and lose some strength in it later that day and the following days. These are the gloves that I wear– I find them comfortable and I usually wear them when hand sanding as well so that I can save my fingertips… you know, in case my body ever needs to be identified… or for some other non-Dateline fuelled reason.


Next let’s make our way up to your mouth and nose which need to be covered by a mask or a respirator, depending what you’re doing. This is because you can harm your lungs and your other internal organs if you are breathing dust or chemicals and vapours, especially so when there’s repeated and ongoing exposure happening. This can result in breathing issues, illnesses and headaches.. Or, you know, worse.😬


Now, this was the part I did some additional research into today so that I could bring you some useful information and there is a TON out there so, again, always look up specifically what you need for the project you’re currently working on and the products you’re using for said project.


A respirator comes in a half-mask and full-face option and they prevent tiny, hard to detect particles from entering your airways and protect you from vapors, chemicals, mold spores and wood dust. These contaminants in the air get removed by the respirator using either a cartridge, filter or canister.


You may have seen respirators or masks online or in the stores with something on the packaging that says it’s NIOSH-approved, and that refers to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health which is a division of the Centre for Disease Control. This institute, NIOSH, only approves respirators that can capture particles of various sizes, which it then a letter classification to the respirator (an N, R or P rating) that also includes a number (95, 99 or 100), which refers to the percentage of airborne particles that that respirator or mask is able to remove from the air.


These aren’t super important to memorize but I found it interesting and informative to understand the difference, so I thought I would share: The N rating means it is not oil resistant, so it will protect against dust, mists and fumes that do not contain oil aerosols. The R rating means it is oil resistant, so it will protect against dust, mists, fumes and occasional oil particle exposure like lubricants, pesticides and some solvents. The P rating means it’s oil proof, so it will protect against both oil based and non-oil based particles. To make this make a bit more sense, one mask option that has become a common household term over the last few years is the N95 mask, which filter at least 95% of airborne particles but do not filter oil based particles. Just some fun trivia knowledge to have in your back pocket!


Something worth noting, though, is that if you are ever dealing with mould or asbestos, a P100 rating is required to properly protect you and your lungs.


So in general terms, when you’re sanding you’re going to want to be wearing a NIOSH-approved respirator that’s rated for wood dust, and when you’re protecting yourself against solvent and chemical vapors, you’ll want a cartridge-style respirator rated for organic vapors, mists and paints. The packaging will usually indicate what they’re designed for and make it easy to find the right one for the job, but you can also look into the colour-coded system for the cartridges that was implemented by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration if you’re interested.


Alright, so once you have the respirator you need, there’s some precautions to take and some things to keep in mind:

  • It needs to cover both your nose and your mouth fully. Getting an adjustable respirator makes this easier to get a good fit and a tight seal – there’s usually a nose clip that you can mould to the shape of your nose to get a good, secure fit.

  • You can do a seal check to make sure nothing will get through by putting both of your hands completely over the respirator and doing a quick, sharp inhale. You should feel negative pressure inside of it– if air leaks out around the nose, you might need to adjust your nose piece. If it leaks out the edges, make sure the straps are snug, secure and flat against your head.

  • Another thing worth noting is that they fit best without facial hair, so if you have a beard, long mustache or even a good amount of stubble, it will likely cause leaks into the respirator. I remember back when I worked in a men’s homeless shelter and it was the beginning of the fentanyl crisis here, we all had to get fitted for N95 masks to do proper clean up when we found it in client’s belongings or near them when they overdosed and the guys all had to be clean shaven if they wanted to be able to get certified to do that. That was one time in a male-dominated field that I was feeling very lucky to be a woman 😇

  • You also want to be inspecting your respirator regularly, theoretically before every time you use it to make sure it’s still good to go, so do a check to make sure there’s no cracks, tears or dirt and that the straps are all in tack and still have good elasticity.

  • A way to tell if you need to replace the respirator (if it’s a disposable one) or if you need to change the filters or cartridges is if you experience any of the 3D’s: Dirty, Damaged, or Difficult To Breathe Through.

    • As well, if you ever notice a taste, smell or irritation from the chemicals or particles in the air, replace the cartridges and do a seal check before getting back at it.

    • You can access a service life calendar to establish a change schedule for your cartridges and filters if you go to 3M.com/ServiceLife or check OSHA’s website for common change schedules based on the substance-specific standards they have if you want to err on the side of caution.

Next up is ear protection. When using power tools, it’s always important to protect our ears or else you might notice some temporary or longer-lasting ringing in your ears after using things like power saws and electric sanders. Just getting some basic but reliable earmuffs or earplugs will help with this– I’m someone who typically has earphones in while I work because I’m usually listening to podcasts or music, which, inevitably might impact my hearing one day anyways but here we are. Here are some earplugs that I have recently come across that are wayyy more comfortable in my opinion compared to the plain orange ones you usually see. Over the last few months I have become an earplug connoisseur of sorts as our little puppy Yukon got used to holding his business throughout the night and getting used to sleeping in his crate and being, at times, not so quiet about his objections about it. So these ones I have now found have been way better at blocking out the sound and they don’t leave the inside of my ear canals feeling like, sore and uncomfortable like the orange ones were.


Next up we have eye protection, which is another important one to make sure you’re consistently wearing! There’s technically two types of eye protection you should ideally have on hand to use: safety glasses and splash goggles. Safety glasses look like regular glasses with added panels on the sides to protect your eyes from things that can fly into your eye. They’re usually shatter proof so that if something like a piece of metal or wood is flying through the air fast, it won’t break the glasses and end up in your eyeball anyways.


Splash goggles, on the other hand, have protective edges that wrap all the way around your eye to prevent liquids from being able to get into your eyes from splashing or just spills ending up on your skin from applying with a roller or brush painting, or just having something randomly go wrong and splash into your eye.


Honestly, I normally just wear safety glasses but absolutely see the benefit in having goggles as well. I am super vigilant about always having eye protection on when I’m working– I don’t think I’ve shared this before but I’m actually legally blind in my left eye so basically if anything were to ever happen to my right eye and affect my vision, I’d be fucked, so this is super imperative for me and it should be for you, too!


The only other thing I want to quickly mention, which is less of a safety thing and more of a wellness/protection thing, is that I started going to a new hair stylist recently who like, far exceeds anyone I’ve gone to before in terms of their level of care and attention and just overall knowledge and educating me about my hair, and he pointed out something that sounds super obvious and straight forward when you hear it, but I had never really thought about prior to that. When he found out what I do for work, he recommended wearing a hat or ballcap or whatever when working, especially when sanding and using power tools, because the dust that it creates can get onto our scalp and on our hair follicles and impact it. You can end up with skin irritation, it can dry out your hair and the ends of it, or it can make your hair follicles weak and eventually lead to hair falling out as a result. So best to be safe and not sorry and cover up those beautiful locks the next time you’re in the workshop, my friends! The more you know!


And something you may not know about me… I love little motivational messages. They literally always get me fired up, and I keep a running list of ones that are especially catchy or speak to me in the Notes app on my phone. So I end every post with one of those that I have noted down over the years, in hopes that you leave our time here each week feeling inspired, motivated, and ready to take on whatever comes your way that week.


So this week’s Mel’s motivational message is: If you don’t choose your truth, the universe will


Alright, that’s it for now, I appreciate your time, and I’ll catch you guys next week!


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