In 2015, there were over 4,700 amputations as a result of table saw injuries (1). So, when you operate a machine that could sever limbs, you need to keep your concentration.
Almost all of the injuries are avoidable, and human error is the number one factor in most cases. The good news is there are steps you can take to mitigate these injuries. About to start a new project and you’re worried about table saw safety?
Safe Table Saw Cutting
Always wear safety goggles or a face shield. If the table saw kicks up dust, wear a face mask. Never wear gloves while using a table saw, and avoid loose-fitting clothing and long sleeves. Also, remove any dangling jewelry before operating a table saw.
How Dangerous is a Table Saw?
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), every year, more than 67,000 workers and DIY enthusiasts suffer injuries as a result of table saws (2). That equates to more than 33,000 visits to the emergency room.
Medical costs for these injuries are estimated to top $2.36 billion. There is no debating table saws can be dangerous. But only when they are misused or the operator hasn’t followed the golden rules of safety.
So, what are the dangers?
Kickback is the number one cause of injury. This happens when the blade is dull or clogged with sap and sawdust from wet wood. You can also experience kickbacks from foreign objects within the wood, like nails and screws.
Sometimes splinters and foreign objects can become dangerous projectiles. Your clothing could become snagged, especially if you are wearing loose-fitting clothing. You might adopt the wrong stance and fall when feeding the wood toward the blade.
The list of risks is long, but by adopting some basic common-sense practices, you can avoid becoming another statistic.
How Does a Table Saw Work?
A table saw consists of a circular blade jutting through a slot in a table. The blade spins at roughly 8,000 RPM as you push the stock toward it. As the material makes contact with the spinning disc, it slices through it.
Table saws cut in two ways:
This is when you cut across the grain of the wood by ripping the fibers.
This is when you cut with the grain of the wood with the blade splitting the material.
Table Saw Safety Tips
Looking to avoid accidents? Table saws are dangerous, so we’re sharing the best tips to help you stay safe when using a table saw.
Tip #1: Read the Instructions
Reading the instructions sounds almost too obvious, but how many people read them? It should be the first thing you do, and not from your armchair.
You should unbox the table saw and set it up following the manual. That way, you learn as you go. Never switch on the table saw without taking these simple steps.
Tip #2: Position Your Table Saw
Table saws should stand on a hard, flat surface. Some of the portable tabletop varieties are great for taking to work sites, but putting the saw on an uneven or soft surface like grass will increase the risk of the table falling over.
Also, never put the saw directly onto the ground. Kneeling while cutting might be something seasoned construction workers try to get away with, but don’t follow their lead.
Tip #3: Come Prepared
To put it another way, you wouldn’t embark on a long car journey knowing you were fatigued or under the influence. A table saw blade is razor-sharp, spinning faster than the eye can track. What could possibly go wrong?
Tip #4: Dress the Part
Protective equipment is vital when using a table saw. So what should you wear?
- Safety goggles.
- Face shield.
- Shoes with a flat sole and good grip.
- Appropriate clothing. Nothing loose fitting.
- Hearing protection.
Should You Wear Gloves When Using a Table Saw?
Part of the sawing experience is using all of your senses.
When you wear gloves, you lose your sense of touch. Also, gloves can impede your ability to grip the wood. And finally, gloves are often loose-fitting and could become snagged in the blade.
Tip #5: Clean Work Space
A dirty table will cause friction when you slide the lumber toward the blade. You have to exert more energy and force.
When you do this, you tend to over-compensate with your stance and shift your center of balance. One slip, and you may regret not cleaning up.
Also, remove trip hazards like sawn bits of wood that fall to the floor. It reduces your chances of tripping. And check that there are no loose cables or wires near your feet.
The other reason for keeping a clean workspace is that there is 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 like a sheet of ply, position a second table behind the saw to support the split sheet as it feeds through the blade. It will make your stock more stable and make the cut much more manageable.
Plus, it removes the risk of the wood breaking under its weight.
Tip #7: Never Cut Freehand
You should always guide the stock by either the miter gauge or the fence. Freehanding will increase the chances of a kickback having dire consequences. You may have 10 fingers, but we bet you’d like to keep hold of all of them.
Tip #8: Making Adjustments
When the saw is operational, never try to make adjustments to your stock. Always wait for the blade to stop and disconnect the saw from the power supply. Then, make your adjustments, clamp your project back in place, and continue.
Tip #9: Positions
- Adopt a firm stance, with both feet equal distance apart. This balances your weight and center of gravity.
- Set the saw blade height to ⅛ or ¼ depending on the material you are cutting. It prevents the blade from protruding so much that it could sever fingers.
- Never let the blade come between your body and your hands. Work side to side or left to right, and keep a tight pushing grip.
- Never reach over the blade. Keep as much distance as you can. Use a push stick to make this easier.
- Take lots of breaks, and always keep alert.
- Always wait until the blade comes to a stop. Don’t try and force it.
- Make sure you turn the saw off and lower the blade.
Tip #10: Check Safety Features
Your table saw will be equipped with many features to make cutting as safe as possible. So what safety features do you have?
Zero clearance inserts are designed to stop off-cuts of wood falling into the cavity where the blade sits. It prevents kickbacks, projectiles, and the 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, potentially causing damage to you and the table saw.
Some table saws come with anti-kickback pawls to prevent kickback. They look like a separate saw blade with teeth that grip the wood in the event of a kickback. They also help to guide the stock onto the blade while you push.
A riving knife is a safety device attached to the saw’s arbor. It moves with the blade as it is adjusted for height to maintain an even gap with the blade. A riving knife prevents kickbacks by removing the risk of jamming.
Blade guards are the most effective way of keeping the blade away from the operator. Typically, they are made of clear plexiglass to maintain a good line of sight. Many woodworkers complain that the blade guard restricts their ability to measure and see the cuts, so they prefer to remove them.
You could also use a splitter to reduce kickbacks. It is a small blade that sits behind the table saw blade and holds the kerf open.
Another feature of newer table saws is a magnetic switch. It sets the saw to the off position in the event of a power outage. Imagine the power coming back on, and the saw springing back into life without warning.
Tip #11: Disconnect Power before Changing Blades
Doing this is basic common sense, but the number of people who get complacent and forget to turn the power off is surprising. The worst enemy of any woodworker using a dangerous tool is complacency. You don’t need anyone to tell you that this is a terrible thing to do.
Make sure you not only switch the power off, but you also remove the plug from the wall. That way, you know the machine is completely inoperable.
Tip #12: Guide the Stock While Cutting
When making rip-cuts, a table saw fence is invaluable to help guide the stock. The fence runs from the front to the back of your table saw and is parallel with the blade. It keeps the wood in position, meaning you get accurate results.
Sometimes the fence can create friction when guiding the stock through. This is the case if you don’t keep a clean table saw. Sawdust and debris can limit the smooth ride of the wood.
You could try coating the surface of your fence with wax to decrease the friction.
One of the most effective tools you have for guiding the stock is the miter gauge. Once you select the desired angle for the cut, the wood is clamped against the miter fence, allowing you to line the wood up with the blade.
When using the miter gauge, remove the fence because this will impede the movement of the stock, and crucially, increase the chances of a kickback. Wood gets stuck between the blade and the fence. Remove it altogether when using the miter gauge.
Tip #13: Check Stock for Foreign Objects
If you are cutting lumber, especially old wood, you should always examine the stock before you use the table saw. Hidden metal objects like nails and screws are dangerous if they make contact with a saw blade spinning at 8,000 RPM.
The most likely outcome will be a violent kickback or a projectile shooting through the air. Both will cause you significant damage. That’s why you should always be prudent and double-check everything you offer up to the saw blade.
Tip #14: Use a Push Stick
Save Your Fingers
Push sticks come in two varieties, but both have the same primary function — to control the direction of the wood as it gets pushed towards the blade and to keep your fingers safe.
The notched push stick is better for smaller stock. The downside of a notched push stick is while it provides forward pressure, there is little downward motion as the wood meets the blade. This could cause the wood to flip or come loose from the push stick.
The shoe push stick applies both forward and downward pressure, locking the stock to the table. The only downside is that your hands are closer to the blade, unlike the notched variety.
The most crucial aspect of your safety checks is to make sure the saw gets disconnected from the power source.
- Remove all debris, and foreign objects from the table saw. Also, make sure there is a clear perimeter around the base of the saw where you stand.
- Select 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 fit for purpose and not dull.
- Make sure the nuts and bolts on the arbor are tight and that there is no movement in the blade. You wouldn’t want it flying off when switched on.
- Set the blade height. It should be no higher than ⅛ to ¼ inch above the stock.
- Inspect all your safety features are in place and correctly set up.
- Plan your cuts. Never rush.
- Always use either the fence or the miter gauge. Never freehand.
- Take frequent breaks.
- Make sure the blade stops before walking away.
- Always unplug your saw after use.
- If in doubt, don’t do it. If a cut feels unsafe, it probably is.
What Have We Learned?
The single biggest enemy to safety is complacency. You can call it by another name if you want — laziness, inexperience, in a rush, unplanned. All these situations primarily arise because of complacency setting in.
Our best piece of advice is don’t be that person. Always pay attention to what you’re doing, and remember there are steep consequences if you don’t.