Learn important table saw safety advice from an expert! We’re talking how to make cuts, prevent injuries, kickback, push sticks, featherboards and more!
Table Saw Safety Rules Every DIYer Should Know
I recently attended a “Table Saw Basics” class presented by Chuck Bender. Chuck shared valuable information about table saw safety, and I’d like to share with you what I learned.
Chuck Bender is a furniture maker specializing in handmade, museum quality furniture. He’s the former Senior Editor for Popular Woodworking and teaches period-style furniture building classes in his Pennsylvania based workshop.
Chuck presented his table saw class at The Woodworking Shows event. The Woodworking Shows is a great place to check out new tools, see tool demonstrations, and they also offer some amazing woodworking classes included with the price of admission.
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Table of Contents
- What is a Table Saw?
- How Does a Table Saw Work?
- Common Table Saw Cuts
- Proper Clothing
- Personal Protective Equipment
- Should You Wear Gloves When Using a Table Saw?
- Engage Senses When Using a Table Saw
- Best Table Saw Blade Height
- How to Make Cuts
- What is the Narrowest Width to Rip on a Table Saw?
- Push Stick vs Push Block?
- How to Use a Featherboard
What is a Table Saw?
A table saw is a pretty straightforward woodworking tool. Chuck said a table saw is essentially a circular saw flipped upside down and mounted to the underside of a table.
How Does a Table Saw Work?
Chuck explained to the group that the purpose of a table saw is to help us “control the cut”. The table controls the force of the cut by pushing the workpiece down against the table.
The blade can be raised and lowered to control the depth of the cut. The blade can also pivot to change the angle of the cut. Pivoting the blade allows us to control the bevel of the cut.
Table saw appliances are added to control how accurately the saw cuts our workpieces. One of the most often used table saw appliance is our rip fence. The table saw rip fence allows us to make long, straight cuts.
Common Table Saw Cuts
The common types of cuts we make with our table saw are rip cuts and crosscuts.
A rip cut is made with the grain of the wood or along the length of the board.
A crosscut is made across the grain of the wood or across the width of the board.
We need to wear appropriate clothing when using a table saw. This means we should avoid loose fitting clothing, long sleeves, jewelry or anything else that could get caught in the saw blade.
We also need to wear proper footwear when we’re working in our workshop. This means closed-toed shoes. Please don’t wear flip flops, sandals, etc in the workshop. These do not provide any protection for you and it’s so dangerous!
As a kid, I remember my grandfather walking into our garage. It was summertime and he was wearing open-toed shoes. He walked into a chainsaw sitting on the floor. (This was not the best place to store a chainsaw, but that’s another story!) Needless to say, he cut his foot and we went for a ride to the emergency room.
The bottom line is please wear closed-toed shoes in the workshop. Do it for me (and your feet), OK?
Personal Protective Equipment
Should You Wear Gloves When Using a Table Saw?
No, we should not wear gloves when we’re using our table saw. We’ll see below that Chuck encourages us to engage all of our senses when using a table saw. We lose one of our most important senses when we wear gloves. And that’s the sense of touch.
We should avoid wearing gloves when using a table saw just like we should avoid wearing loose-fitting clothing. Gloves can get caught in the blade which can be dangerous. Wearing gloves when using a table saw increases the risk of injury.
Engage Senses When Using a Table Saw
Chuck said we need to use all of our senses when making any cuts with a table saw. We need to look, listen, smell, taste, and feel. And we need to stop immediately if any of our senses tell us there’s a problem. Chuck said, “don’t force it!”
- Look: We need to look before we make a cut so we know our fingers and hands will be out of the path of the blade.
- Listen: We need to stop if we hear a weird sound or a sound we’ve never heard before. We also need to stop if we hear the saw is beginning to slow down.
- Smell: We need to stop if we smell something burning or caramelizing because this means something is binding.
- Taste: We need to stop if we taste something caramelizing in our mouth because this means something is binding.
- Feel: We need to stop if we feel a vibration. Or if we feel anything different or weird.
What is Kickback?
Wikipedia defines table saw kickback as “the term for when a piece of wood is ripped, and either pinches the blade, or turns outward against the blade of the spinning saw blade and is propelled back towards the operator at a high rate of speed. The two main causes of injury that occur from kickback are: injury caused by wood striking the head, chest, or torso of the operator, or the wood moving so quickly that the operator’s hands stay on the wood and gets pulled across the saw blade.”
Is Kickback the Leading Cause of Table Saw Injuries?
Chuck shared a statistic with us that surprised me. He said, “More than 60% of [table saw] injuries are caused by kickback.”
I was surprised because I would have thought most injuries would have been caused by the blade. This sent me searching to find an article with this statistic about kickback. I found many articles contradicting Chuck’s claim. The articles said the blade was the most common cause of table saw injuries.
Then I found this article by Science Daily which said “Most of the table saw-related injuries resulted from contact with the blade of the saw. In cases when the mechanism of injury was documented, kickback was the most common mechanism (72 percent), followed by debris being thrown by the saw (10 percent), lifting or moving the saw (6 percent), or getting a glove or clothing caught in the blade (4 percent).”
Did you catch that? “Kickback was the most common mechanism” for the injury. To me, this means there would not have been an injury if there wasn’t kickback. In other words, the blade may have actually cut our finger but kickback was the mechanism or cause for our finger to move into the path of the blade.
This really got me thinking. We could greatly reduce the chances of injury if we can reduce the chances of kickback.
Oh, and did you also catch the last sentence about “getting a glove or clothing caught in the blade (4 percent)”? This is just another reason that we shouldn’t wear gloves while using a table saw.
What Causes Kickback?
Chuck told us the cause for table saw kickback is “when material drifts away from the fence.”
How to Reduce Kickback
Before we turn on the table saw we need to figure out where our hands are and where they will be going as we make the cut.
Next, we’ll focus on the fence once we have our hands properly positioned on the material and out of the path of the saw blade.
Remember, kickback happens “when material drifts away from the fence.” So Chuck said we need to “watch the fence, not what’s being cut.”
I know, it sounds strange. My focus has always been to watch the blade and my hands as I make the cut.
Let’s think about Chuck’s suggestion. We’ll position our hands before we start making the cut so we know they’re out of the path of the blade.
Knowing our hands are out of the path of the blade allows us to focus on where trouble can start. Trouble can start when the material drifts away from the fence. When the material drifts we get kickback.
How to Reduce Kickback Injuries
Chuck told us we can reduce table saw kickback injuries by staying “out the path of the blade and out of the path of the material.”
He said we need to think about what we’re going to do if the cut “goes bad.” Think of it as a fire drill for table saw safety. A fire drill is an action plan. Without thinking we instinctively know all of the possible exits and have a preplanned meeting spot.
We need to do the same thing with our table saw. We need to have an action plan.
Chuck suggested we need to think about “where are my hands going and where is the material going?” if this cut should go bad.
The force of the saw blade is down. This means the force of the blade will pull our hand down into the blade. The force of the material is back. This means the material will be projected back at us at a very high rate of speed.
To reduce the chances of injury don’t reach beyond the blade and use a comfortable stance out of the path of the blade. Stand slightly to the left if the rip fence is positioned on the right. If there is kickback this will allow the material to go past us instead of hitting us. Or worse yet, flying through us!
See How to Make Table Saw Cuts for Chuck’s recommendations for making a table saw cuts safely.
Table Saw Blade Height
Chuck said setting the table saw blade 3” above the material produces the least friction and the least heat. But it creates a greater chance for injury because more of the blade is exposed.
Chuck sets his table saw blade about an ⅛” above the material.
This helps to reduce injuries because a smaller amount of the blade is exposed.
VIDEO: Table Saw Blade Angle
Watch this quick video to see the easy and accurate way to set your table saw blade angle!
How to Make Cuts
- Engage your brain
- Use a comfortable stance
- Stay out of the path of the blade and the path of the material
- Push the material all the way through and clear the saw blade completely
- Push and keep the material against the fence
- When making cross cuts with a crosscut sled the right hand holds the workpiece down and the left-hand holds the workpiece back
What is the Narrowest Width to Rip on Table Saw?
Chuck said the narrowest width to rip on the table saw without a push stick is 3”- 4”.
He went on to say “or whatever you feel comfortable with.” He told us at one of his presentations an attendee said 10 inches was the smallest width they felt comfortable ripping. In that case, he said, “don’t do any less than 10 inches.”
But again, don’t rip anything narrower than 3″- 4” without a push stick.
Push Stick vs. Push Block
Chuck suggested that we should not use a long push stick. He said these long push sticks can create a pivot point. Creating a pivot point could allow our hand to fall into the blade. Long push sticks also give us less control over the workpiece.
He prefers a low push block instead of a push stick. A push block has a lower center of gravity so it doesn’t create a pivot point like a push stick.
How to Use a Featherboard
A featherboard applies pressure to a workpiece which helps keep it against the rip fence. Chuck doesn’t use a featherboard on his table saw. But he did say if we choose to use one we should position the featherboard in front of the table saw blade.
Today we learned important table saw safety rules from an expert. We learned how to make cuts, how to prevent injuries, how to reduce kickback and more.
Thank you for stopping by. If you found this information helpful, would you please pin it to Pinterest? Other DIYers would appreciate it and I would too! Thank you – Scott
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