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

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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