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Earplugs or earmuffs?
Both offer adequate hearing protection;
the key is selecting a protector
that's comfortable and convenient
so you'll actually use it.
Disposable foam earplugs that
you twist, then let expand into your
ear, are the very best because they
block the ear canal completely.
They're cheap, unobtrusive
and lightweight. But I personally
can't get used to these; they feel like
insulation stuffed into my ears. And
they're so effective that they make
me feel disconnected from my surroundings.
to hear some
whine of the router and whir of the
circular saw to know that I'm not
forcing or binding the tool. Jaw
movement can dislodge them,
they're tough to use when you have
an earache and, of course, you need
to remember to replenish your
supply. But if your ears are very
sensitive and the feel doesn't bug
you, these might be right for you.
Earmuffs generally don't block
quite as much noise, some people
consider them hot and clunky, and
if you have glasses or long hair they
may not seal completely—but I'm
partial to them. They offer adequate
protection, and wearing
them is second nature now.
(When they're not in use,
I automatically prop mine
up and out of the way
atop my head like
ears.) They serve
as ear warmers in
chilly weather, and
more than once
the impact of
a blow that would otherwise have
been absorbed by my noggin.
Reusable molded earplugs,
often on a cord or headband, offer
the least protection of the group.
But they're lightweight and cheap,
so it's convenient to keep a couple
of extra pairs around. And even if
they're not the best performers,
they're adequate for most situations.
Hearing protectors have a noise
reduction rating (NRR) printed on
the package. Noise is measured in
decibels (dB); each 10 dB jump
reflects a doubling of the noise level.
The idea is to get the noise reduced
to a safe and comfortable level; for
a two-hour stint in your workshop,
that should be less than 90 dB.
Foam plugs offer an NRR of
about 30 dB; earmuffs about
25 dB; molded plugs slightly
less than 25 dB. For extremely
loud operations, wear both
plugs and muffs to attain an
NRR of 35 db or more.
Common Sound LevelsNormal conversation . . . . . . . 60 dB
Shop vacuum, table saw . . . . 95 dB
Belt sander, jigsaw . . . . . . . . 100 dB
Router, circular saw . . . . . . . 110 dB
Chain saw, nail gun . . . . . . . . 120 dB
Jet engine, pain threshold . . 140 dB
The 30,000 tiny hair cells arranged in our inner
ear's snail-shaped cochlea are responsible for
transmitting sound. The hairs nearest the opening
are responsible for transmitting high-frequency
noises and are the first ones damaged by loud
noise. That's why people with hearing damage can
hear a low-pitched male voice with better clarity
than a higher-pitched female voice.