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Table Saws: 10 Essential Safety Tips

Filed Under: Tools, Know-How

A table saw is one of the most practical tools in any DIYer's workshop, but it can also be one of the most dangerous if you're not careful. US emergency rooms treated an estimated 565,670 non-occupational table saw-related injuries between 1990 and 2007. That works out to about 31,500 non-workplace injuries a year! Most incidents involved finger lacerations, but finger amputations were all too common as well.

Now, ideally we'd all own something like the SawStop table saw, which cuts out when the blade comes within 5 milliseconds of detecting human skin. (Don't believe it? Check out this YouTube clip in which SawStop's inventor demonstrates the cut-out mechanism using his own finger!).

But for all you basic table saw owners, we offer these 10 essential safety tips -- some obvious, some surprising. Did we miss any? Leave a comment and let us know!

1. Dress Wisely. Don't (that's right: don't) wear gloves. They're no match for a spinning blade, so they do nothing to protect your fingers. In fact, their extra bulk actually reduces your dexterity and increases the risk of your fingers being pulled into the blade's path. Also, ditch loose or dangling clothing or jewelry, and keep your hair covered or tied back.

2. Protect Your Face. Don't forget to protect your eyes and ears with safety glasses and ear plugs each and every time you reach for the on-switch. If you're expecting to create a lot of sawdust, don a face mask, too. Think it's cool to go without face protection? Have fun at the ER getting that huge splinter dug out of your eyeball. I've seen it happen and it's not pretty.

Push sticks come in many shapes and forms. Photo:

3. Use a Push Stick. If a cut looks set to bring your fingers within 6 inches of the blade, you're too close. Always use an inexpensive push stick (a handheld device that acts as a buffer between your hands and the blade when operating a table saw) to protect yourself.

4. Banish Free-Hand Cuts. Use a rip fence or miter gauge to guide the wood through the machine. These tools not only make table saws safer to use, but ensure better workmanship, too.

5. Avoid Kickback. Kickback happens when a cut stalls and the wood suddenly bucks back and upwards, possibly impacting your hands, chest or face. Feed wood all the way through the blade path before releasing your grip. Never force a heavy cut that is more than your saw or the blade can handle. Also, keep your blade at the correct height.

6. Stand Front and Center. Position your body in front of the saw, opposite the blade rather than in line with it. This helps ensure dust and kickbacks fly well clear of your face.

7. Ensure a Smooth Glide. Make sure the table itself is smooth and clean, so your wood feeds that way too. Sand down gouges, dents, paint splatters and rust spots before you continue working. Clear away clutter and sawdust as you go.

8. Wait Until You Can Count Teeth. Keep your hands clear of the blade and don't adjust the wood until the blade's rotations are slow enough that you can count the its teeth. To be extra safe, always wait until the machine is completely still before making adjustments.

9. Never Disable Safety Devices. Blade guards and anti-kickback devices are there for a reason – to keep you safe – so never, ever tamper with or remove them. If you feel as if they're impeding your work, re-read the instruction manual for usage tips.

10. Avoid Distractions. Table saws require your entire attention. Before powering up, clear the area of kids, and eliminate any distractions in your immediate workspace. Let friends and family know it's never okay to tap you on the shoulder when you're making cuts. (If it's really, really urgent, they should walk into your line of vision and signal to catch your attention.) Finally, turn off your cell phone or pager.

  • Lucy

    31500 hospital visits per year from table saw injuries? That's incredible. People don't seem to take these tools seriously. I think circular saws are a little less dangerous for non-professional DIYers.

  • Michael D.

    A few points:

    #3 The red push stick isn't anywhere as helpful as the wood ones in the photo you show. The red pushstick is too small to be as helpful and keep the board firmly against the table top.

    #5 Kickback isn't from cutting more than the blade can handle, it's from the wood getting pinched in the blade. This can happen if your fence is skewed and not parallel to the blade. It can also happen when you trap the wood with a cut that doesn't allow space for the wood to be released as it's getting cut (i.e. angled cut and you're cutting it on the bottom side).

    #9 Removing the guards is a common thing because the typical USA saw doesn't come with a riving knife but the guard which prevents a large number of typical cuts one does with a table saw -- like making rabbits or cove moulding.

    Here's a good #11 safety tip: If your table saw doesn't have a knee shut off switch, put one in.

    There's some innovative alternatives coming out to the Saw Stop as well. Check out for one such innovation.

  • wiosas

    Yes, if you are not a professional woodworking worker, please do not use the table saw. Otherwise, there is a big risk.

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