Table Saw Kick Switch

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This article is from Issue 81 of Woodcraft Magazine.

The coolest table saw accessory you didn’t realize you needed

Years ago, I was working with my pal Andy at his shop, and had the occasion to use his cabinet saw, which he had outfitted with a shop-made kick switch. What a beautiful thing to be able to turn off the saw with a tap of the foot! The sheer convenience of it was a delight, not to mention the fact that the accessory is a potential finger saver when things start going awry mid-cut, as when a troublesome board pinches onto a spinning blade and struggles to kick back. Your instinct is to reach down with one hand to turn off the saw, but then you’re in danger of releasing the board. With a kick switch, you just use your foot instead. Same thing if something gets bound up topside when cutting a joint; just kick the saw off. 

The kick switches shown on these pages were configured to work with the magnetic switches common on cabinet saws. (These switches turn themselves off after a power outage so that the tool won’t lurch to life by itself when the power is restored.) The 3 versions shown here offer up a variety of solutions you can apply to your particular saw model. As further help, each maker has noted the particular challenges he faced, and how he solved them, so consider these case studies in design. Whatever your configuration, you’ll be glad you came up with it. Trust me; once you install a kick switch, you’ll wish you had done it a long time ago.

Andy Rae’s Bridgewood

The challenge:

My saw’s switch box sports a protruding off button. The task was to find a way to attach a hinged beam of wood to the casing that allowed easy access to the flush-set on button while providing sufficient contact to the projecting off button with a gentle tap of my foot or knee. For the switch to work effortlessly, I needed to shape it to the profile of the switch box and its buttons, and it needed to hang somewhat out of the way.

The solution:

The key was beginning with a blank of tight-grained hardwood thick enough for shaping. I used 1-1/2"-thick white oak stock, dressing it to a 2"-wide strip that reached from the top of my saw’s switch box down to about 5" above the floor. Positioning the blank level with the top of the switch box and parallel to the saw cabinet, I marked the location of the on and off buttons, and drew the contours of the switch box onto the edge of the stock. Next, I drilled a 1"-dia. through-hole for on button access, and then roughed out the blank on the bandsaw, first following my contoured lines, and then sawing to a general thickness of about 1/2". However, I did leave the upper section about 1" thick for the hinge leaf and screws. Last, I used a 1/4" roundover bit to soften the edges of the hole.

To attach the kick switch, I first unplugged the saw and removed the switch box cover. Then I drilled two holes in its top, and attached one leaf of a 2" butt hinge using machine screws and nuts. After screwing the opposite leaf to the top of the beam, I adjusted the suspension for proper balance. To do this, I noted any tilt, and then bandsawed wood from the offending side until the piece hung about 1/2" away from the off button, and relatively parallel to the cabinet wall near the bottom. At this point, I found that a gentle tap was all it took to turn off the saw. By the way, don’t be too disappointed if your first version doesn’t come out perfect; it took me a couple of iterations to get it right myself. All the same, it was well worth the time spent.

Paul Anthony’s Unisaw

The challenge: 

The top of the switch box on my mid-1990’s Delta Unisaw is not easily accessible for attaching a hinge, as Andy Rae did. Also, the switch projects pretty far forward, necessitating a fairly extreme dog-leg to maintain the kind of low profile that I wanted to hug the saw cabinet. Furthermore, the on button sits within a raised surround, potentially impeding the beam from contacting the off button below.

The solution:

I began by screwing one end of a hinge-mounting bar to the frame of my side extension table, with the other end extending out above and forward of the saw’s switch box. Next, I cut the upper and lower beam sections, as well as the spacer blocks that create the dog-leg. I temporarily attached the beam sections and blocks together with double-faced tape, and screwed a hinge to the beam assembly and to the hinge-mounting bar at what seemed to be the appropriate distance from the switch buttons. This allowed me to accurately locate the on button access hole and to test the operation of the assembly. As part of the test, I taped on pads of varying thickness to see what worked best as a pusher for the off button, while allowing the lower beam section to hug the saw body fairly closely with minimal swing. I also marked the lower beam section to length, making sure a push broom could clear it. When everything worked well, I removed the assembly, drilled the finger access hole, rounded its edges, and glued the beam parts together, adding a cross bar at the bottom to increase foot contact area. Finally, I attached an eye bolt to the saw cabinet, a screw eye to the beam, and connected them with a restraining cord to keep the off-balanced beam from swinging outward.

Ken Burton’s Powermatic 66

The challenge: 

The aftermarket replacement switch on my Powermatic saw has three buttons: on, off, and reset. I was constantly pushing reset instead of on, so I wanted to mask that button while allowing easy operation of the other two. I also wanted to make the assembly quickly removable for accessing the reset button when necessary. The final criterion was that I wanted to be able to use my knee as well as my foot for switch operation.

The solution:

For removability, I decided to attach the unit with two 1"-dia. rare-earth magnets. I began by measuring the width of the switch box to determine the length of the mounting block. As for the block’s width, 2" seemed about right. To calculate its thickness, I measured the 1/2" button protrusion, then added 1/4" for clearance and 1/2" for the thickness of the beam, making the mounting block thickness 1-1/4". I screwed two 1"O.D. washers to the back of the mounting block for magnetic attachment, and added a 1/2 × 1/2" spacer to its lower edge. This spacer rests on the raised boss surrounding the buttons and keeps the assembly from sliding down. To stabilize the unit laterally, I screwed on 1/2 × 2-3/4 × 6" sides with 1-3/4" flathead screws, using finish washers to dress things up a bit.

With the assembly in place, I measured from the mount to the floor, and subtracted a few inches to gauge the length of the beam, which I cut from 1/2"-thick stock. Rather than use hinges, I decided to pivot it on screws passing through oversized holes in the sides. I cut the beam to a whimsical shape that’s wider at foot and knee level to provide ample targets. After drilling a finger hole to access the on button, I eased all edges with a 1/4" roundover bit and attached the beam. I then located and drilled a hole for a 1/2"-dia. dowel to engage the off button. I friction-fit a length of dowel into the hole and adjusted it so that a deliberate nudge to the beam would depress the button. Finally, I cut the dowel to length, and glued it in its hole.


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