Best Hearing Protections for Woodworking

Woodworker wears ear pad to reduce noise level in workshop.

Statistics show that about 25% of people aged 65 to 74 manifest hearing loss, and we all know that a life bereft of the full use of hearing is a challenging life. Moreover, health experts would readily remind you that there are two causes of hearing loss: chronic exposure to intense sounds and aging. Of course, it is understandable if you lose your hearing due to aging, for that is the natural thing to happen, considering that the human hearing system starts to lose its keenness once one reaches the thirties. 

But if you lose your hearing due to chronic exposures to intense sounds, like when you are frequently engaged in the use of powered woodworking equipment as a woodworker, it would be a pity, for you could have prevented it. So, it is imperative to protect your ears from damages due to loud sounds when you use power woodworking equipment. 

How Can Sounds Damage Your Hearing?

Woodworking equipment can be very loud, for they produce an average noise level of 104 to 110dB, given that you are a meter away from the power tool. The 0 decibel, of course, is the hearing threshold, while the pain threshold is 140dB. Nevertheless, you should not only be wary of those sounds registering 140dB and above, for you can also experience hearing loss once you are constantly exposed to a 90-dB noise.  

Decibels may be an abstract thing to you at this point. Nevertheless, to give you a better grasp of how sound levels can damage your hearing, it will be best to make a good decibel comparison. For example, the rustling of your sleeves or the leaves of trees will register 10 decibels. On the other hand, an electric drill may register 90dB, and a plane on a takeoff may register 140dB or more. 

The critical thing to note is that most power tools in woodworking can produce sounds that can damage your hearing. So, if you often use a benchtop planer, you are frequently exposed to up to 110dB. Because of this fact, even OSHA could not help but remind woodworkers to use hearing protection when engaged in prolonged use of woodworking equipment.

3 Major Types of Hearing Protection You Can Use As A Woodworker

Protecting your ears from damaging sounds is imperative as a woodworker. However, finding the right protective equipment may be confusing, given the myriads of hearing protection equipment in the market today. To facilitate for you the search for the right hearing protection equipment, you should be familiar with the different types of hearing protection gear for woodworkers in the market today:

1) Earplugs

One of the most common hearing protection equipment you will find in the market today is the earplug. You can insert this device into your ear canal to protect your ears from loud sounds. You can use it to prevent tinnitus and hearing loss. 

Earplugs can completely close the ear canal and reduce the decibel levels you would experience. They may come in four types: foam, wax earplugs, flanged silicone earplugs, and custom molded earplugs

The ones used by woodworkers usually consist of soft foam that they compress in their fingers. Once placed in their ears, these soft foams expand and conform to the shape of the ear canal. You can reuse these plugs several times during the day, though the foam may soon break down from constant compressing.

2) Semi-insert Earplugs

Another option you have is the semi-insert earplugs. These semi-insert earplugs can fit into your ears, but instead of the ordinary earplugs that you need to compress using your fingers, these semi-insert earplugs feature rigid headbands with foam plugs or rubber on their end. 

The headband exerts a bit of pressure to keep these semi-insert earplugs clamped over your ears. These semi-insert earplugs reduce the intensity of noise you hear without necessarily being inserted deep into your ear canal. 

These plugs come with rounded or cone-shaped features and provide an excellent sealing of your ear’s entrance. You can also reuse them. Moreover, they are perfect for woodworkers who often engage in the use of power tools.

3) Over-the-Ear

Putting anything inside your ear canal may be inconvenient to many. If you think the in-ear plugs may be inconvenient to you, you can always opt for the over-the-ear options. This ear protection device provides muff-style hearing protection that also uses headbands to clamp hard shells with foam pads over the ears. They can keep loud and intense noise from entering your ears as they seal the ears completely. 

One downside, however, of using the over-the-ear devices is they can trap heat. Another thing is that their shells can weigh on your ears. On the other hand, you can reuse them, and they pretty much do their job of muffling external noise.


Top Recommended Hearing Protection for Woodworking  

Now that you are cognizant of the various types of hearing protection, it will be best to know likewise the following most recommended hearing protection for woodworking to facilitate your shopping around for hearing protection device:

1) Howard Leight by Honeywell Impact

Howard Leight R01902 is an electronic earmuff that offers excellent ear protection to thrive outdoors, like hunters, shooters, and outdoor people, but it doesn’t mean that, as a woodworker, you can’t use it to protect your ears. 

It protects by blocking noise beyond 82dB. It comes with low-profile earcups. Its headband comes with pads to provide you with an excellent level of comfort. It also comes with built-in directional mics for amplifying other ambient sounds up to 82dB to provide you with enhanced communication and natural listening experience. It actively listens and shuts off its amplification mode quickly when the ambient sounds around you reach around 82dB. 

The good thing about the R01902 is that it is equipped with an adjustable headband and features a folding design for easy storage. It also features an AUX input. Moreover, it features a 3.5 connection cord for scanners and MP3 players. 

It comes with a volume knob and integrated power. It also includes two AAA batteries. Besides, it comes with an automatic shut-off feature that shuts it off after four hours. This feature lets you increase its battery life up to three hundred fifty hours.

Pros:

  • You would surely love its noise-reduction capability. It clocks in at an excellent 30 dB NRR. Thus, it can provide you with a more significant reduction capability than the other more expensive models. 
  • It offers high comfort level with its well-padded headband. 
  • It also lets you listen to music without hurting your ear.
  • Moreover, it lets you converse well while wearing it.

Cons:

  • It is bulky enough compared to other hearing protection devices.
  • Its earmuffs may not seal the ears after several uses, especially if your head is a bit large.

2) 3M H10A Peltor Optime 105 Over the Head Earmuff

If you’re constantly exposed to a noise level of up to 105dB when engaged in woodworking tasks, you should consider using 3M H10A Peltor Optime 105 Over the Head Earmuff. It is a set of passive hearing protection that offers around a 30dB noise reduction rating. It can help block out noise in your workplace to ensure that your ears are well protected. 

The 3M H10A Peltor Optime 105 comes with two robust and full-size cups. These cups come with enough padding to ensure maximum protection from noise. Moreover, these cups are attached by a black band designed to be worn over your head. Once you wear it, you will only hear soft to moderate levels of sound volume. Besides, it is very much affordable.

Pros:

  • It offers a great noise reduction of 30 dB. 
  • It likewise offers an excellent level of comfort when worn. 
  • It is very much affordable. 

Cons:

  • It doesn’t come with the noise amplification feature that the Howard Leight R01902. Hence, you will find it hard to hear the sounds around you. 
  • It is not that durable as compared to expensive brands and models. 
  • Its thick cups may hamper you from working well.

3) ClearArmor 141001

The ClearArmor 141001 offers one of the highest ratings for reducing noise. It also provides a high level of protection to your hearing. It is an industrial-grade ear protection earmuff that you can use when shooting or working in your workshops using powered tools. It also comes with a compact design and shapes for minimizing the space it takes up when you store it. 

It is perfect for use when you are busy engaging in various tasks in front of your workbench. It is adjustable for perfect fitting. Moreover, it allows for full 1-1/4″ vertical adjustments on either side. Plus, it comes with a padded headband for maximum comfort. 

Pros:

  • It is affordable. 
  • Its earpiece fits well. 
  • It offers great noise cancellation.
  • It comes in vast size options.

Cons:

  • It may be too tight for some users.
  • It is a bit bulky.

4) ISOtunes PRO 2.0 Bluetooth Earplug Headphones

The ISOtunes PRO 2.0 Headphones come with heat-activated ear tips made of memory foam. These ear tips aim to muffle the extra noise from your power tools. In the absence of excess noise, you can focus more on your work. 

This set also comes with four foam ear tip pairs. It offers unmatchable audio with its pair of triple-flange ear tips made of silicon. Furthermore, it features a Safe-Max volume-limiting tech that delivers precise sound.

The The ISOtunes PRO 2.0 comes with Bluetooth 5.0 feature. Hence, you can play music using this hearing protection, and you can also quickly pick calls. Besides, you get hi-fi sounds with its high-fidelity speakers along with its aptX audio. Plus, these headphones are ANSI-certified and come with a 27-dB NRR.

Pros:

  • It is certified by ANSI.
  • It offers a wireless connection with its Bluetooth feature.
  • It is lightweight.
  • You can take calls using these earplugs.  

Cons:

  • It does not offer a reliable sound quality. 
  • Noise reduction (NRR) may not be as good as expensive ones.

5) Soft Silicone Corded Ear Plugs

The Soft Silicone Corded Ear Plugs are perfect for reducing noise up to 28dB. They are washable and reusable. They are also designed for a long period of usage. You will get 100 pairs of these non-toxic earplugs that are individually wrapped. 

It also comes with a removable cord. They are pleasant to wear and comfortable. Moreover, they are safe to use.

They are also very portable as you can simply store them inside your toolbox, pocket, or you can leave them in your workshop for easy access and usage. After using, you can throw them away, although you can still reuse them. You can also combine these earplugs with earmuffs for an increased level of noise reduction.

Pros:

  • They are inexpensive. 
  • They are portable. 
  • They are comfortable to use without extra weight on your head. 

Cons: 

  • They lack the sound amplification of more expensive options. 
  • They do not feature Bluetooth connectivity.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Hearing Protection Device

Given the myriad of hearing protection options at hand, you will indeed find it hard to decide which among your options is the best choice. You may likewise find it hard to choose between muffs or plugs. So, to facilitate the buying process for you, we have delineated here the succinct factors, you need to consider when buying hearing protection equipment to ensure that you will make a wise purchase:

Level of Comfort It Provides

When engaged in woodworking, you will often need to focus on the task at hand because if you don’t, you may get injured or make mistakes. So, you need utmost focus on your woodworking tasks. But if your hearing protection device doesn’t provide enough comfort, you may end up listless and out of focus. 

So, before buying a hearing protection device, you need to ensure that you will feel comfortable when wearing it. It should not weigh on your ears or neck. It should also not feel uncomfortable inside your ear canals once inserted. Moreover, your choice should be soft and comes with a comfortable band or strap to allow you to wear it around your neck every time you’re not using it. 

If you don’t like the foam earplugs, you can always opt for semi-insert earplugs. These earplugs may come with headbands, but they do not exert much pressure on your head. They are likewise easy to wear and light on your neck when you wear them on your neck. 

You can also opt for the over-the-ear types, though you may feel uncomfortable and clumsy when wearing them. The over-the-ear types are good for those with sensitive ears. But whichever type you may choose to buy and wear, make sure you feel comfortable when wearing them.

Noise Reduction Level

When choosing a hearing protection device, you also need to consider its Noise Reduction Rating (NRR). The NRR refers to the level of decibels it is capable of lowering the external noise. If the product’s manual, for example, says it has 30 NRR, it can reduce the noise level by 30dB

When it comes to the best NRR, earplugs are at the forefront. They can provide a noise reduction of up to 33dB. Over-the-ear muffs, however, can provide you with up to 3dB NRR.

Nevertheless, if you use both earplugs and over-the-ear muffs simultaneously, you can get up to 36dB NRR. Thus, if you are working out a router that generates 92dB, you can reduce its noise level down to 62dB. Similarly, you can reduce a noisy miter saw with a noise level of 102dB down to 72dB, which is no longer dangerous to your hearing.

Level of Humidity and Temperature

The humidity and temperature may not be related to how it reduces noise level, but more on how much comfort you could get out of the device. Most hearing protection devices generate extra heat and moisture. The earplugs, of course, and the semi-insert plugs do not have much problem with humidity and temperature. 

But humidity and temperature become a significant concern if you opt for over-the-ear muffs. The reason is that over-the-ear muffs tend to trap heat. The headband and shell tend to gather heat when you wear them around your neck. The muffs thus find it hard to breathe. 

So, if you are not working in an air-conditioned room, you may end with a buildup of extra heat on your over-the-ear muffs. Hence, if your shop is not air-conditioned, you might as well opt for earplugs for more comfort.

PPE Compatible

Some woodworkers often wear personal protective equipment (PPE) when engaged in woodworking works. So, if you are one of these woodworkers, you should always select something compatible with your PPE. 

You can always get by with ease if you are wearing earplugs and PPE. However, semi-insert plugs become challenging to wear with your PPE because of their harness and neck straps. 

Moreover, it will help if you position the safety glasses well underneath your hearing protection. However, it can reduce the effectiveness of the muffs. So, you need to choose hearing protection that works well with your PPE and your safety glasses.

Style and Design

If you are someone who thrives in stylish gadgets, you might as well look for something that brings out your penchant for style. So, when deciding which hearing protection device to choose, you should carefully choose its colors and designs. 

The good thing about hearing protection devices is that they come in a wide variety of colors and designs. So, you got a wide array of options to choose from. Make sure that your choice will provide you, not only with efficiency, but also style.

Audibility When Worn

Although the hearing protection device you are wearing should lessen noise, it should not make you oblivious to the outside sounds; otherwise, it would be risky when you wear them while working. Suppose you are working with other woodworkers. In that case, you need to maintain good communication with them, which will never be possible if your hearing protection device doesn’t allow you to hear what they are saying. 

If you need to hear others while working or wearing your hearing protection gear, you need to choose something that allows you to block dangerous sounds while amplifying the normal conversation. You can go for electronic plugs, but these plugs may be more expensive than other options. Nevertheless, they can make a big difference when you work with many people.  


Which is better: Earplugs or Earmuffs?

The biggest dilemma you will face when selecting a hearing protection device is the dilemma of choosing between earmuffs and earplugs. Both options provide adequate protection to your hearing. But the important thing is to find something that offers maximum efficiency while providing you optimum comfort. 

Both options also come with pros and cons. Take disposable foam earplugs, for example. You simply need to insert them onto your ear canal, and they expand inside your ear to completely block noise. They are inexpensive, lightweight, and very unobtrusive. Nevertheless, you may end up disconnected from other people and your surroundings while wearing them. 

Hearing some of your power tool sounds may also save you from dangers and facilitate your works. You need to hear, for example, the circular saw’s whir to know if your saw is binding. Moreover, if you got an ear problem or ache, you would find it hard to insert the earplugs onto your ear canals. 

On the other hand, earmuffs may not block the outside noise completely because they do not entirely seal around the ear. Yet, they provide adequate protection to your hearing. Earmuffs likewise may generate more heat and moisture, which may make you uncomfortable in the long run. Moreover, they may be uncomfortable for many workers. 

Molded earplugs more often come with a headband or cord. They may provide you with less protection, but they compensate for their being lightweight and their lower price. Despite their downsides, they can be enough for most instances. 

Nevertheless, whatever your choice is, it should do what it purportedly intends to do, i.e., to protect your hearing from the noise that could damage your ears in the long run. If, in some instances, you need to wear both muffs and plugs to attain the necessary NRR to protect your ears, then you should do it.


Understanding Noise-induced Hearing Loss

Noise-induced hearing loss usually results from constant exposure to loud noise. It may start with a loss of a range of frequencies that you previously clearly hear. It may also be characterized by a defective perception of sound frequencies, including ringing in one’s ears and sound sensitivity. If hearing loss occurs because of your work, then it is called occupational hearing loss. If you expose yourself for a long time consistently to sounds of 85 decibels or more, you will more likely develop this disorder. 

The inner ear, for example, has hairlike structures that help transfer sound to your brains. If you expose these hairlike structures to deafening loud impulse sounds ranging from 140 to 150 decibels, you may end up damaging your ears likewise. 

The sad thing is that humans don’t have the capability of regrowing these hair cells. Thus, any damage done to these hair cells may become permanent. So, do not play down the possibilities of noise-induced hearing loss, for they are real possibilities for anyone who is always exposed to high-decibel sounds.


Conclusion

You may be looking for a hearing protection device because you recognize that hearing plays a critical role in your life, in your communication, language, speech development, and learning. Remember that hearing loss will have profound negative implications and effects on your life. 

If you let yourself be exposed, as a woodworker, to constant noise or impulse noise, you may end up damaging your ear, and it may be irreversible. So, before you end up losing your hearing, it will be best to do something to prevent the onset of such a disorder.

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