Whether you’re a full-time carpenter or do woodworking as a hobby, woodworking machinery can cause serious damage to your hearing.
According to the Health and Safety Executive some of the loudest machines are vertical spindle moulders, multi-cutter moulders and thicknessers, which all produce roughly 100 decibels (dB) of noise (source). To give you a point of reference, anything above 85 dB is considered to be harmful to the ears, and since the decibel scale is logarithmic, each 10 dB increase represents a doubling of the volume, so 100 dB is much louder than 85 dB.
Other tools that produce sound above 85 dB include belt sanders, bench rip saws, circular saws and handheld power tools. In order to prevent long-term hearing damage and tinnitus, it’s essential to wear some good hearing protection.
Choosing Woodworking Ear Protection
Ear defenders vs. ear plugs
When choosing woodworking hearing protection you have two main choices: ear defenders or ear plugs.
Ear defenders go over the ears and feature two cushioned ear caps connected by a headband. Ear plugs go directly in your ears, which means they’re more effective at sealing your ears off, but can be more uncomfortable. Ear plugs are much cheaper per pair, but they’re generally not designed to be reused, so they might cost more in the long run.
Both ear plugs and ear defenders can work well for woodworking, so ultimately it’s a matter of personal preference.
SNR and NRR ratings
Ear protection products are usually given a rating to show how effective they are at reducing the volume of sounds. There are two main rating systems: Single Number Rating (SNR) and Noise Reduction Rating (NRR). They both represent the amount of noise reduction measured in decibels. The higher the SNR or NRR rating, the better.
Now that you know more about choosing ear protection for woodworking and carpentry, let’s look at some of the best products you can get in the UK in 2017.
Best Ear Plugs for Woodworking
Howard Leight Laser Lite Soft Foam Earplugs
SNR: 35 dB
These soft foam ear plugs from Honeywell’s hearing protection brand Howard Leight offer high-quality yet affordable ear protection woodworking. They have an SNR of 35 dB, which means they can reduce even the loudest machinery to safe levels. Despite offering a good level of protection they’re quite inexpensive, especially when bought in bulk.
The Laser Lite Soft Foam Earplugs are brightly coloured which means it’s hard to lose them. They’re made from a soft material which you squeeze before inserting them in your ears. Most people find them comfy, though this is very subjective and no pair of ear plugs can fit everyone’s ear perfectly.
These ear plugs are disposable but if you keep them clean you should be able to reuse them a few times. They’re very cheap to replace anyway, especially if you buy 50+ pairs at once.
3M E-A-R Classic Earplugs
SNR: 28 dB
3M are one of the most respected names in hearing protection, and their ‘Classic’ ear plugs are an easy choice if you’re looking for something you know you can rely on.
These ear plugs’ SNR is significantly lower than the Howard Leight ear plugs reviewed below (28 dB compared to 35 dB). However, 28 dB is still enough protection for woodworking machinery.
The best thing about these ear plugs is the quality of the material they’re made from. 3M are experts in hearing protection, and the quality of the foam used in these ear plugs is a step up from regular unbranded ear plugs.
Best Ear Defenders for Woodworking
3M Optime 3 Headband Ear Defenders
SNR: 35 dB
These ear defenders are designed for environments where the sound level reaches 95-110 dB, so they should offer plenty of protection for even the loudest woodworking machinery. They have the highest SNR of any product in 3M’s Optime range of professional ear defenders.
These ear defenders are good for the workplace because they’re designed to be comfortable with soft foam and ventilation channels, so you should be able to wear them for hours at a time.
The headband can be adjusted to fit your head, and most people find the ear defenders fit well. However, it might feel a bit tight if you wear glasses.
Mpow Ear Defenders
SNR: 34 dB
These ear defenders are an inexpensive alternative to the 3M Optime 3s reviewed above. They have an impressive 34 dB SNR and can be folded up and stored in the drawstring bag included.
Like on the 3M ear defenders reviewed above, you can adjust the headband on these ear defenders to get a good fit. They’re generally comfortable, though this is subjective and not everyone gets on with them.
Since the Mpow Ear Defenders are a budget product from a less established brand, you can’t expect these ear defenders to last as long as the 3M ear muffs reviewed above. Nevertheless, they’re a good choice if you want some effective hearing protection for a low price.