Best Hearing Protection for Woodworking

My best recommendations for hearing protections for woodworking. Understand what to look for in them and how to choose the best ear protection that works for you.

ear muffs and ear plugs on a workbench with power drill and text overlay

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Safety is the most important part of any woodworking project. You only have one body, and it is essential to protect your eyes, ears, and airways from long-term damage from all the generated dust.

Let’s talk about hearing protection today. Nothing can restore lost hearing. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Why Do You Need Hearing Protection?

Human hearing can be significantly reduced by exposure to loud noises. According to OSHA, 85 dBA is the limit above which hearing loss becomes permanent.

This means that being exposed to 85 dBA for 7 hours can cause permanent hearing loss. Not just that, with every 3 dBA of noise increase past 85 dBA, the time hearing loss reduces in half.

Without hearing protection, at 95-100 dB (like a circular saw, table saws, etc.) would take 7 minutes, and at 112 dB (like a chain saw) would take only 2 minutes!

Protecting ourselves from hearing loss caused by loud noises is something in our control and something we can do.

How to Choose Hearing Protection

Many factors play a role in how you decide what ear protection you pick.

Noise Reduction Rating

This is THE most important feature to look at when picking ear protection. Every ear protection has an NRR (Noise Reduction Rating). Why does it matter? This number defines the amount of noise it blocks out. It can go as high as 33, with 23-27 being the most common. The actual effect of NRR isn’t a straightforward subtraction calculation.

How to calculate noise reduction

To calculate the actual noise reduction from your ear protection, you want to subtract 7 from the NRR and then divide by 2. Therefore, if the hearing protection is rated at NRR 27, the actual noise reduction is not 27dB. It is (27-7)/2, which is 10 dB. This is the reduction in the noise you will see.

If you are using shop tools, they are most commonly around 95dB, hearing protection will deduct 10dB from it, bringing it down to the safe 85dB safe.

Remember that the NRR is only true when the hearing protection is worn correctly.

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Style of Hearing Protection

Ear protection comes in two styles –

  • Over the ear style (ear muffs)
  • In-ear styles (like earplugs)
collage of woman working with earplugs on saw and working with lumber with earmuffs

They both have their advantages and drawbacks. Over-the-ear styles can easy and quick to put on but can apply force to your ears and head and can become too hot in the summer months. On the other hand, in-ear styles are smaller but can apply pressure in the ear canal and may not be comfortable for long periods of wear. Which style you choose is ultimately your personal preference, but there are a few other factors to consider before making the decision.

Compatibility With Other Ppe

When using shop tools, you need eye and breathing protection in addition to hearing protection. You want to make sure that all three work together and do their individual jobs. If not worn correctly, the respirator or safety glasses might push down on the ear protection making it looser or vice versa.

Optional Features

Many newer ear protection devices come with built-in BlueTooth or FM radios. These are great features to add additional functionality if you need them but are totally optional. Obviously, the price goes up with these additional features as well.

Noise-Canceling vs. Noise Isolation

Noise-canceling headphones are trendy and commonly available in many varieties and brands. These do not work for noise reduction and are not intended for use in a workshop.

Noise-canceling headphones listen for sounds through a microphone and then neutralize it before it reaches the ears by playing a different sound. This technology isn’t fast or accurate enough to cancel out the noise from power tools.

On the other hand, noise isolation devices simply don’t allow the noise to reach your ears, making it a lot more effective and accurate for use around workshop tools.

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Best Hearing Protection for Woodworking

Picking the right hearing protection is all about your preference based on the considerations above and your budget.

Here are some of the best options in the market for every style and budget:

  1. Decibel Defense – Over-the head earmuffs with a high NRR.
  2. 3M Peltor Earmuffs – I have used these before and liked them.
  3. ISOTUNES Link – Earmuffs with BlueTooth. I recently got these and like how they work. They are pretty rugged over-the-head earmuffs with BlueTooth and a microphone. The battery is pretty long too.
    (Get $10 OFF with code ANIKA10)
  4. 3M WorkTunes -Over-the head earmuffs with BlueTooth to listen to music and take calls. While I haven’y used them, I have heard great
  5. Behind-the-head earmuffs – If the over-the-head version doesn’t work for you, you can try this behind-the-ear version.
  6. ISOTUNES 2.0 – These are the ones I use the most often. These are in-ear earplugs with the highest NRR I have seen in similar versions. It is very comfortable to use and The battery life is amazing. I charge it about once a month.
    (Get $10 OFF with code ANIKA10)
  7.  3M disposable Earplugs – Great budget-friendly disposable earplugs
  8. Corded reusable earplugs – Another great budget-friendly option that can be reused.

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I am sure you will find the something that will work for you in the list above. Be sure to put on your hearing protection when you step into the workshop!

More Woodworking Topics for You –

Anika's goal is to inspire and empower beginners with woodworking, DIY, home improvement, and home decor ideas.
She wants everyone to unlock their creative potential and experience the feeling that comes with making something. Nothing feels better better than seeing something and saying "I can make that!"

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2 Comments

  1. Good basic info, but as a retired safety manager from a manufacturing facility I would add a few comments.
    While it is true that your PPE only works if worn, it is important that it is chosen correctly for the known hazard and fits! Hearing protection especially will only give you the noise reduction expected if it fits. Foam-type ear plugs need to be inserted and worn correctly – and often are not without instruction.
    There are phone apps. to measure noise and I recommend deciBel. It will tell you the maximum and provide an average. It is not always best to choose the highest NRR if it isn’t needed. For example, over-the-head ear muffs with the highest NRR are generally bulkier and a bit heavier than a product with a lower NRR. And if uncomfortable – even with the potential for injury – PPE sometimes stays in the locker or on the bench.
    One more mention regards using a product that basically protects from noise outside of the PPE, but offers the user the option for music/radio/podcasts. To drown out the machine noise, they turn up the volume and can be exposing themselves still to excessive “noise.”
    Noise-induced hearing loss not only happens over time, but you cannot feel it happening.

    1. Anika Gandhi says:

      Hi Bette, Thanks so much for the important pointers. And really great point about raising up volumes to drown out the sound of machines that totally defeats the purpose.
      Anika

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