Safety Glasses: They are a must when I am working. I only have two eyes and they are not repairable or replaceable. I use them whenever I am using fast rotating equipment. I have had one significant eye injury. I was making some rabbets in some birch for some train cars. A piece of splintered wood flew under my safety glasses and into my eye. In my attempts to flush it out, it embedded in my eyelid. Went to urgent care and they tried to flush it out and failed. The next morning my eye was swollen shut. The body is a miracle in itself and it expelled the splinter on its own. I still followed up with a specialist to make sure there was nothing in the eye. Are safety glasses important, Yes! Do I wear them every time a piece of equipment tells me too, No. If you look at flash lights sold in the cordless combo packs, they tell you to use safety glasses when using them. When using my drill, I don’t always put on safety glasses. When I am out working with my tools they are on. I have a couple of pairs just in case I lose or break one. My advice, find a pair that you like and buy a couple. It is very easy to find excuses to not wear uncomfortable or glasses that skew vision. Basic glasses will do for most operations. I do know that people use full face shields for doing turnings. If you are worried about your eyes at least get a basic pair of safety glasses. They are cheaper than losing an eye.
Ear Protection: I did not get ear protection until after I was married. I guess my wife always wants me to hear her. Well with the hearing protection it is hard for me to hear her. Prolonged exposure to loud noises will cause hearing loss. I have one of the higher rated ear protection and they are reasonably priced. I purchased my ear protection at www.envirosafetyproducts.com. Ear protection is based on the amount of they can reduce decibels. If my table saw has a 110 dB reading and I am wearing ear muffs with a noise reduction reading (NRR) of 30 dB I will only hear the saw at 80dB. There was an interesting article in Wood Magazine a little while back about ear protection. They talked about putting in the ear buds of an iPod is better than nothing just don’t turn the volume up when you turn on machinery.
Respirator: Another purchase after I was married. I cannot say I use it as much as I should. It is kept in my garage because that is where I do my sanding and finishing. Large amounts of sanding create a lot of fine dust. This dust is not good for the lungs. I also have an air brush and fine particles of finish are not good for the lungs. I have also used oil based finished that evaporate off chemicals not good for the lungs. I use the respirator for my major sanding projects and finishing. I have also used it when cutting into my few pieces of exotic woods as precaution only.
The Brain: This is probably the most important piece of equipment any one has. This organ in your body will tell you if what you are doing is safe. It also gives ideas and thoughts on how a project can be completed without endangering yourself or others. If there is one thing I have learned with wood working, there is always more than one way to do things. One may be more comfortable doing it one way over another. For example, I have the ability to cross cut on my table saw. However I chose to use the miter saw. The miter saw was also my go to saw for making all my scrap blocks. Now that I have a band saw I use it more for cutting smaller parts.