Safety Tips for Using Power Tools to Saw and Drill

Using power tools, including saws and drills, is certainly do-able with blindness, low vision, or vision loss. All it requires is knowledge of safety techniques, preparation and organization, and specific adaptations for your vision loss.

If you’re experienced in this area, you know that safety is the most important consideration when using any type of power tool. Even if you’ve had many years of experience with power tools and home repairs, we recommend you use a safety checklist that includes the following:

  • Regardless of your visual status (blind, visually impaired, or low vision), always wear impact-resistant safety glasses that completely enclose your eye area and are shielded along the sides and top edge of the lenses. They can be worn like glasses, or can fit over your own eyeglasses. Many types of safety glasses can also be obtained with prescription lenses.
  • When using power tools, you will also need ear protection, such as foam ear plugs or headphone-style ear muffs.
  • If you have low vision, make sure that the lighting in your work area provides sufficient illumination. You can read more about lighting at Lighting. A lamp with an adjustable flex-arm or gooseneck is usually a good choice because you can adjust the direction of the light as needed. A flex-arm floor lamp on wheels allows you to move the light with you as you move around your work area.
  • To help with locating and using your tools and controls, you can mark the handles (pictured right) and the most commonly used settings with any of the methods and materials in Organizing and Labeling Your Workshop and Tools.
  • Clamps can help secure pieces that you are gluing, cutting, or drilling.
  • Keep track of the location of your power cord before and during the time you are cutting or drilling. One solution is to use your power tool with an extension cord, keeping the cord over your shoulder and behind you. Also, the thickness of an extension cord should be equal to, or greater than, the cord on the power tool. Otherwise, the extension cord can overheat and cause a fire or severe burns.
  • Become familiar with the controls and make sure you are able to immediately turn your power tool “on” and “off” prior to plugging it in and using it.
  • For additional work preparation tips, see our Home Repairs Safety and Preparation Checklist.

Making a Drill Guide

two variations using the drill, spool and pliers technique
  • To drill a straight hole, commercially available drill guides can help. You can purchase them at most home supply stores, including Sears, Lowe’s, and Home Depot.
  • In preparation for drilling, create a tactual mark to indicate the location of the hole. You can use an awl, a nail, or an ice pick to make a small hole at the spot where you want to begin drilling. You can then place your drill bit into this hole or “niche.” By creating this tactual mark for your starting point, you provide a “grip” for your drill bit, which prevents it from “jumping around” until it catches.
  • You can also make your own drill guide, using an empty spool of thread or sewing machine bobbin (pictured above). Mark the spot by making a “start hole” with an awl, nail, or ice pick. Place the drill bit through the spool or bobbin and align the point of the bit with the start hole you’ve created. With the drill in the “off” position, place the flat end of the spool or bobbin firmly against the surface and hold it in place with pliers. Note: Do not use your hands to hold the spool in place. With the drill and spool in this position, start the drill – and your hole will be straight/perpendicular with the surface.

Making a Saw Guide

a table saw jig and a table saw. Note, image is attributed to Ace Work Gear
  • You can purchase a commercially available saw guide at most home supply stores, including Sears, Lowe’s, and Home Depot.
  • In preparation for sawing, create a tactual mark to indicate the cutting line. You can use a scratch awl, a nail, or an ice pick with a combination square or T-square. The awl, nail, or ice pick becomes the adaptive replacement for a pencil mark, and the square will ensure that the line is straight and perpendicular to the edge of the board.
  • If you have low vision, you can use a dark, wide-tip marker to define the cutting line. Remember to place the mark on the scrap side of the board, since the marker can soak into the wood grain and be difficult to cover up or sand out. You can find more information about markers and other writing materials at Find Labeling Products.
  • If creating a tactual line is not sufficient, or is inappropriate to use with the material to be cut, you may also need to create a plate guide and a cutting guide to ensure that your cuts are straight and accurate.
  • A plate guide will allow you to determine the correct distance from the cutting line to the cutting guide. It ensures that the blade of the saw is on the cutting line.
  • A cutting guide will provide a stationary edge to move the power saw along, keeping the edge of the saw plate snug against the cutting guide. This ensures a straight and even cut.
  • To create a plate guide, measure the distance from the blade or bit to the outside edge of the plate. Using the measured width, make the guide out of sturdy cardboard, foam core board, or wood. It should be about six to eight inches long. Each power tool with a plate requires its own plate guide, since the measurements for different tools will vary.
  • To create a cutting guide, use a second piece of wood that has a straight edge and is at least as long as the cut you intend to make. To correctly position the cutting guide, place the plate guide along the tactual line and the cutting guide against the far (or opposite) side of the plate guide. Clamp the cutting guide in place, and remove the plate guide. Align the saw plate against the cutting guide. The saw blade is now aligned with the tactual line. To complete the cut, keep the plate against the cutting guide as the saw moves forward. The cut will be accurate and straight. Ensure that power cords are kept safely behind you, and that your free hand is away from the saw blade.
  • If you are using a table saw, set the fence to the distance to be cut and use a jig (pictured above) or pusher to push the wood along the table. This photo is from an article at about how to make a jig or pusher.