Follow these simple tips to avoid a fire disaster.

You've heard plenty about protecting yourself from spinning blades or bits. But what about protecting your shop—even when you're not around? A fire can wipe out an extensive investment in tools and materials. If your shop is close to or part of your home, a blaze can even threaten you and your family. Follow these simple tips to avoid a disaster.

1. Limit flammables

Cut back on the amount of finishes, solvents, and other flammable materials you keep on hand. This reduces a ready—and volatile—fuel source should a fire break out. Buy small quantities, keep them in the original containers, and use up old finishes on shop projects. Properly dispose of materials you haven't used in years.

Cabinet with finish

2. Detect and defeat

Smoke detectors protect you inside your home, but dust in a shop can set them off. Instead, install a heat detector (above door) with both rate-of-rise (sounds an alarm if the temperature climbs too quickly) and fixed-temperature detectors (alerts you if a set temperature is exceeded). They cost about $50 at home centers and online.

Keep a fire extinguisher near each exit so you can fight a fire and still have an escape route. An extinguisher with an ABC rating fights fires in paper and wood (A), gasoline and other combustible liquids (B), and electrical components (C).

Fire extinguisher on wall

3. Watch your wires

Repair or replace damaged power cords on tools. When you need an extension cord, choose the proper size: a 12- or 14-gauge cord for benchtop and power hand tools. Avoid placing cords where they will be stepped on or pinched. If you rely on power strips or multi-taps to make one receptacle do the work of several, bite the bullet and add circuits to your shop.

Plug outlets

4. Tidy up

Boy Scouts use wood shavings, paper, and sticks to light a fire. Sound like a corner of your shop? Clean up the kindling and keep combustible material away from heaters, stoves, appliances with pilot lights, and bench grinders that throw sparks.

Paper by trash can

5. Finish off rags

Oils in finishes create heat as they cure. Concentrate that heat in a crumpled-up rag or paper towel and it can spontaneously burst into flames. Always lay finish rags flat on the floor or draped over the edge of a bench to dry thoroughly before throwing them away.

Rags on floor