On this blog, I love to embrace and support beginners. After all, nobody is born knowing everything about motorcycles. But it’s important to remember that what you don’t know can hurt you.
I’ve long believed this about riding motorcycles, which is why I urge new riders to learn at their own pace. But it wasn’t until recently that I recognized how much it was true of working on motorcycles, too.
Here’s what I mean: Awhile back, I bought several packs of microfiber cloths for my garage. My thinking was I could wash and re-use them, like kitchen towels.
Before I knew it, I had a bucket full of oil-and-brake-cleaner-soaked rags. And it took a few months for me to realize that I had a serious fire hazard on my hands (if my landlord ever reads this, I am so, so sorry!).
After taking care of the rags, I decided this was a come-to-Jesus moment in my DIY mechanic career. It was time for me to get serious about garage safety.
Introducing Matt of Krank Engineering
About a year ago, Sofi sent me a BikeEXIF article called “The Skills You Need to Build a Custom Motorcycle.”
That article was my portal into a series that answered all my build questions, and more. There were explanations of basic tools and their variations, project planning resources, metalworking references…
Behind it all was Matt McLeod and his blog, Krank Engineering. Matt has dedicated years to helping beginner mechanics build their first custom motorcycle, and few months ago he even launched an education community… which I joined as soon as I could 🙂
So, when I wanted to learn more about garage safety for beginners, I thought, who better to ask than Matt? I sent him some questions, and, in response, he produced a video, just for me. Thank you, Matt!
In the video, Matt covers safety issues such as essential safety tools, hazards beginner mechanics tend to overlook, and the closest call he’s had yet.
Of course, Matt is the expert, so I’ll let him handle the specifics. But to get you ready to dive into his wealth of resources, I wanted to share the top garage safety lessons I’ve learned so far.
1) Safety equipment exists for a reason.
When I first started working in the garage, I couldn’t get the hang of safety equipment. I knew I should wear gloves and safety glasses, but it felt like all they did was get in the way.
For awhile, things were fine. I didn’t love having old grease under my nails all the time, but I didn’t see what the big deal was.
Then, I started cleaning parts. I don’t have a parts washer (or room for one), so most of my cleaning involved chemicals. Brake cleaner, aircraft stripper, acetone, muriatic acid… Before long, my garage looked like a meth lab. And the stakes for safety shot up.
The first time I thoughtlessly squirted brake cleaner on a part and it splashed back into my eye, I reconsidered my “only for extreme circumstances” policy on safety equipment.
As Matt put it, “I don’t want to stop riding motorcycles because I’m blind.”
After a few minor incidents with harsh chemicals and cuts, I finally began to learn my lesson. Now, I always wear nitrile gloves, and I wear safety glasses any time there’s a risk of flying chemicals or metal.
And, I have to say, it’s nice not having to wash my hands five times after working in the garage.
2) Use the right tools.
The right tools will make your work easier, but they will also make it safer. Almost every time I’ve hurt myself in the garage, it was because I was trying to “make do” with a ramshackle tool.
One of my first garage injuries happened because I was using a too-large socket to remove a bolt. My wrench slipped, and the pent-up force I had put into the wrench sent my hand flying into the frame.
The bruise lasted for weeks, and hurt so much it was difficult to loosen any bolts for several days after. Of course, that bruise was a small price to pay for an important lesson.
If that’s not a deterrent for you, though, then remember: improper tools can damage your motorcycle, too. A thoughtless wrench or hammer can ding up your bike, and create more problems than it solves.
Protect yourself, protect your bike; use the right tools.
3) Slow down and pay attention.
My friend Jeff at Second Gear once told me about a new piece of equipment they had gotten at one of his past jobs. It was a heavy-duty piece of machinery, capable of lopping your arm off if you made a wrong move.
It came with a warning label that read, “ENGAGE BRAIN BEFORE USE.”
It’s a funny story, but there’s definite truth to that warning label. About a quarter of the mistakes I’ve made in the garage so far were because I didn’t know something. The rest were because I wasn’t paying attention.
In your shop, you have to stay alert and consider the consequences of your actions. As Matt says, angle grinders “don’t discriminate between steel or bone.” None of your tools will stop you from hurting yourself; you have to pay attention.
4) Educate yourself.
Of course, you won’t be able to foresee potential hazards unless you educate yourself. As Matt puts it:
When you’re new at all of this, you don’t have any idea what sort of things are going to hurt you. You only learn that through experience, watching videos or reading articles, or being specifically trained in hazard awareness.”
To stay safe in the garage, first you have to know what to look for. So start now: Prime your brain, learn all you can about potential hazards.
Then, while you’re working, pay attention to your environment and your actions, and you’ll be just fine.
Now, go start learning! 😀
Ready to start your own custom motorcycle project?
If you want to build your own custom motorcycle, but you have no idea where to begin, I wholeheartedly recommend the resources Matt’s created over at Krank Engineering. His empathy and enthusiasm will provide the direction, support and guidance a newbie mechanic needs.
Plus, when you join his community through the link below, part of your membership will help support the RIDEWELL blog. Thank you!
Being an affiliate for Matt’s community helps me continue to create quality content for readers like you. If you’re interested, you can read more about my affiliate policies here.
Matt McLeod says
Hey Loryn, spot on with “using the right tool” and “educate yourself”, because you don’t know what you don’t know.
If you can get your local community college (here in Australia they are called “Technical and Further Education – TAFE) that is the fastest way to skill up in a controlled and safe environment. I would highly recommend this as the preferred approach.
I’d be interested to hear from your other readers! What other lessons have you learnt the hard way? Help save someone else from making that mistake!
Thanks Matt!! I hope some day to take some technical education classes, they are undoubtedly worth your while to get up to speed. There’s just no replacement for having a teacher in-person.
That being said, your videos and articles are a great start! Thanks for all your help 🙂
This is beautiful in its simplicity and information-value, LT!!! Your piece, augmented with Matt’s video, is another long-ball out of the park! As you two are clearly aware, safety rules are – unfortunately – written in blood. ? ? This edition will benefit anyone fortunate enough to read it.
That said, I still don’t trust myself enough to work on a bike (feel like an ASE mechanic when I hook it up to the battery tender ?); but I recognize and appreciate the importance of being diligent in preparation and adhering to established procedures – especially due to my former life in the military. Speaking of, regarding item #3, we had a saying in the Navy, “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.” Really helpful whether working on a bike, packing a parachute, or doing just about anything else in life. ?
*** WARNING TO YOUR OTHER READERS *** Do NOT Google “Angle Grinder Injuries” as Matt suggests!!! ? You’re Welcome!
Ride on and Write on, because you’re Right on!
Bahaha thank you Ohene!
I love the “slow is smooth, and smooth is fast” quote. I read someone’s account (can’t remember where) of “old guy” mechanics being slower and more deliberate than the younger guys, who tended to move quickly and bang stuff around. In the end, the old guys finished the job faster. Mindset is everything 😉