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Thread: how to safely use a table saw

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2010
    Collegeville PA (30 min west of Philly)

    how to safely use a table saw

    In the other recent thread around table saw accidents, I asked what specific activities people are doing on their table saws that put their fingers close to the blades in the first place... but that thread has (predictably) turned into a discussion of whether SS is worth it or not etc. so I'm starting a separate thread.


    I would like to know points of view on how to safely use a table saw. I think if these rules (and others that you'll hopefully add) are followed, risk of injury is greatly reduced. I'd like to know the safest approach.

    These are paraphrased from what I was taught at woodworking course (Lohr):

    Be alert, not tired, obviously no alcohol
    Clean/safe working environment (no clutter, no piles of sawdust etc.)
    Plan your cuts, think through them ahead of time
    Proper lumber preparation ahead of cutting, especially if cutting against a fence (i.e. you need a straight reference edge)
    Don't cut short pieces against the fence (piece should be able to reach from before the blade to the splitter)
    Blade raised high enough (I was taught a little "too-high" is far better than too low... pushes wood down instead of at you)
    Splitter or riving knife for all possible cuts
    Guard in place for all possible cuts
    Properly aligned fence
    Left hand (guide hand) never goes past the front edge of the table
    Right hand uses a well-designed push tool as soon as it passes the front of table

    What other safety rules do you follow that I should incorporate into my routine?

    And, do you think that following these protocols greatly reduces risk of injury? (i.e. as safe as: using a snow blower or lawn mower, trimming hedges, using a paper cutter at work, riding a bike off trail, rock climbing with a harness, playing 2-hand touch football, throwing darts, cutting fabric with shears, sewing with a sharp needle, re-winding a torsion spring on garage door, cleaning gutters on the 2nd story, using your knee to steer the car for a brief moment....)
    - Bob R.
    Collegeville PA (30 minutes west of Philly)

  2. #2
    My additions:
    Use featherboards when possible (I use magswitchs). If they hold the work down even better!
    Don't touch the work until the saw blade has stopped.
    Just a Duffer

  3. #3
    Excellent list of safe working practices, I would modify one of them. Rather than left hand never goes past the front of table I normally keep a push stick in my left hand when ripping, that way if something goes wrong and I instinctively reach in, the push stick keeps my hand away from the blade. I would add a few, use featherboards to control small pieces and maintain pressure against the fence, hearing and eye protection, dust collection and/or dust mask. I also make a habit of dropping the blade below the table when I'm finished unless I need to maintain a blade height for additional cuts.
    Last edited by Doug Garson; 04-17-2020 at 1:11 PM.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    I would add:

    Have adequate support for long pieces on the outfeed side.


  5. #5
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    Okotoks AB
    A riving knife is way better than a splitter, but neither is much good if they're not easy to mount & dismount. The guard & riving knife should take just a few seconds to remove or put back on. Otherwise, they will tend to be left off for 'just one cut'. This applies to the guard as well.

    In an effort to keep hands far away from the blade, some get carried away. I've seen a number of youtubes where the guy was using 2 push sticks (not push blocks) to fumble the stock through the saw. I could hardly watch.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2014
    Bob you have an excellent list. I was taught by a very through and strict shop teacher ,pretty well ditto for your rules. One thing I have done differently is to grip the left table extension edge with my left hand after the cut is started,this adds incredible stability to your stance and keeps my hand ''out of trouble". I pretty well always use a push stick,the design of which keeps stock down tight to the table.

  7. #7
    I prefer this style of push stick when making rip cuts that are narrower than two hand widths between the fence and the blade.
    As far as added safety precautions make sure you wear glasses or safety shield when cutting.

    Allow yourself to make no more than two mistakes in any one shop period. I find that after two mistakes frustration starts to set in and you tend to make more mistakes including compromising safety.

    If you feel uncomfortable making any cut on any power tool, find another way to do it, it will usually be much safer.

    Train your wife/children/friends when entering your shop to wait until you finish the current operation before speaking or attempting to get your attention if you are operating a power tool.
    Last edited by Lee Schierer; 04-17-2020 at 2:50 PM.
    Lee Schierer
    Captain USNR(Ret)

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  8. #8
    "Buy a slider"?

    Seriously, though #1 and #2 on the OP's list pretty much covers everything. If we're talking about specific hacks, big fan of the Gripper here.

    One more thought: My wife knows to never approach me when I'm on a machine until I make eye contact and acknowledge her. I learned this from my grandfather, who grabbed me by the hair once when I was about 6, because I was goofing around when he was doing something in the shop.

    Last edited by Erik Loza; 04-17-2020 at 2:41 PM.
    Felder USA Territory Representative: Central & South Texas

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    Kansas City
    What's the consensus on short fences? Don't hear much about them lately. I used one for a few years, but not smart enough to know if it was safer or not.

  10. #10
    I have a separate shop garage and it has no garage door opener. I used to make wood dust in the same garage we parked at least my wife's car. She was pretty tolerant but would never adjust her use of the garage door opener to avoid me jumping while using a power tool. When she was ready to park the car, she opened the door. Other than that, she left me alone while I was working, usually.

    She passed away over 10 years ago and I fear I am getting set in my ways. I would unplug the darned thing if I still had that risk.

    I think the other rules are good. It is implied but having a well designed push stick readily at hand is a BIG DEAL. I use one by Tage Freid (sp?).

    I do not use a blade guard but I use overhead dust collection when possible. And I use a Riving knife unless I am cutting dados. I also do not stand behind the workpiece if i can avoid it. I stand off to the left. Maintaining control of my workpiece has always avoided kickback for me. I've only had it on small offcuts I was not tending. But if I have to choose between my hands going near the blade and the piece flying backward, it can fly.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Feb 2018
    So. California
    On the saw I purchased used a few years ago there was no splitter or guards, it did come with a nice Biesemeyer fence. I believe a good fence and zero clearance table inserts are just as important. I also use the microjig splitters and rip-grippers. Still keeping an eye out for a workable splitter though. I think the biggest safety factor is understanding how the tool works which goes along with planning the cut. When cutting on the saw or using any power tool for that matter it should feel smooth with no resistance, a properly aligned blade and fence help with that. Any resistance fealt and I immediately stop, don't force it. Nothing can replace commonsense and so far there are some good suggestions in this thread. Tool safety is important.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Feb 2014
    Lake Gaston, Henrico, NC
    Never put a hand over, or behind the blade, or even come close to the front of the blade.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
    Peoria, IL
    All the rules are fine, but you will never come up with enough rules to override the human factor. Despite even the best software and path checking backup, even a robot or CNC can crash as long as there is a human in the chain. I've even nicked myself with a handsaw.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Toronto Ontario
    Quote Originally Posted by Stan Calow View Post
    What's the consensus on short fences? Don't hear much about them lately. I used one for a few years, but not smart enough to know if it was safer or not.
    Here's what I teach in table saw seminars.

    1) always use a riving knife or splitter except when using grooving tools such as a dado cutter. The splitter or riving knife prevent work piece contact with the back of the blade, resulting in kickback.

    2) always use a crown guard (blade guard that covers the top of the blade) for the same reason as #1, also prevents hand contact with the top of the blade. Never run the saw without a blade guard, ever. If you're running the saw without a guard you're either using the wrong machine for the task, or using the wrong guard

    3) when ripping solid material use a short rip fence that ends just beyond the start of the blade.

    4)Use push sticks or blocks as required, never use a push block that requires the removal of the guard or riving knife or splitter.

    If you're not going to buy a saw with secondary safety systems such as Saw Stop, buy a short stroke slider, better capacity, accuracy and safety compared to a cabinet saw...........Rod.

  15. #15
    I just refrain from touching a spinning blade. Worked great for the last 20 years or so.

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