Mentoring and liability

When I suggested mentoring, I was not really thinking about bringing untrained students into your shop where you would be subject to all of the liability such an arrangement would involve.

At one point, I had thought seriously about setting up a woodworking center where people could come, not only to learn how to make things but actually build their own pieces. I had envisioned a big room full of workstations which would have a bench and assembly table with easy access to things like clamps, glue, fasteners, etc. and lockers where people could leave their stuff. There would be adjoining machine room, a checkout counter for power tools, and a sales counter where people could buy tools and wood. I had spent a lot of time figuring out how to charge for use of the space and ended up with something that looked a lot like the athletic clubs that have popped up on almost every street in America.

Then I ran smack dab into the liability issue. I had been talking to some lawyers about how to write up waivers that would exempt the facility from any responsibility for people injuring themselves. The consensus was that, while it was totally possible to create such a document and get people to sign it, defending against the inevitable lawsuit that you would be slapped with the instant someone got a splinter was another story entirely.

I’m sure all those athletic clubs have a similar liability issue. What if someone falls on their face on the treadmill or drops a 50-lb. barbell on their toe? They have to have some sort of coverage for that. Maybe they just have you sign a waiver and hope for the best. I think I’m going to look into that because I still think this is not a bad idea.



  • Bruce B says:

    One way to mentor young people is to contact The Boy Scouts of America and set up an Explorer post for woodworking. This is for boys and girls 14 to 21. The Boy Scouts have liabity insurance that would cover your activities.

  • Brad Witt says:

    I did what you’re contemplating doing in 1983. I started Woodhaven as a DIY shop that also gave classes and sold lumber and tools. We ran it until about 1990 when our manufacturing over took it. For insurance purposes we were rated the same as an indoor tennis club or fitness center. We did have a waiver like you describe that customers had to sign before using the shop. And your lawyers are correct in that if something had happened it would not have prevented a lawsuit. My lawyer told me the same thing. Fortunately in the 7 years we ran the DIY shop nothing bad happened. But I’m not sure that in this day and age of sue-happy people that I’d do it again. One day a lawyer came in wanting to use the shop but wouldn’t sign the waiver, so he was turned away. That felt really good!!!

  • Nancy Kroes says:

    Woodcraft stores do that now. Not sure what they kind of waiver they have.

  • Don Thomson says:

    About 3 years ago I was approached by several parents with kids in the local high school. All the kids – and their parents – were very interested in some sort of an apprenticeship program where they could really learn the art/science of working with wood. This would have been a program where a kid could come in for an hour or two on weekends and get some one-on-one instruction in all aspects of a wood shop from machine maintenance to joinery to finishing.

    I talked to my lawyer and he said the liability waivers could be put together and he would talk to each of the parents about the waiver. I talked to my insurance agent and he said my business insurance could have a single clause put into it to cover this. However, he did mention that I needed to talk to the State Labor & Industries department about a program like this. Basically this government agency put a total stop on any ideas of passing on my knowledge and experience to kids. They said I would have to pay very high unemployment and workers compensation insurance premiums, even those these kids would not be compensated monetarily. Their compensation was to be the knowledge and experience they got. Long story short, I could not afford to pay $17 per hour in state mandated insurance especially since these kids would not have been working toward generating one cent of revenue for my company.

    Another sad story of government getting in the way of trying to make our kids a little more self sufficient. I was discouraged and had to tell the parents – NO GO. They were all really pissed as well that the state government would get in the way of them and me trying to help their kids out.

    So now several of the kids have graduated from high school with no vocational training or experience ready to go dig ditches and try as hard as they can to make ends meet without some sort of preparation from the public educational system. SO SAD.

  • Gene Kelly says:

    I am interested in what you come up with. If it looks doable, I wouldn’t mind getting involved in some way. I am just over in Sacramento, so it’s not much of a commute to Woodland.

  • BigStick says:

    D.D FDR once said that the only thing to FEAR is FEAR IT SELF .This is what the country has become, scared to do the right thing. People want a free ride. That’s what a lawyer thrives on. You cant get blood from a stone so they say. You have a great idea, one big fault is you have to deal with people. People are influence by the ruling class [lawyers-insurance companies] Why are we penalized for doing the right thing. Some one makes a mistake but others pay the price. You just cant do business like the good old days. Why too many rules and regulations that have put a strangle hold on our country. Be afraid, and we are.We have always been a creative country with great idea and we still are but now we squash them for fear of what we could lose. Sorry to vent but it is the truth. Just look around you.

  • Gary Coyne says:

    Funny you should mention this: a bit over 20 years ago I was in a gym, using an inclined bench and was busy talking with my workout partner while take a big plate off the bar. I was looking off to the left to talk with him and my actions were diverted off to the right. What I did not notice as I was taking the big plate off was that there was still a smaller plate (10 lbs) still on the bar. The small plate, once free of the support of the bar, fell to earth but was stopped in its decent by my right foot.

    I was told that my scream could be clearly heard in the woman’s locker room.

    Once in the manager’s office, the manager held his clipboard tightly and started to ask a series of questions: (“was the equipment working properly?”)

    I turned to him , stopped his questioning, and told him that the accident was entirely my fault, I wasn’t paying attention. All I asked is that I could use his phone to call my wife and that they drive me to my local HMO. I had complete medical coverage and didn’t need anything that they could provide.

    The manager let out a long sigh of relief.

    The sad thing was the number of people (almost everyone) who asked why I didn’t sue anyway (“You could have gotten a lot of money!”). To have done so was not my way, but regrettably, I am in the minority.

    So good luck with your venture. Perhaps if you tell my story and ask them if they agree to it before you let them sign a contract, it’s a start.

  • Jon Walpole says:

    CU Woodshop in Champaign, IL has what they call the “Dream Shop”. Here people can build project from start to finish with pro help if they need it. They have an area of thousands of square feet with every woodworking tool known to mankind. Check it out at: . They are great people who have figured out how to make it work.

  • Robert says:

    I did do this back in the early 80’s and quickly found out it was a great liability when someone threaten to sue me for some other person mistake. I also always let employees do the same thing just asking for material cost at my cost same problem. I always hoped for a way to do this. It was fun and exciting to see what people would do and come up with

  • Larry Watson says:

    Bin there / Done that. Now I have a shop by my house, big enough for several clients ata time but now I’m geedy and like it to myself. I still occasiionally have clients here working on their own stuff ( for a charge) and I have such a “waiver” doc. for them to sign and all BUT I sift them and take only the ‘reasonable’ ones,,,,,occasionally. I have one here now but it allows me to keep on my own project mostly. Also, i haven’t been sued yet!!!! Bliss is peaceful. I know of what you speak.

  • Larry Watson says:

    In retrospect, I think it never is really worth your ‘time’. It does however keep you grounded to what you emotionally think is worth while. Hmmm

  • Ron Visser says:

    I’ve done this type of thing for a while now.
    To qualify to use my shop. It has to be an experienced person, and has worked for me in the present or past as an employee or sub, and is experience with the tools to be used.
    I charge so much an hour per each tool.
    Example: table saw user rate $15 for non employee.
    $10 for an employee doing a job on the side.
    If it’s for the employee himself, free of charge.
    Wide belt sander: $25
    Panels, Spray booth, Table saw all have pricing.
    When they are just using the shop and hand tools there is a lesser fee during that time.
    They are also charge for any materials and supplies used.
    I have not thought a lot about the liability since it’s been people I know well.

  • Burt Truman says:

    Some years ago that idea was put forth in the southern part of the state of Maine. What they did, was to make it a woodworking club and all members were, I believe, owners. They paid dues and hourly fees, depending on the time frame used. Somewhere I still have the newspaper clipping that came out. I was really interested because I had had the same idea earlier and negleted to work on it and then age and health took over.

  • Bud Latven says:

    These folks evidently figured out how to build and run a 6000 square foot fully equipped shop with 800 to 1000 members using it:

  • Rebecca Wanovich says:

    For those of you who have done this type of shop, what insurance company agreed to cover you? My bro-in-law wants to do this, but is not sure where to get coverage. The regular companies won’t talk to him!

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