Workshops are safer than ever before but it is still vital that you take the necessary precautions when working with power tools. In 2015, there were over 4,700 amputations as a result of table saw injuries in the United States alone (1).
When operating machinery that can cause severe injury, you should do everything possible to protect yourself. Thankfully, there are some simple rules you can follow to minimize the risk of an accident.
In this article, we have shared 14 important things you should know and keep in mind when using a table saw. These table saw safety tips should help you use your saw safely and ensure you can get on with your cutting tasks.
Table Saw Safety Essentials
Always wear safety goggles or a face shield when cutting with a table saw. If the table saw kicks up dust and debris, wear a face mask. Never wear gloves while using a table saw and avoid loose-fitting clothes and long sleeves. It is also essential that you remove any dangling jewelry before operating a table saw.
How Dangerous is a Table Saw?
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), more than 67,000 professionals and DIY enthusiasts suffer injuries as a result of table saws each year (2). Some of these are fortunately only minor injuries, but thousands result in the loss of limbs.
All power tools can be dangerous if misused, but the exposed blade of table saws makes them particularly hazardous. These injuries aren’t only caused by direct contact with the blade, as debris can also be a serious issue.
Kickback is the most widespread cause of injury. This happens when the blade is dull or clogged with sap and sawdust from wet wood. You can also experience a kickback due to objects embedded in the wood, such as nails and screws.
Splinters can become dangerous projectiles. Loose clothes can come into contact with the blade. You might adopt the wrong stance and fall toward the blade when feeding the wood into it.
As you can see, the list of potential hazards is long, but following some simple practices will help you avoid adding to the injury statistics.
How Does a Table Saw Work?
A table saw has a circular blade with an edge that sticks up through a slot in a table. The blade spins at approximately 8,000 RPM as you push the stock toward it. When the material makes contact with the spinning disc, the disc slices through it.
Table saws can cut material in two ways:
Crosscutting describes when a blade cuts across the grain of the wood by ripping the fibers.
Rip-cutting is when you cut with the grain of the wood, with the blade splitting the material.
Table Saw Safety Tips
Here are fourteen of our top table saw safety tips. Familiarizing yourself with them should help you prevent the vast majority of accidents.
Tip #1: Read the Instructions
This might sound obvious but it can be tempting to skip the instructions, especially if you have a project and you can’t wait to get started. However, reading the instructions should always be the first thing you do.
After reading them, you should keep them nearby and follow them when you unbox the saw and set it up. Even if you have a lot of experience using table saws, there might be some subtle differences. Never switch on the table saw without following the instructions.
Tip #2: Position Your Table Saw
Table saws should be placed on a hard, flat surface. Portable tabletop table saws are great for when you need to cut things on-site, but placing the saw on an uneven or soft surface such as grass will make it much likelier to topple over, which is potentially very dangerous.
When using a portable saw, never place it directly onto the ground. Seasoned construction workers might get away with kneeling while cutting, but it is very risky and something you should never do.
Tip #3: Come Prepared
You must prepare properly to keep yourself safe while operating a table saw. It is important to be alert, so make sure you get enough sleep to not have to operate the machine while drowsy. You should completely avoid drinking alcohol before operating a table saw, as this will reduce your alertness and hand-eye coordination.
You can think of using a table saw as similar to driving a car. If you are too tired to drive or have been drinking, you shouldn’t operate a dangerous piece of machinery.
Tip #4: Dress the Part
Protective equipment is vital when using a table saw. You should always wear:
- Safety goggles
- A face shield
- Shoes with a flat sole and strong grip
- Appropriate clothing that is not loose-fitting
- Hearing protection
Should You Wear Gloves When Using a Table Saw?
An important part of sawing safely is using your senses. When wearing gloves, you lose your sense of touch. Gloves can also make it more difficult to grip the material safely. Most importantly, gloves can be loose-fitting and might get caught in the blade, potentially leading to severe injuries.
Tip #5: Clean Workspace
A dirty table can cause friction when you slide the wood toward the blade. This means you will have to apply more force to push it, increasing your risk of injury.
When you push harder, it is easy to overcompensate and shift your center of balance. If you slip, your hand could strike the blade.
You should also remove any trip hazards such as pieces of wood that fall to the floor during sawing. This will reduce your risk of tripping. Check that there are no loose cables or wires near your feet.
Another reason to keep a clean workspace is that there will be less debris near the blade that could become a dangerous projectile.
Tip #6: Use Outfeed Tables for Support
If you are cutting a large piece of wood such as a sheet of ply, position a second table behind the saw to support it as it feeds through the blade. This will make the stock more stable, which will make it easier to cut and prevent it from splitting and ruining your finish.
Tip #7: Never Cut Freehand
You should always guide the stock by using the miter gauge or the fence. Operating the saw freehand will increase the risk of a kickback, which is one of the main dangers when using a table saw.
Tip #8: Making Adjustments
Never try to make adjustments to your stock when the saw is operational. Always wait for the blade to stop and disconnect the saw from the power supply. You can then make your adjustments, clamp the piece back in place, and continue sawing.
Tip #9: Positions
- Use a firm stance, with your feet an equal distance apart. This will help you balance your weight and have a better center of gravity.
- Set the saw blade to a height of ⅛ or ¼-inch above the stock, depending on what you are cutting. This will prevent the blade from protruding further than necessary.
- Never position yourself with the blade between your body and hands. Work from side to side and maintain a tight grip on the piece you are cutting.
- Never reach over the blade. Keep as much distance as you can. You can use a push stick to make this easier.
- Take plenty of breaks to ensure you always stay alert.
- Always wait for the blade to come to a stop after cutting. Don’t try to force it.
- After use, turn off the saw completely and lower the blade.
Tip #10: Check Safety Features
Your table saw should be equipped with several safety features to protect you while cutting. These features will vary from model to model, but there are some common ones.
Zero clearance inserts are designed to prevent off-cuts of wood from falling through the opening where the blade sits. This reduces the risk of kickbacks, projectiles, and blade jamming.
Throat plates are removable and allow easy access to the blade for maintenance. Never operate the saw with the throat plate removed. Like the zero clearance plate, the throat plate stops debris from falling into the saw, where it could damage the machine or be launched as a projectile.
Some table saws have anti-kickback pawls. These look like separate saw blades with teeth that grip the wood in the event of a kickback. They also help guide the stock onto the blade when you push it.
A riving knife is a safety device attached to the saw’s arbor. It moves with the blade when the height is adjusted to maintain an even gap with the blade. A riving knife prevents kickbacks by reducing the risk of jamming.
Blade guards are the most reliable way of keeping the blade isolated from the person operating it. They are typically made of clear plexiglass so you can still see what you’re doing. Many woodworkers complain that the blade guard restricts their ability to measure and see the cuts, so they remove them.
You can also use a splitter to reduce kickbacks. This is a small blade that sits behind the table saw blade and holds the kerf open.
A feature of many newer table saws is a magnetic switch. It automatically shuts the saw off in the event of a power outage. This prevents the blade from spinning unexpectedly when its electrical supply is restored and potentially injuring you.
Tip #11: Disconnect Power before Changing Blades
Leaving the power supply on after using your saw is one of the most common causes of injury. It is important to never be complacent when using power tools.
This means not only switching off the power supply to the unit but also removing the plug from its socket. By doing this, you can be confident that the machine is completely inoperable.
Tip #12: Guide the Stock While Cutting
A table saw fence is invaluable when making rip-cuts and will help you guide the stock. The fence runs from the front of your table saw to the back and is parallel to the blade. It keeps the wood properly aligned so you can cut accurately.
Sometimes the fence can cause friction when guiding the stock through, especially if you don’t keep your table saw clean. Sawdust and debris are the usual suspects. You can try coating the surface of your fence with wax to reduce friction.
One of the most effective tools for guiding the stock is the miter gauge. After you select the desired angle for the cut, the wood is clamped against the miter fence, allowing you to align the piece with the blade.
When using the miter gauge, remove the fence because this will impede the movement of the stock and increase the risk of a kickback. Wood might get stuck between the blade and the fence. Remove it entirely when using the miter gauge.
Tip #13: Check Stock for Foreign Objects
If you are cutting lumber, especially reusing old wood, you should always check it carefully before using your table saw. Metal objects such as nails and screws can be very dangerous if they come into contact with a saw blade spinning at 8,000 RPM.
The likely outcomes are a violent kickback or a projectile shooting through the air, either of which can cause significant injuries. Taking the time to check your stock will make your cutting much safer.
Tip #14: Use a Push Stick
Push sticks are essential if you want to maintain some distance between your fingers and the table saw blade. As the name suggests, a push stick is a stick used to push stock.
Push sticks come in two varieties, but both serve the same basic purpose: controlling the direction of the wood as you push it toward the blade while keeping your fingers safe.
A notched push stick is better for smaller stock. It lets you push the stock forward but the drawback is that it won’t apply much downward pressure when the wood meets the blade. This means there is a risk that the wood will come loose or flip during cutting.
A shoe push stick applies both forward and downward pressure, holding the stock against the table. The only downside is that your hands will be closer to the blade than when using a notched version.
Before performing your safety checks and preparing your table saw, ensure it is disconnected from the power supply.
- Remove all debris and foreign objects from the table saw. Also, ensure your standing area is clear of any debris or wires.
- Choose the right blade for the task. Never use a crosscut blade when performing a rip-cut or a rip-cut blade for crosscuts.
- Check that the blade is sharp enough to cut the material.
- Make sure the nuts and bolts on the arbor are tight and that the blade doesn’t move or wobble. It needs to be secure before you turn the saw on.
- Set the blade height. It should be no higher than ⅛ to ¼-inch above the stock.
- Inspect all your safety features to ensure they are in position.
- Plan your cuts. Never rush your work.
- Always use either the fence or the miter gauge. Never cut freehand.
- Take frequent breaks.
- Make sure the blade has stopped completely before you leave it.
- Always unplug your saw after use.
- When in doubt, don’t do it. If you are worried that a cut might be unsafe, it probably is.