Table Saw Safety in the Workshop

Follow the rules when it comes to table saw safety in your workshop, including using a table saw, binding rules, maintaining control of the table saw, staying alert around machinery and subtle hazards when using a table saw.

| February/March 1997

  • 160-018-01
    Basic hearing and eye protection is step one.
    PHOTO: ERIC O'CONNELL
  • Sizing a strip on table saw
    Sizing a strip on table saw.
    ERIC O'CONNELL
  • Using a miter guage on table saw
    Using a miter gauge to control the workpiece during a crosscut.
    ERIC O'CONNELL
  • Using a push stick to apply pressure
    If the strip you're cutting off is less than 1 1/2-inches wide, you can use a push stick to apply pressure against the fence, as shown in photo 2.
    ERIC O'CONNELL
  • 160-018-01a
    Avoid using the fence to guide a piece that is wider than it is long.
    ERIC O'CONNELL
  • Clamp the stop block to the fence
    Clamp the stop block to the fence near the front of the table (photo 5), so that you can reference the wood for the cut without anything pushing the cut piece into the back of the blade.
    ERIC O'CONNELL
  • Measure from the blade to the block
    Measure from the blade to the block (photo 4) and secure the fence.
    ERIC O'CONNELL
  • Feather boards hold the wood against the fence
    Feather boards (photo 6) are handy to help hold the wood against the fence.
    ERIC O'CONNELL
  • Commercial feather boards are available
    Commercial feather boards are available; I have one that locks in place in the miter gauge slot and features a metal arm that helps hold the wood down on the tabletop as well (photo 7).
    ERIC O'CONNELL
  • Consider buying a ripping guide
    You might also consider buying a ripping guide like the one in photo 8.
    ERIC O'CONNELL
  • You need an extra long push stick
    You need an extra long push stick, as shown in photo 9 (see Image Gallery), to get the material all the way past the blade.
    ERIC O'CONNELL
  • Spring-loaded rollers press the wood down and toward the fence
    There are several versions available, but they all work similarly. Spring-loaded rollers press the wood down and toward the fence and roll in only one direction, eliminating the risk of kickback.
    ERIC O'CONNELL

  • 160-018-01
  • Sizing a strip on table saw
  • Using a miter guage on table saw
  • Using a push stick to apply pressure
  • 160-018-01a
  • Clamp the stop block to the fence
  • Measure from the blade to the block
  • Feather boards hold the wood against the fence
  • Commercial feather boards are available
  • Consider buying a ripping guide
  • You need an extra long push stick
  • Spring-loaded rollers press the wood down and toward the fence

Taming the most dangerous tool in the shop. Learn about table saw safety in your workshop. (See the table saw photos in the image gallery.)

In my shop, the table saw is the most essential tool. I need it almost as much as I need my thumbs, but I never forget which is more important. And I never forget which one could potentially remove the other.

A table saw is arguably the most dangerous tool in the woodshop, but a basic understanding of table saw safety, the machine and a few simple precautions will keep you from harm. Most table saw injuries are caused by a phenomenon known as kickback — surrendering control of the material to the machine. When kickback occurs, two things can happen: 1) you can be struck, hard, by flying wood; or 2) as the wood takes off, it can pull portions of your anatomy into the spinning blade.

When a saw blade is spinning, its teeth rise up out of the table at the farthest end and travel towards you, reaching a peak at the center of their rotation; then they plunge back down below the surface of the tabletop. After they reach the peak, their forces are downward, meeting the resistance of the table. At the back of the blade, however, the forces are upward; the blade wants to lift the wood up and fling it toward you. If the vibration of the machine causes a cutoff piece to contact the back of the blade, it will throw it. Thus, rule number one: Stand to one side of the blade; stay out of the path of fire. More important, though, is to keep material from coming in contact with the back of the blade.



A Binding Contact

The wood between the fence and the blade has no room to move. The fence holds it snug against the blade, and at the back this can mean kickback. You have to be sure to push the material between the fence and the blade all the way past the blade to avoid this.

I make my hands into compact little pushing units, with the fingers tucked safely away from the spinning blade. My left thumb lays over the first knuckle of my left index finger, creating a notch which I use to press the board against the fence (see photo above). My right hand is open, the thumb hooked over the end of the board to push it along and the index finger applying downward pressure, while the other fingers are wrapped over the top of the fence, out of harm's way. As I feed the material through the cut, my left hand moves along with it, often getting close to the front of the blade, keeping the wood firmly against the fence.






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