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Ear Plugs

Ear Plugs

(c) 2006 Chris Baylor licensed to About.com, Inc.
When working with loud woodworking tools such as routers and planers, using hearing protection is highly advisable. Because extended exposure to such loud noises are known to cause permanent hearing loss, it would be foolish to use such tools without employing a form of hearing protection.

What forms of hearing protection are best for woodworking?
There are two common types of hearing protection, ear muffs and in-ear plugs. Either will provide an acceptable level of hearing protection, and some woodworkers will even employ both types simultaneously.

Ear Muffs:

Ear Muffs look a lot like a large pair of headphones. Typically, the ear pieces completely cover the ears in an attempt to form a tight seal and keep as much sound out as possible. While they tend to provide a bit better sound reduction than ear plugs, they also are quite bulky. As such, some woodworkers may find them a bit cumbersome.
Some very high-end ear muffs implement electronic noise reduction technology to reduce sound levels even more. These units attempt to essentially generate opposite sound waves to the noises they detect. While they are relatively expensive, they are also pretty effective at blocking out extra noise.

Ear Plugs:

Ear plugs, as shown in the image above, are much less cumbersome than their ear muff counterparts, but don't provide the same level of protection either. Ear plugs are typically made of a type of memory foam that the user compresses, inserts into the outer ear canal and waits for the foam to expand to form a tight fit. Many users find these more comfortable than ear muffs, particularly when working in warm weather.
As mentioned above, some woodworkers will actually insert ear plugs and then wear a pair of ear muffs over the ears for double protection. While this may seem to be a bit of overkill, if the woodworker feels that the extra protection is well-deserved, there's certainly nothing wrong with employing this method.
The point to remember is that no matter which type of protection you prefer, be sure to use hearing protection when using your power tools. Your ears will thank you for your foresight in future years.
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