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Date Modified: April 1, 2023

Timber harvesting is more than just planning the harvest and reforestation to protect the environment. Timber harvesting operates like a huge, outdoor assembly line or ballet operating in concert with other dancers if you prefer. For example, after robotic delimbers, or “strippers” (See an example here), cut off the fallen tree’s branches and create logs, huge rough terrain forklifts load the felled tree logs onto heavy, heavy, flatbed, sideloaded trucks.

Typically, these logs are strapped down with heavy chains on the trailer’s bed and transported to a loading dock or a landing facility. After the debranched, wet lumber is sorted and processed, it is generally sawed and milled right away into sheets, planks, and beams, for example, before it can dry. But some specialty woods, like that used for log cabins, for example, are sealed on both ends and left to dry for years prior to woodworking.

Machine Sanders – An All Too Common Cause of Injuries in Woodshops and Lumber Mills?

No matter what, each step in the commercial lumber extraction process involves the use of heavy machinery from the forest’s tundra to the asphalt jungle. And workers using the equipment in these outdoor and indoor facilities are presented with many hazards not present in other white-collar types of work. Most of all, lumber harvesting is not a job for the faint of heart. So naturally, lumberjacks and other laborers in related trades are a resilient, tough breed with a can-do attitude. Because of the proximity in closeness these tradespeople work to falling trees, rotating cranes, moving tractors, reversing trucks, chainsaws, band saws, machine sanders, milling machines, and axes, they can get into trouble. With the costs of medical care for injured laborers skyrocketing and the need to reduce manufacturing and other related costs more and more, the lumber industry relies on machinery to help avoid occupational injuries and increase production goals. But as will be discussed, sometimes these powerful machines can make things worse, and not just for lumberjacks.

True, it’s a given that modern technology is necessary for our modern life. The buzz of heavy and light industrial equipment on farms, trucks, shipside docks, and commercial factories keeps our consumer economy going. It also provides us with the lumber and other wood products needed to build houses and other things like furniture from any variety of imported and exported soft and hardwoods. However, depending on the case, certain types of woodworking machinery are more likely to cause severe injury to workers and pedestrians. Working with large-scale lumber is particularly dangerous, especially for untrained or undertrained workers. This goes twice for sawmills, lumber workers, and woodshops that do not follow strict guidelines. Machines used in the sawmill will include saws, belt sanders, drum sanders, matchers, planers, and molding machines.

  • What is A Sander?

Contrasted with a planing machine using a cutting blade, sanding machines are usually electrically powered tools used in conjunction with sandpaper (a two-sided paper with different types of sand, or “sanding-grit” uniformly glued on the business end, or sanding side).

Basically, depending on the type of sander machine and grit level of the paper or other product, vibrating, back and forth, or single-direction belts prepare many types of wooden surfaces for the consumer’s end-use. So to recap, either by human operation or via automation, the gritty surface can rapidly strip, roughen, or smooth wooden surfaces.

About Our Lumbersander and Milling Machine Accident Lawyers

I am attorney Michael Ehline. Prior to becoming one of the most successful tort lawyers in Los Angeles, I was involved in the construction industry. Of particular significance, I worked as a laborer, painter’s apprentice, and surface prep-man and was also a licensed C-47 building contractor.

Later, in my practice as a personal injury lawyer, my experience as a tradesman helped me win many cases of serious industrial injury cases to workers injured in wood sanding and milling accidents.

  • Product Liability Claims

During my work as a Los Angeles accident attorney, my staff and I have determined that sometimes poorly maintained, defective, or poorly designed machines operated by our clients are what led to their serious injuries or death. This meant that besides unemployment insurance, and workers’ compensation, the manufacturers of the equipment were on the hook to pay for medical losses, lost wages, and pain and suffering compensation beyond what traditional no-fault workplace insurance can provide.

Since many of the injuries in these cases are catastrophic, all avenues of defendants and financial recovery must be pursued. We understand that you have lost a finger, arm, or hand in a sanding machine. And that means you probably are out of work. So there is no way work comp is going to pay you enough to live as you would have if you could still do the work you did before you got hurt. Clients know they can trust us.

  • What Awards and Recognition Have We Received?

As a result, my law firm has earned millions of dollars for tradespeople by protecting their rights to extraordinary worker’s compensation and third-party negligence claims. In the process, the counsel of record or I has received accolades from Super Lawyers, Personal Injury Warriors International, Circle of Legal Trust, Newsweek, Leatherneck Magazine, and more. Most of all, we have hundreds of positive online reviews from past clients and a perfect AVVO rating.

  • What Do We Cover in this Article?

Below, we will discuss some types of sanders, how they are used, and how they can severely injure, kill, or maim someone. We will also provide a list of some injuries sanders cause and some tips for avoiding being caught or trapped in a sanding machine. Afterward, we will cover your legal options and remedies. Most of all, we will show you what makes us specialists and why we think we can help recover the compensation of the maximum damages allowed under the law.

Like a human-operated, manual sander, such as a “sanding block,” the smooth side of the sheet is clamped and ratcheted to the base of the sanding mechanism, usually with two quick-release clamps on either side of the flat sanding pad. Conversely, most belt sanders use a belt of gritty paper and are placed over rollers that are level with the sanding table. If the sheet of paper is seated properly, the rough part of the paper facing the surface to be sanded down will have no bumps or uneven portions on the work-facing side of the sandpaper or belt.

There are powerful, large crew-operated, and automated sanders, such as Lumber sanders, which is the topic of this article. Mostly, these are used in the auto industry and the lumber and wood milling operation industry. But military applications for use on land and also sea exist, such as for use aboard military and commercial ships for rust control and prior to applying LP and epoxy paint primers. And there are smaller sanders used in the construction trades for wood, plastic, and metallic surface preparation. Mostly these are used for jobs like house painting and rough and finish framing. Also popular, specialized sanders are used by hobbyists and others for finishing sanding.

After drying and curing, part of the sanding and planing process includes truing the lumber or making it straight. No matter what, these tools can break down or run amok.

In the lumber industry, there are several sanding and related machines used by helpers and other woodworkers:

  • Belt Sander.
  • Wood Planer.

More About Belt Sanders.

Belt sanders, also known as strip sanders, are among the most common sanders used to finish and form wood and other products into their final shape. Working on a continuous loop principle, the design of the belt sander is such that large amounts of wood material can be removed quickly if a capable worker operates the machine.

Unlike a grinding wheel used in bladesmithing, for example, these machines utilize a fully looped sanding belt instead of abrasive sheets that you see in sleeves in the Home Depot paint department, for example. Many machines consist of long, electrically powered belts turned by a pair of separated drums at each end of the machine, similar to how an upside-down military tank’s treads would look but covered with a belt of paper in exchange for the belt of treads. Does that make sense?

The larger table lumber sanders are used to sand down bumps, dents, flaws, and gouges inherent in the wood harvesting and handling process. Another purpose of using these massive sanding machines is to smooth down milling marks from things like huge bandsaws, chainsaws, and other machines used to harvest and cut trees.

  • Safe Operation.

Noteworthy here, sanding belts must snugly fit inside the machine’s housing, wrapping around the motor’s driving wheel at the rear, which attaches on the other side to a free-wheeling guide wheel on the opposite side. To keep the belt from slipping or flying off during operation, tension controls and alignment guides are adjusted to keep the belt evenly running, and in place. At the same time, the electric motor spins the sanding belt forward at high revolutions.

Belt sanders are highly effective for removing roughness and preparing woodwork for less aggressive tools, like random orbit and finishing sanders. Bussing sand with the wood grain rather than across it is crucial. Otherwise, the belt sander’s lateral action can ruin the work.

  • What is The Grit?

The sandpaper’s “grit ” determines how the surface smoothness feels and appears. Too rough, and you destroy and splinter the wood. Also, you run the risk of sanding down too much of the wood if you are not an expert in the use of these machines. Conversely, too fine of a paper grit, and you waste a lot of expensive sandpaper paper and time. So sometimes, you barely “scratch the surface,” so to speak. (Source).

Compare Manually Pushed and Pulled Commercial Belt Sanders.

There is also hand-pushed, “upside-down” belt and drum sanders that look similar to vacuum cleaners. Mostly, these are used to finely finish hardwood floors or strip them for restoration by use of aluminum oxide, buffers, and steel wool to strip and smooth the floors. They also can be equipped with brushes and other implements to apply finish coats of varnish, polyurethane, or wax.

And they can also suck up any fine wood particles, old lacquer, varnish, or stain being sanded away. So generally, these are multi-use machines because they can tear down, restore, and maintain hardwood floors.

We often see these machines being operated at older residential homes constructed with indoor hardwood flooring, etc. The point is that there are injuries specific to each type of machine in each sanding and planing trade or industry.

  • Compare Drum Sanders.

For convenience, we include drum sanders as a type of belt sander. To recap, belt sanders let users quickly slip sanding belts on and off, using little time or effort when compared to a drum machine. A drum machine uses a single drum requiring an unjoined sheet to be wrapped, clamped, and locked down around a single drum instead of two.

More About the Commercial Wood Planer.

Off the bat, planers are faster and cheaper than using sandpaper. To start, they don’t use expensive silica paper. But similar to lumber sanders, wood planers also remove flaws in wood, but usually by use of cutting planing blades. In other words, 25 passes through a drum-type sander might be required to strip away the same volume of wood material as achievable with one pass of a heavy machine planer.

For this reason, drum sanders are used more for finer surfacing jobs, in tandem with lathing machines, for example. Typically, these will be used to slice and remove larger flaws that would create too much wood slurry and dust inherent in a very rough piece of wood.

Another goal in using a machine like this, in addition to speed is there is less wood dust created. Even with powerful ceiling or wall-mounted air scrubbers and filtration cleaners, sawdust, silica particles, and other harmful dust is airborne everywhere.

So, many particulates remain in the air, obstructing workers’ vision and breathing passages. Planers help reduce a lot of these problems by cutting out the roughest part of the raw wood without wasting expensive silica sandpaper. To recap, machine planers typically have far more wood removal power than other sanders. Since some wood is really rough when the trucks drop it off at the lumber mill, planers will be the go-to machine.

But the risks of a worker suffering an injury is real, and it is glaring when you consider the enormous number of amputations and missing digit cases in the lumber industry compared to others. Workers and repairmen get hurt mainly from their hands or other body part getting pulled into a large lumber sander.

IMPORTANT: Typically, a loose article of clothing gets caught in a moving sandbelt or planing blade, dragging the victim in chopping, tearing, and ripping flesh to the bone. Sadly, whole body parts can be shredded into oblivion, making it impossible to reattach the amputated digit or limb surgically. So yes, sanders of all types can be dangerous. And if they are set up to sand down large segments of trees for industrial use, the injuries can be highly catastrophic when compared to a less dangerous trade. OSHA reveals a number of injuries caused by lumber sanders on its website here.

In its findings, OSHA points out that some of the sanders, lathes, and milling machines did not work correctly. So some equipment was designed poorly or failed, causing severe injuries or even death. Also, poor worker training and lack of safety precautions played an overwhelming role in injury causation. Even smaller sanders and machines can cause problems for hobbyists as well as construction workers.

A Multitude of Potential Injuries from Lumbersanders and Related Machines?

Yes, many injuries and accidents are caused by or made worse by lumber-sanders and other milling machines. And no, it’s not just sawing blades that can harm someone at lumber mills. OSHA has classified belt sanders and other similar machines as dangerous contraptions. And there are hundreds of reports on their website documenting the mechanisms of many factory sanding and related injuries here.

What Are Some Examples of Injuries Typically Caused During a WoodBelt Sander, or Lumber Planer Accident?

In addition to repetitive use injuries and exposure to vapors and chemically contaminated air, workers using defective or poorly maintained sanding and milling machines can suffer a myriad of catastrophic grinding and planing-related injuries as follows:

  • Amputation: Skin, fingers, and arms or hands being ripped, chopped off, or sanded off by the machine.
  • Deglove: Possible, but rare degloving of the hand or even arm happens during woodworking.
  • Burns and skin abrasions are caused by friction, grinding, or sanding surface. When safety devices fail, whole body parts can literally be ground off.
  • Crush injuries from arms and hands being trapped in the drum rollers and faulty while defective kill or emergency stop switches fail, allowing smashing, pinching, and bloodletting of the body part.
  • Lacerations and piercing caused by the machine. Sometimes these can happen when the obligatory machine safety guards or internal parts explode or fail. And a flying or falling piece of metal can come off of the machines and pierce the body of even the most safely-armored machine operator. And often, these deep, penetrating wounds cuts can even result in the need for amputation or result in the complete dis-figuration of the affected limb.
  • Blindness from injuries to the eye: Imagine the dust particulates kicked up by wood chips, sap, dust, other debris during milling operations. Even with eye protection, fine vapors and chemicals can enter the eyes. Without proper eye protection, it remains possible for fine wood dust or silica sand and broken off metal shavings from machinery to pierce retina or become lodged into, or scratch the cornea or other part of the eye. Although sometimes, using the emergency eyewash station can clear some objects and irritants, it remains far more difficult to repair internal eye damage.
  • Repetitive use injuries: Eventually, like grape harvesters, certain trades that do a lot of continuous pushing, and lifting of heavy items, reaching overhead, bending forwards and backward at the hip and neck, or some other awkward leaning movement, develop what OSHA calls “repetitive use injuries.” This class includes occupational overuse syndrome (“OOS”), repetitive strain injuries (RSI), cumulative trauma disorder (“CTD”), and repetitive motion disorder (“RMD”). These musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) result from bad posture during work and can remain permanent when not working. Over time, without sufficient preventative measures in the workplace, permanent harm develops in the muscles, tendons, ligaments, nervous system, and blood vessels.
  • Lung disease and breathing disorders.
  • Hearing Loss: From not wearing proper hearing protection while using noisy equipment.

What Are Some Examples of Causes of Sander Machine Injuries in the News?

Included below are some snippets of news articles explaining more about these types of injuries and how they happen.

Sophomore Chris Miller says he was using the belt sander in class Monday and wasn’t paying attention when his fingers got caught under the wood being fed into the machine. Miller’s fingers were pulled in, and the sander broke two fingers on his right hand, cut off pieces of several other fingers and ripped off the skin on six fingers. Medical personnel say a doctor was able to sew back on two of the fingers that were partially amputated and his hands should be back to normal in a few weeks.

As noted below, some woodworkers use smaller power sanders and machines and even sand things by hand with fine-grit sandpaper for tasks requiring more intricate surface preparation, such as the edges of antique furniture and other fine wooden, metal, and other objects.

What Are Some Smaller Examples of Wood Sanders Placing People at Risk for Serious Personal Injuries We Help People With?

  1. Random orbital sanders.
  2. Disc sanders
  3. Finishing sanders.
  4. Palm Sanders.

What Are Some Other Sanders and Related Trades and Hobbies At Risk For Sanding Related Accidents?

  • Cabinet making and repair: Here is another example of the many differences between wood finish work and woodcraft. Making cabinets, furniture, and toy building is all art. Furniture making typically involves shaping, lathing, and sanding multiple free-standing sections of wood, and cobbling it all together using several methods. Combining pieces include a combination of tongue and groove, stapling, gluing, and doweling. A truly great furniture maker is more of an artisan and master craftsman who also knows how to upholster the piece with leather or any variety of fabric coverings. Although custom cabinetry can also involve intricate carvings and artistry created with chisels and engraving tools, the average cabinetmaker is more about installation, which is typically more straightforward. Usually, the cabinets are pre-manufactured and quite generic, and often they contain pre-installed, interlocking components. There is little difference between the sanding requirements of flat surfaces, but with cabinets, the worker will likely use a combination of belt sanders and sheet finishing sanders, for example.
  • Furniture restoring and manufacturing: Hobbyists and other professionals in furniture making and restoration utilize various hand tools and electric-powered sanders. Anyone in the trades knows of someone who has lost a fingertip or lost an eye from an accident involving machines and tools like this.
  • Staircase building: Like furniture makers, staircase builders are at the top of the woodworking food chain. They have to know advanced wood bending, shaping, and gluing techniques and understand and use advanced, time-consuming surface sanding techniques. These artisans tend to deploy specialized orbital sanders, which places their hands and wrists at risk for long-term injuries, including arthritis, RSI, OSS, CTD, RMD, and carpal tunnel syndrome. But in this particular trade, the cordless random orbital sander has proven itself indispensable in the craft.
  • Toymaking: This has become more of a hobby craft since the advent of cheap plastic molds and die-cast metals. But some people, like my uncle, David Ehline, build old-school children’s toys. And, of course, there are still commercially made toys created from wood, but it’s not like it was. And no matter what, power sanders, disc sanders, and other custom tools, such as palm sanders, are heavily used in this near-extinct art. Again, these crafts all can lead to vibration and continuous use injuries, so proper rest and training remain key to injury avoidance.

To recap, these sanders mentioned above all have a specialized purpose. As always, reading the operator’s manual is mandatory for injury avoidance. There are also tutorials available on websites like YouTube to assist in the overall mitigation of any problems.

What Other Safety Procedures Should I Follow When Using Sanding and Planing Machines?

All of the injuries caused by sanders and related machines for planing wood are serious and require immediate medical attention.

Furthermore, many of these are often caused by the negligence of a third party and even the product manufacturers. Below are some additional tips to help artisans and workers at wood mills and workshops stay safe.

  • Always wear eye protection, like a full face shield, wrap-around safety glasses, or goggles with vent holes for fog control. And always make sure the sides, and not just the fronts of your eyes, are shielded when operating a sander.
  • Utilize proper hearing protection. This can include earplugs, earphones, and other noise-canceling communications equipment so you can communicate and focus when in the woodworking area.
  • Always wear protective footwear like steel-toed boots, proper socks, etc.
  • Never operate a sander unless the facility’s ventilation systems or local exhaust ventilation (“LEV”) have been activated.
  • In addition to the exhaust fans, you need to protect your lungs with a special mask designed for the particular work or clean-up operation you are performing. Sometimes expensive respirators are required. Other times, a simple dust mask will suffice.
  • Always keep sleeves, jewelry, hands, feet, and body parts away from any chopping or abrasive surfaces.
  • Use jigs, braces, and special gloves to hold smaller or thin pieces against grinders and sanding table belts.
  • Always perform proper safety checks of sanding drums, belts, and motors to check for worn, damaged, frayed, worn out, or broken down areas.
  • Make sure all discs, belts, and drums have no blockages in their exhaust dust hoods and that all moving parts and portions of the machine remain covered and armored, except the portion of the machine designed for feeding wood materials.

Recap – Sanders can be dangerous if not used properly.

  • Always read the operator’s manual and consider watching a video tutorial.
  • Always keep hands, fingers, and toes away from the business end of the tool.
  • Never disable any safety or other automatic shut-off devices, even if they are inconvenient.
  • Go here to learn more safeguards to good health.

Even with the best safety and training, injuries happen due to another person’s negligence. The woodshop or milling area causes the first concerns.

For example, employees may not be properly trained. But other times, mandatory protective equipment was unavailable. Still, other times, the work tools themselves were neglected, improperly maintained, or defective from the start.

TIP: Before starting any sanding project, put on protective equipment, including safety glasses, gloves (if hand protective handwear does not present a pulling risk), and a mask.

What About Product Defect Lawsuits?

We’ve seen other cases where the actual machine itself was defective from the factory. Sometimes this was caused by faulty parts or a manufacturing plant error. Also, the design of the tool may be wrong. Or, it may function as it was designed but does not have the correct protective barriers or safeties. Furthermore, some companies will try to work around this to save money and cut corners.

Above, we discussed the various types of lumber milling and woodworking accidents involving belt sanders, wood planers, drum sanders, chisels, engravers, lathes, hand sanders, floor sanders, etc.

We also covered the various injuries typically arising from these calamities. We also discussed proper safety measures people should take in and out of work to avoid lumber-related personal injuries.

Did You Know You May Have Rights To A Lot of Money?

And if you became severely injured, or someone you know died due to such an accident, you may retain valuable legal rights to money for lost wages, pain, suffering, and other sources of financial recompense. For example, you may have rights to work comp employment insurance, and even homeowner’s insurance coverages, depending on where the accident occurred.

Schedule a Free Consultation With Los Angeles Wood Planer Accident Attorneys!

Sometimes we can assist you in obtaining appropriate and professional medical attention after our team is always here to help you assess your options and chances of getting money for your past, present, and future rental bills and out-of-pocket expenses.

Also, we will come to you anywhere in California to discuss your legal options. Furthermore, we do not ask for a red cent unless we win. So let us help you with that. Now you can go on with your life. Our legal team remains dedicated to helping people like you 24 hours per day. New clients at Ehline Law Firm Personal Injury Attorneys, APLC can contact us at (213) 596-9642 or email for more info.

Michael Ehline is an inactive U.S. Marine and world-famous legal historian. Michael helped draft the Cruise Ship Safety Act and has won some of U.S. history’s largest motorcycle accident settlements. Together with his legal team, Michael and the Ehline Law Firm collect damages on behalf of clients.
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Michael Ehline

Top Injury lawyer, Michael Ehline, Esq.
We pride ourselves on being available to answer your most pressing and difficult questions 24/7. We are proud sponsors of the Paul Ehline Memorial Motorcycle Ride and a Service Disabled Veteran Operated Business. (SDVOB.) We are ready to fight.