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How to make your table saw safe (and keep your fingers attached)

By Scott Price (guest blogger)

Table saws make the lives of woodworkers everywhere easier through a remarkable range of uses. Unfortunately, at woodworking sites and lumber yards around the country, they also endanger a staggering number of both experienced and inexperienced users because of improper use.

The National Electronic Injury Surveillance System attributes 720,000 injuries to woodworking in Canada each year; the table saw inflicts 42 per cent of those injuries. If you’re keeping track at home, that’s more than 300,000 table saw-related injuries a year. That, my friends, is a horrifying number.

Having long ago worked at a lumber yard, I once witnessed a co-worker lose part of an index finger at the hands – or rather blade – of a table saw. Thanks to some quick responding and what I can only assume to be impressive surgery, he lost only a small portion of his finger. Still, that’s not much for consolation if you’re attached to how your limbs currently look.

My co-worker, not unlike myself, felt comfortable enough using the table saw. He made the all-too-common choice to not wear safety goggles or use a push stick to guide a narrower piece through the blade. A stray piece of sawdust, reduced vision and a temporary loss of focus allowed the accident to happen.

No matter what your comfort level is with woodworking equipment, there is never a bad time to observe proper safety guidelines. Witnessing this incident solidified that point for me.

What does table saw safety look like? I’ll let Tom Silva, a general contractor on the television series This Old House and someone who knows a thing two about table saws, talk you through it.

Silva’s guidelines:

  1. Always use the blade guard to protect your fingers from coming into contact with the blade.
  2. Prevent dangerous kickbacks by using the splitter and pawls.
  3. Use an outfeed extension when cutting long boards.
  4. Install a featherboard to the saw table to help keep the board tight to the rip fence.
  5. Always use a push stick when making narrow cuts.
  6. Never use the rip fence when making cross cuts.
  7. Use a miter gauge for crosscuts; never guide a board with a miter gauge and rip fence simultaneously.

We don’t all have access to top-of-the-line table saws that can recognize the difference between wood grain and human fingers. We can, however, limit the risks involved with using table saws by following these guidelines.

You can find a tutorial just about anywhere. Just remember to make its suggestions a part of your daily habits. It is, after all, better to be safe than sorry.

One Response to “How to make your table saw safe (and keep your fingers attached)”

  1. Thanks for sharing this helpful tips. Thousands are still being injured every year due to their lack of understanding to follow the simple tips outlined here. Good piece.

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