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Apologies if this is off topic. I realize it's only tangentially-related to woodworking.

In my 12' x 16' workshop, I have a lot of lumber, projects in mid-construction, tools, a computer and accessories, chemicals (fiberglass resin is probably the nastiest one), and a ton of electrical outlets.

What sort of fire extinguisher should I get that, if used in this small space, won't destroy everything? I try to keep things clean, but there's inevitably sawdust and what-not on the floor.

Edit

I wholeheartedly agree with the "get out and stay out" comments: sticking around to try and put out a significant fire to save some tools and equipment is not smart. However, when you're dealing with something small that has either just started, or clearly will - smoldering in a pile of scrap or sawdust or instance - it would be nice to have an extinguisher to at least try and put it out before things get out of control, rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. I have kids - I'll err on the side of getting to build a new shop rather than using up my life insurance to save a PC and a bunch of saws.

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There are certainly oils and other flammable liquids, plus possible electrical malfunction, so I would indeed suggest an ABC, preferably a larger one. Remember that you always aim an extinguisher at the base of a fire, not at the flames.

However, it's important to note: Unless the fire is one you are sure you can put out quickly and easily, the most important role for a fire extinguisher may be to help you get to safety.

Things are replaceable. You aren't. In case of fire, save people first.

Also, if you are asking this question: Do you have a first aid kit in the shop, openable with one hand, preferably where you can reach it even if you can't stand up? Ditto for phone? Are you keeping volatiles tightly sealed and preferably in a metal cabinet where a fire would have some chance of smothering itself? Are you keeping the workshop clear of sawdust, tripping hazards, and the like? Do you have an air filter and dust collection if you are producing sawdust, ventilation if you are producing fumes? Fire may not be the biggest hazard!

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    Excellent points. I don't have a dust collection system - just a little OCD with the shop vac. Definitely something I need to look in to. Thanks! – 3Dave Feb 15 '17 at 6:09
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You're probably OK with a typical 'multi-purpose' type ABC extinguisher, as that will handle most of the fires you would see in a typical woodshop. You could probably get away with just a type A (for burning solids), but type ABC are so ubiquitous that it may be more expensive for the single purpose extinguisher.

if used in this small space, won't destroy everything?

I kind of question this mentality, though. Yes, fire extinguishers are for dealing with small fires before they get out of hand and you want to limit damage from the extinguisher itself, but the primary goal of a fire extinguisher should be to extinguish the fire. Damage to surroundings is a secondary concern, since if the fire is not controlled, there will be (much) more damage to your lumber, projects, shop, and any attached or nearby structures like a house. Put out the fire first.

  • Putting out the fire is certainly the primary concern - well, remaining unharmed is THE primary concern - but there's a range of options from bucket o'water to Halon. If I have something tiny that's contained in a corner, I wouldn't want, say, a sprinkler system destroying equipment in the opposite corner just because it blankets the whole area. Make sense? (If it was getting out of hand, I wouldn't be standing around trying to save my employer's computer hardware.) Also, my shop is a detached structure - formerly shed - 172 feet away from the house, not much close to it. – 3Dave Feb 15 '17 at 6:07
  • @DavidLively - The EU made halon illegal in 2000, followed by UK in 2003. Ironically, it would still be used in the Channel Tunnel! – Tim Feb 16 '17 at 11:52
  • @Tim That is ironic. I think I will take the train! – 3Dave Feb 16 '17 at 14:45
  • @DavidLively - unfortunately, the train is the only way through the tunnel... – Tim Feb 16 '17 at 15:47
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Alternative answer: Don't get a fire extinguisher at all. They are only any good for tackling something the size of a wastepaper basket fire. It is far too easy to think "I can deal with this". The right way to tackle a fire is:

  • Get out.
  • Stay out.
  • Call the big red truck out.

(Source: I mishandled a fire from a toaster that caught light, and ended up spending the night in hospital under observation.)

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    I don't agree with it completely but this is a worthwhile addition to the Answers here. I think some user intervention is reasonable (otherwise why fire extinguishers at all?) especially as the fire might be small and easily dealt with when first spotted. – Graphus Feb 15 '17 at 11:28
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    Having had a similar incident (heat gun), I do see a role for extinguishers. But your warning is well founded. – Chris H Feb 15 '17 at 13:11
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    I spent 15 years with a fire department. During that time, I watched a dozen cops get hauled off in ambulances because they tried to be heroes with a fire extinguisher. They are indeed useful only for small, easily contained fires that you could probably put out with nothing more than a little common sense. – Carey Gregory Feb 15 '17 at 19:28
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    I don't follow this line of thought at all. If there is a small source of fire, then it should be put out. Say sparks land in his small dust bin, and there is an obvious small smoke trail coming from it. He absolutely can and should put out that fire instead of running out and letting everything burn down. Nobody is talking about being a hero here. It also is a small shed, and the extinguisher can be hanging from the wall right next to the door. So he can even stand outside, grab the extinguisher and spray in, as a last measure. Doesn't work? Take the remaining few steps away. Works? Great! – AnoE Feb 16 '17 at 15:02
  • @AnoE (Aside: You missed my point 3 - the big red truck will put it out before it all burns down.) The real point is that athough a fire extinguisher is fine for dealing with a few sparks landed in his dust bin, if you have a fire extinguisher, you will be tempted to use it on something much bigger; and that is where the danger lies. (I actually had a fire blanket rather than a fire extinguisher, but it's the same effect; in the cool light of day, my actions were obviously crazy - in the heat of the moment, you will panic). – Martin Bonner Feb 16 '17 at 18:50
5

Blowing ash around with a CO2 extinguisher will make everything in the room dirty but most things can be cleaned of ash. That would be good for electricals. For wood, water or foam would be better (half a large CO2 extinguisher does very little for smouldering wood that can be dealt with by a cup of water). Powder is supposed to spread all round the room as well and is harder to get rid of; most types are corrosive to metals. Foam beats water as you've got flammable liquids.

An interesting new option is water mist (ABCF): the fine droplets do not cause flammable liquids to splash or float, and the gaps between drops mean that they're rated to 1000V if you're at least a metre away. I've never seen one in use though.

More important than an extinguisher is keeping your way out clear at all times. Being able to kill the power (emergency stop switch) so you can use water on a wood+tool fire seems like a good idea and would also serve in other emergencies.

  • This is meant as a top-up answer rather than to supplant the others. – Chris H Feb 15 '17 at 8:22
  • Isn't another problem with powder that it's highly corrosive? You can throw away any metal tools that came in contact with it. – Mast Feb 15 '17 at 11:48
  • @Mast good point. – Chris H Feb 15 '17 at 12:46
  • How about installing ground-fault circuit interrupters (also called residual current detectors) to automatically cut power if one needs to use water to extinguish a fire? Have something with a decent quantity of water handy for solid fires, and a BC fire extinguisher for liquids. I wonder how carbonated water compares with ordinary water? I had occasion to use it once to extinguish a fire (a couple bottles of seltzer happened to be closer than anything else) and it seemed to work, but I have no idea whether it was better or worse than straight water would have been. – supercat Feb 15 '17 at 23:21
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    +1 for Co2. I have one handy for any type of welding. Also, consider where in the workshop it's going to go. By the door seems a good place, as if you're not in there at the start, it's still to hand. Also effective on wasps, hornets - and stray dangerous dogs. Not forgetting burglars... – Tim Feb 16 '17 at 11:58

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