My woodworking has been at a standstill during the winter months. The main reasons for that are

  • I no longer have stable surfaces to work with since I work outside
  • I need to wear warm clothing which prevents me from safely using many power tools

As of now though the temperature is hovering around freezing. Still cold but I thought about using my router real quick to clean up some 2x4 name blocks I am making for kids. I could move my router table to the end of my deck, which is flat, and run that for a couple of minutes easily.

I have a problem with that idea though. The cold is not the best friend of electronics and tools. I worry that it might be too brittle and shatter. While that might not be a certainty I think I am right to be cautious about this.

What can I do to safely work in colder temperatures outdoors?

  • 3
    I agree on the "must wear warm clothes" part being undesirable, but about the power tool... your router has what, 1400 to 2200 Watts? That's built-in heating,which makes it kind of agnostic of tiny differences such as +15°C vs +2°C. Unless it's not -20°C, I wouldn't worry too much. I prefer working outdoor as long as I can see the sun, and been working just fine on my terrace last couple of weeks, both with power tools and hand tools (for like 3 hours before it was getting too chilling cold, then it's time for a hot bathtub...).
    – Damon
    Jan 31 '16 at 18:27
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    One thing to pay attention to would be glue. Most glues will fail below 8°C (and take forever to dry below 12-13°), so you definitively want to do that inside.
    – Damon
    Jan 31 '16 at 18:33
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    Another consideration is condensation. If you let metal surfaces get too cold, when you bring them inside to a warmer (and more moist) environment, you'll get condensation and rust. When you're done using your tools, make sure they get back to ambient room temperature as soon as practical to preclude this issue.
    – grfrazee
    Feb 1 '16 at 16:27
  • I have much trouble with my plunge router at 40-45F degrees! It will not plunge down well unless I use a hair dryer to warm it up often. I can force it down but it will not glide back up and release from the work! I need it to go up and down freely to do signs in a template jig! Nov 26 '18 at 11:18
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    To cold to work outside? Is that a thing :)
    – Alaska Man
    Nov 30 '18 at 1:39

In general how cold can you safely work, is how safe do you feel working in that temperature?

I have used all my tools in sub zero temperatures (below -18C). I don't like it, and if I needed to use them for more than 30 minutes I'd start a fire in the stove to try and make it comfortable.

But I've used, my jointer, table saw, routers, lathe, etc. in very cold temps. In general they handle it better than you. The one place you might want to take care as far as your tools is moisture (bringing them into a warm place and it condenses).

Now I don't recommend prolonged use in the cold, but no reason not to use them if you can still do so safely. I suspect that people watching me use some of my tools in the winter would cringe (I often wear gloves), but as long as you take care, (don't wear a scarf!, or other loose cloths) the tools should be just fine.

(unless of course there are warnings for the tool in question from the manufacturer!) Oh, yeah, of course you shouldn't be using glue, or any drying finish below 40F (5C)...

  • cough Use Celsius too for us poor Canadians and plenty of others.
    – Matt
    Feb 1 '16 at 15:12
  • @Matt well sub-zero F is -18 C or less!
    – bowlturner
    Feb 1 '16 at 15:14
  • The comment about moisture is for when you return your tools to a warm space after being outside in the cold - remember the grade school science adage about warm moist air condensing on cold surfaces. Even your wood could end up with a layer of moisture when you take it inside.
    – Ast Pace
    Feb 1 '16 at 16:46
  • @ASTPace Yes, I should make that more clear.
    – bowlturner
    Feb 1 '16 at 16:47

I would say the only real potential for danger is your hands being too cold and your reactions / dexterity / sensitivity being low, as well as getting bulky clothes caught in machinery as you already identify. As long as you can avoid those two things you'll be fine.

I suspect that temperatures tolerable to humans aren't cold enough to significantly change the properties of router bits - certainly not for long enough to affect your work, they'll heat up virtually instantaneously anyways (even before you start cutting... that motor puts out a lot of heat), but you could just keep your router bits inside if you're uncomfortable with the idea. Or even just palm them for a couple seconds. They're tiny, they'll change temperature very quickly.

The electric motors themselves will be fine. You'll want to avoid melting snow / ice and getting water in them while they're running, of course, and you don't want to rust your bits (especially if you spread a lot of salt outside in the winter).

Stick a high power space heater next to you if you need it. Even outside, if it's not too windy, they can still provide some warmth, small campfire style.

If you're in the negative F's, you might want to store your tools inside before using them if it makes your feel comfortable, but really none of your power tools are going to stay cold for long after you start them, even without you making cuts. At least not with today's technology - maybe it'll be a problem some day if we ever get 100% efficiency electric motors and perfect, zero-resistance blades ...

  • 1
    cough Use Celsius too for us poor Canadians and plenty of others.
    – Matt
    Feb 1 '16 at 15:12
  • @Matt Substitute "Really, really cold". Too cold for you to be outside without getting frostbite in a minute or two.
    – Jason C
    Feb 1 '16 at 15:19
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    @Matt The essence of the message is it doesn't matter. I'm not going to assign arbitrary threshold temperatures. The brittle temperature of steel varies wildly, -200 C to +20 C and beyond, and the nature and size of your tools make the point moot. I wouldn't operate your tools on Mars at night, though, or hanging out of an airplane at 40000 feet.
    – Jason C
    Feb 1 '16 at 15:39
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    (But I'm open to enlightenment re: Canadian euphemisms for "really freakin' cold")
    – Jason C
    Feb 1 '16 at 15:49
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    When it gets cold enough, you can't hear the euphemisms anyway. We just mumble through frozen lips something that rhymes with "puckin'".
    – jdv
    Nov 27 '18 at 14:59

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