Table Saw Safety, Tips to Keep Your Fingers

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Photo Credit: John Loo

Having a table saw is like having a Ferrari. You are the envy of your friends and neighbors. You have prestige and power beyond your wildest dreams–and you are also one Billy Joel Driving School moment away from losing those beautifully manicured digits.

In the right hands a table saw is a time saving, project finishing, accuracy machine. In the wrong hands it can become a demon of a tool capable of spitting material out at impaling rates of speed, lopping off digits, and poking out eyes. So—when using a table saw, use these tips and as always remember what your mother said about losing an eye. (Safety eyewear).

1) Sharp blades are safe blades. In the event of a miscue a sharp blade will do far less damage to your tender fingers than a dull, rusty, nasty blade. High end blades are well worth it. In many areas there are machine shops/sharpening shops that can put a good edge back on the teeth of a used blade.

2) Being square is now cool. Make sure that the fence on your table saw is square to the table, and blade. An easy way to check this is to use a tape measure (with the saw OFF) and measure both the front and the back of the blade against the fence. It should measure extremely close front and back. We’re talking 1/32’’ close. This will prevent the material from binding. Depending on the severity of the bind—it can recoil and fire back at you. Most table saws are about crotch height. No need to say more.

3) Take it sloooooow. You could put on some Barry White or Marvin Gaye to remind you of this. Be romantic. Feed the material to be cut slowly, and as close to straight on to the blade as possible. A square edge of the material should be tight to the fence. Allow the blade to cut the material fully. You should not feel a lot of resistance as you push the material into the saw. If you do—maintain a firm grip to prevent the saw from grabbing and spitting it back at you. Often resistance from the saw means you are going too fast, or you may be experiencing a bind. In the event you begin to experience this: Remain calm. Firmly hold your material and turn off the saw. Once the blade has come to a complete stop, you can safely remove the material and figure out what caused the bind. (Most likely an un-square fence). Material is relatively cheap compared to surgical fees to reattach fingers or what is behind your zipper.

4) Bigger is not better. This is one of the few cases in the universe where this is true. If you are cutting material 1 ½’’ thick, set your blade depth about 1/8 of an inch above that. The 1/8’’ rule applies to any thickness of material. This gives the blade ample room to cut the material, while providing the least amount of exposed blade to bite you.

5) Watch your fingers. Literally. It seems silly but watching your fingers, especially as you pass them by the blade keeps you focused on the task. If you see you are about to put your fingers in harm’s way: stop. Turn the saw off. Being conscious of where your own fingers are can often prevent accidents. It seems simple—but it works.

While this list is not comprehensive, we hope it helps a few of you stay in one piece. Our friends over at One Project Closer also have some good table saw safety tips too. Stay tuned for a second installment of table saw safety tips again soon. Happy sawing!

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2 thoughts on “Table Saw Safety, Tips to Keep Your Fingers”

  1. I would add to this list: Don’t stand directly behind the workpiece if at all possible. When I first got my table saw, I was making a dowel cutting jig by ripping a V out of the narrow edge of a 2×4. Set the blade to 30 degrees, ran it through once, flipped the piece around, and ran it through again. Having just previously been hit by a piece of cut off from a dowel (hence the need for the jig), I made sure to be well off to the side when I completed the second cut. Through my hearing protectors I heard a dull thud, and when I turned off the saw, the waste piece was gone. I found it 12′ behind me impaled in a cardboard box. Pictures from the incident on my Flickr page:

    • Great point Drew, and awesome scary pictures! Of course, anytime I write something I am trying to be as comprehensive as possible while maintaining a bit of lightheartedness, and maintaining things that even I would read with my hummingbird-like attention span. You know–the whole brevity thing. The Dude digresses…
      Yes, anytime you’re making a cut when the possibility exists to have material eventually be cut loose–the opportunity for “The Impaler” to come out is pretty good. From your description (and having done it countless times myself) I would suggest a push block. Merely something of the same width and height of the piece you are cutting–in this case a 2×4 scrap. This will prevent the waste piece from coming back at you by hitting the push block–and keeps your fingers from the blade. Obviously you would want to use rollers, or an assistant if the piece to be cut is too long for you to hold tight to the table and use the push block. Thanks for reading Drew, and picking up where I missed!


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