Safety with power tools is boring but vital topic and there's not a lot that can make it interesting. I have always been paranoid about loosing digits or parts of digits and to date - after 50 years of woodworking I still have all of them intact, and I intend to keep it that way.
RULE #1 - STOP, LOOK and PLAN. I never attempt any cuts with the table saw that I even think will land me in trouble. If I have any hesitation about making a cut, I look for an alternative method or a safer way of doing things.
In the past generation when power tools started to become popular, the pioneers in power tool woodworking lost fingers and parts of fingers because they were not aware of safety procedures and in many cases there were not the safety shields on machinery that there are now. They taught us that safety IS important.
Part of the problem today, is that many manufacturers that produce inexpensive table saws are, in many cases, unable to manufacture things like blade guards, slitters, riving knives that are truly safe. And what I mean by that, is once you get some of this equipment home and set put it all together, the problem is that some of the safety equipment is so crappy that you need to take it OFF the machine to make the machine safer, because wood is getting caught in and under there supposed safety features and in fact are making the machinery less safe.
RULE #2 - ALWAYS ADJUST BLADE HEIGHT TO NO MORE THAN A 1/8 or 1/4 INCH ABOVE THE MATERIAL BEING CUT. This alone will help reduce chance of more serious cuts. In the past, a wood worker would put the blade on their table saw, crank it up as high as it will go, and cut ALL the wood this way without ever moving the blade up or down. A totally wrong way to approach using the table saw. Every cut needs to have the blade height re-set.
AWALYS USE A CONTROL SAFETY PUSH STICK ON TABLE SAWS
MAKE SURE BLADE HEIGHT IS JUST BARELY ABOVE MATERIAL BEING CUT
RULE #3 - ALWAYS USE A PUSH STICK THAT WILL CONTROL THE WOOD. You can purchase these push sticks but every woodworker I know makes their own. This means NEVER EVER USE a "chickens foot push stick on a table saw". The problem with this type of push stick with a table saw is that with smaller pieces of wood, the back of the blade can flip the wood up which causes the woodworker to loose control of the wood resulting in a potentially hazardus situation.
"Chicken's Foot Push Stick - ** NEVER ** USE ON TABLE SAWS - use on Band saws only
RULE #4 - USE A SPLITTER OR RIVING KNIFE WHEN EVER POSSIBLE. This is the small "guide" piece behind the table saw blade. It helps to reduce kick back and makes cutting wood easier and safer.
RULE #5 - ALWAYS USE THE SAFETY EQUIPMENT DESIGNED FOR YOUR EQUIPMENT AND UNDERSTAND HOW TO USE THE EQUIPMENT. Yes, I know that some of these blade guards etc. are of such poor quality, they can be more of a hazard, but their are often better quality third party or even guards you can make for your own saws, that do work. So just because what came with the saw is useless, doesn't mean to abandone the idea of using guards and splitters.
In the workshop, safety is the responsibility of the woodworker. Always wearing proper hearing and eye protection goes with out saying, but using proper techniques and safety gear as well will only go so far, you still need to use common sense and understand what can go wrong during a cut and ensure that it doesn't by making alternative decsions.
Copyright - Colin Knecht
Created June 19, 2011