Table Saw Safety
Welcome to our guide regarding Table Saw Safety. This article will tell you what you need to know to remain safe when using a table saw. You should only use the table saw if you feel confident to do so and can follow all these tips to the letter.
Make sure you are trained in how to use the table saw by a professional before using it yourself. A text guide is not enough to teach someone how to safely use the saw. Let’s get started with the guide.
Definition: Table Saw
This is a common woodworking tool that is simply a circular saw that has been turned upside down and mounted to the bottom of a table.
The reason we have such saws is to provide controlled cuts when doing woodwork or carpentry. The table helps us control our cut and pushes the material down onto the table.
You can raise and lower your blade to make the depths of your cut just as you want them. The blade may also be pivoted so you can alter the angle of your cut.
Appliances for the table saw are also available. For example, some carpenters use a rip fence, which helps you make straight, long cuts.
Table saws are also useful when making certain cuts of wood, such as crosscuts, which go across the grain or width of your wood.
You can also make rip cuts, which go with the grain or wood length.
Safe Clothing for Table Saw Use
What you wear matters when operating a table saw. Make sure you are not wearing loose-fit clothing such as oversize tee shirts or hoodies with strings.
Avoid jewelry and scarves/ties that could catch on the saw blade. Most of our shop employees wear jeans and tee shirts tucked into their jeans.
Make sure correct footwear is also worn. Ideally, steel-toe boots or shoes are what we like to see in our shop. No open-toed footwear is to be worn when operating the saw. At the very least, closed-toe shoes are the minimum.
PPE also matters. Make sure you are also wearing hearing protection, safety glasses, and wear a respirator, so you are not breathing in the shavings.
All of your gear should be donned before you start the saw.
What About Gloves?
Gloves should not be worn when operating the table saw. I encourage you to read this story here about a woodworker who did so and regretted his decision. I warn you the story is not for the faint of heart. But it is much easier to read about these things than deal with them in real life.
You have to have your sense of touch in full function when using the saw. Gloves are just like loose-fitting clothing and can be caught in the blade. This is highly dangerous- do NOT wear your gloves when using this machine.
Before we go any further, let’s understand what binding means. When sawing, the material on either side of your cut can close against the saw blade sides, which leads it to become stuck.
If the saw is being pushed through the wood in a forceful or quick manner, binding causes the blade to bend thanks to the application of pressure, leaving the blade with nowhere to go.
You want to avoid this for a number of reasons, and you can do so by ensuring your blade teeth are sharp and are of the correct set. You also want to coat the blade with beeswax or oil before work begins. Third, avoid the sawing of wood that is wet.
Remember, in school, when we had to learn about the five senses? They all come into play when using a table saw. Here’s how.
Feel/Touch: Does something not feel right, physically, or mentally? Stop using the saw right away. If you feel a vibration or other weird sensation, stop using the saw and ask for help.
Taste: If you taste something that is caramelizing in the mouth, stop. Something could be binding.
Smell: If you smell something burning or any other strange smells, stop operation. Binding could be taking place.
Listen: Do you hear the saw making a weird sound? Do you hear something you’ve never heard before? Is the saw slowing down? Stop operation and ask for help.
Kickback Is Serious. Here’s How to Avoid It
Table saw amputations are a real thing. You need to avoid this horrifying injury so you can remain fully functional and able to enjoy and live your life as you want to. According to 2015 statistics, 4700 amputations took place due to table saws.
Do not be one of those numbers.
One of the reasons we see such injury is due to kickback. Here we are going to talk about the table saw kickback and what to do to avoid it.
What Kickback Is
According to Popular Mechanics, kickback refers to wood that is quickly, and without warning, shot toward the person operating the table saw at rapid rates of speed.
The two main causes of injury from this phenomenon are trauma incurred when the wood strikes the chest, torso, or head of the woodworker. Or the wood/material moving so fast that the operator has zero chance to take their hand off the wood, and it is pulled across the blade of the saw.
To fully understand kickback, we must understand why it happens.
As your wood goes against the fence and is pushed across the table saw and into the blade, it can lose pressure against the fence, says Popular Mechanics.
As it moves away from the fence, the wood catches on the back of the saw and is jerked fast in the direction in which the blade is turning (that is toward you).
Kickback Is the Leading Reason for Table Saw Injuries
This may come as a surprise for readers because it is easy to believe that the blade would be the leading reason for such injury when it comes to table saws.
And if you do some Googling, you will find many sources that dictate the blade, not kickback, is the reason for so many table saw injuries.
That being said, we encourage you to peruse this Science Daily report. It lists the following statistics:
● In cases when the mechanism of the injury was recorded, kickback was the most commonly noted mechanism, coming in at 72 percent.
● Coming in second place was the debris being thrown by the saw, which accounted for 10 percent,
● Coming in third place was the moving or lifting of the saw, which was 6 percent,
● And in fourth place was the catching of gloves or clothing in the saw blade, which was 4 percent.
Two things we want to drive home here: 1. Kickback was the greatest and most common mechanism of injury by a long shot, and 2. The case for the wearing of PPE and proper clothing really makes itself with these statistics.
Another question to ask: Could injury NOT have occurred if kickback hadn’t happened? You definitely got a cut on your finger, but kickback was the reason your finger came into contact with the blade.
This is definitely food for thought, and if we can lower the chance of experiencing kickbacks, we can significantly reduce our risk of injury.
Technique for Kickback Prevention
Kickback starts when we stay out of the way of the material and the blade.
You also have to do some forward-thinking. What will you do if this cut goes south? Make an action plan and get ready to execute it without a second thought if something goes wrong.
Where Will the Material and Your Hands Go If the Cut Fails?
Think like this: The force of the saw blade is downward. Meaning, the blade’s force will pull our hand downward into the blade. The force of the material is to go backward. It will be thrown back at us at a rapid speed.
So, do not reach past the blade, and make sure you stand comfortably out of the blade’s path. If the rip fence is situated on the right side of the table saw, stand to your left slightly. This way, the material will go right by us instead of into our body.
Equipment Setup for Safety
The saw blade height matters. We set ours 3 inches above the material because it creates less heat and friction. However, you still run the risk of greater injury because the blade is exposed more.
Other woodworkers swear that setting the blade ⅛ of an inch above the material is best because less of the blade is exposed, which results in less injury.
Tools for Safety
You can use various tools whilst using your table saw as a means of keeping yourself safe as you work. Here, we are going to talk about these tools.
You can purchase these at your favorite home goods retailer, hardware store, or online retailer. Make sure you have these tools in place, and you understand their use before you start using your table saw.
Tool No. 1: Riving Knife
It is a thin metal piece, and it reminds us almost of a shark fin. It comes with most table saws. You lock it into place behind the saw, with the curve of the knife facing toward the saw.
The reason we have this tool in place is to keep the wood from becoming caught on the rear of the saw if it moves away from your fence.
Tool No. 2: Splitter
It is an alternative to the riving knife and is merely a nub that sticks upward and does the same thing that a riving knife does, which keeps material from drifting into your blade.
Tool No. 3: Crosscut Sled
Crosscut sleds are another great kickback preventer. These are jigs, and they keep your hands out of the way of the blade and move your fence to the front of your blade instead of to the side.
Tool No. 4: Push Stick
Using a push stick and not your hands to get the wood through the blade is important. But we notice that some woodworkers/carpenters get lazy when doing this.
Push sticks can be made on your own, or you can purchase one. Just get into the habit of using the push stick.
Alternatively, you can use a push block. Some woodworkers argue that a push stick can lead to a pivot point, which increases the chance of our hand making contact with the blade. Some say that push sticks may also lessen our control over the piece.
Push blocks are great because they do not create those pivot points, and they have a low center of gravity, too.
Tool No. 5: Featherboard
Featherboards apply pressure to your material, which keeps it against your rip fence. When using one of these, make sure it is situated in front of the blade of the table saw.
Tool No. 6: Zero Clearance Insert
This is a replacement for the throat plate that came with your machine. The reason woodworkers enjoy using this on their saw is because it offers distance between the saw blade and the nearby supporting surface to nothing. So, there’s no gaps between the saw blade and the table saw top.
The insert gets as close as possible to the saw blade but does not touch it. This prevents little pieces of wood from falling into your gap around the saw while you are cutting, and also helps keep sawdust where it belongs- going into the dust chute which helps keep you safe and the work area clean and neat.
Tool No. 7: Stop Block
One way you can make many cuts without grouping your pieces together is by using a stop block. A stop block gets attached to the fence and is in place so the end of your material can rest against it, which helps you attain exact and easy to duplicate cutting lengths. Don’t try to group all the pieces together and make one cut- it usually never works. Stop blocks are the way to go.
More Safety Tips
Let’s take a moment to learn about some other ways you can stay safe while using the table saw.
Use a Blade Guard- The blade guard has two purposes. One, it will help keep fingers safe. Two, it prevents wood from taking a fall onto a moving blade. The most common reason this happens is that the woodworker reaches over the blade to get a piece of cutoff and drops it/drags it over the blade, which leads it to launch at you. Make sure you have one installed on your saw, and that you know how to use it!
Freehand Cuts- One thing that makes us woodworkers cringe is when home improvement shows televise the talent making freehand cuts on the table saw without the use of a miter or fence. Freehand cuts are best made with skill saws or bandsaws. The safety risks are too great with freehand cuts- we advise against them on the table saw.
Keep Your Work Area Clean-Once you have finished up for the day, and the table saw is turned off and unplugged, make sure you clean the work area. Make sure it is free of debris, sawdust and pieces of work material. This will make the work area safer and easier to use once the next workday begins.
Don’t Reach for Anything While The Blade Is Moving-Keep your mind and eyes focused on the task at hand. Make your cut, and then stop the table saw to get the next piece of wood for the next step of your project. Sometimes, you see people reaching for another piece of wood or tool while they are simultaneously pushing a piece of wood to the table saw blade. This is an unsafe practice and can very well lead to injury. Do only one thing at a time for yours and others’ safety.
Use all of your safety equipment that is included with your table saw, and if you did not get one with your saw for whatever reason, don’t use it until you get it installed on your machine.
Your table saw is an excellent tool that can help you create beautiful and quality pieces of furniture, wood crafts, and more.
However, it is very powerful and has led to the serious injury of many woodworkers before you. Safety should always be at the top of your mind. If something feels off, don’t risk it- turn off the saw and get some help or examine it closely to make sure it’s set up correctly.
Wear your PPE And the Correct Clothing
Lastly, be a good friend and employee. If you see someone at work or at home using the table saw incorrectly, safely stop them and retrain them about what to do. They
might get annoyed at you, but it’s better than dealing with an injury. Stay safe, and enjoy your table saw.