The Best Ear Protection for Woodworking

Do you know someone that often asks you to repeat what you just said? Hearing loss is a subject we don’t often talk about but it can leave you with many regrets later in life. How many people don’t protect their ears at concerts only to have significant auditory issues later? Small choices today can keep your ears in good shape and protect your hearing for the long term.

Woodworking in a garage or shop is no different. Long term exposure to saws, sanders, planers, and air compressors can have an impact on hearing. So what is the best ear protection for woodworking? Let’s take a look.

What Level of Hearing Protection Do I Need?

In order to establish a guideline for hearing protection while working on home projects, we can look at what OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) deems as acceptable levels. Use the following safety levels:

  • 85 dB(A)
    • 8 hours of exposure per day is hazardous
  • 100 dB(A)
    • 15 minutes per day can have permanent hearing loss
  • 110 dB(A)
    • 1.5 minutes per day can have permanent hearing loss

A safe level is below 80dB(A) over an 8 hour period. Now that you know what level of noise is acceptable, you need to measure the environment to see what level of hearing protection you need.

How Can you Measure Sound Levels?

The quickest and easiest way is with your cell phone. Download an app called NIOSH SLM (Apple) to find out. You can also find something similar on Android. Let the app run for a few minutes in your environment to collect noise data. Look at the LAeq measurement to see the average noise level. If it’s below 80dBA, you don’t need any hearing protection. If it’s above, subtract 80 from the LAeq to see how much noise reduction you need in dB(A). For example, if LAeq is 110db, you will need 30db of reduction (110 – 80 = 30).

What is the Best Hearing Protection?

Hearing protection products fall in to mostly two groups. Ear muff style and ear plugs. The ear muffs go over your ears and surround them blocking out ambient noise from the environment. They look like large headphones and will have a clamping force to keep them on snug and tight. The material inside is usually a noise blocking type of foam installed in the ear cups. If any part is not tight around your ears and doesn’t create a seal, they won’t work as intended and the noise reducing ability will be diminished. If you wear glasses this may be a problem and you may want to look in to the ear plug style.

Ear plugs are inserted directly in to the ear canal and are also very effective at reducing noise. They can be a foam material or even a dense plastic type. One benefit of the ear plugs is for those that wear prescription glasses or even safety glasses. Ear plugs will typically cost less but you lose the ability for music, Bluetooth, and a microphone.

For most woodworkers and shopwork, the 3M WorkTunes has a 24db NRR (Noise Reduction Rating) and has some media features which make work more enjoyable. Bluetooth, AM/FM radio, and a cable input will allow you to listen to music while working in the shop.

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What does NRR 22 dB mean?

NRR is a system to rate noise reduction measured in decibels. The higher the value the more noise is reduced. However, the NRR rating does not translate in to how many decibels of noise are removed. To find how many decibels are remove, subtract 7 from the NRR rating and then divide by two. If a product has a 24 dB NRR, (24-7) / 2 equals 8.5db of reduction.

Features and Benefits of the 3M WorkTunes

  • 24dB NRR
  • Bluetooth capability
  • Integrated microphone
  • External input via cable
  • Built in rechargeable battery
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Special Features

Other than protecting hearing, one of the best features of the 3M WorkTunes is the Bluetooth capability. Having just a little bit of music while working long hours in the garage or workshop adds a level of enjoyment and fun to what you’re doing. You’re no longer limited to just a FM radio now, you can stream your favorite podcast or Spotify radio directly to the ear muffs from your phone. No more listening to muffled saw blades cutting through maple or oak wood!

3M WorkTunes Video Review

3M Company Profile

Not many know that 3M used to be called Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing company. They were founded in 1902 in Minnesota, US. Today, they have grown exponentially and are considered a multi-national conglomerate. Products span from adhesives, dental, orthodontic, insulation, metal, electronic circuits, and much more.

Curated Independent Reviews

One reviewer commented that it has good comfort over a long period of time and he has no fatigue issues. He can typically have about 15 hours of battery usage before needing to recharge.

Reviewer on 3M site

A verified purchaser on Amazon didn’t realize how much noise his lawn mower makes. After using the ear muffs he noticed a big reduction in noise and really appreciated how well they work.

Another verified Amazon purchaser bought these for his wood shop. He was using ear buds and a radio before but he noticed good noise protection from these. He noticed the music was very clear and wishes he had heard of them years ago.

In Conclusion

Whichever way you decide to protect your ears, your future self will be happy you chose to. It’s one of those things that if goes neglected for even a few hours a day can have a big impact later. As many say, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

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