Two Dozen Table Saw Safety Tips

Table saw safety is extremely important to woodworkers because most woodworkers who use power tools use table saws as their main shop tool. Add to that the power of the saws and the dangers it presents, and we quickly understand that lots of personal damage is possible.

In fact, injuries due to table saws far outnumber injuries by other power tools in your typical workshop. However, the table saw has been in use for many, many years, so most of the problems possible can be easily foreseen and avoided. The double dozen below should help you avoid most, if not all, problems. 

Many of These Safety Tips Apply to ALL Power Tools

Do not wear gloves while operating a table saw. There are several reasons, but loss of tactile sense is probably foremost, while a possible loss of gripping power is also close to the top. And some kinds of gloves are loose enough to present an item for the rotating blade to grab. 

Keep the floor in front of the saw free of cut-offs and piled up sawdust. Tripping or sliding into a running, or even stopped, saw blade can really create problems, but even slipping and banging your head against the cast iron table can bring on a bad injury. 

Wear proper eye and hearing protection. Eyes need to be protected from damage by projectiles--and no, standard eyeglasses will not do the job. Hearing protection is something every woodworker should start with, and continue. Hearing loss creeps up on you without warning, and often without symptoms, until it's too late to reverse the procedure. 

Wear short sleeves, leave the ties at the office, and junk your dangling jewelry. Get rid of other loose fitting clothing while operating a table saw. Any of these items might get caught in the blade and yank you into it before you can react. 

Stand comfortably, with your feet far enough apart for good balance. This is always important, but more so when you're cutting stock long enough to require several steps towards the saw to keep the feed going. Then, you build up momentum and want to be able to stop easily. Wear footwear with non-slip soles.  

Avoid any awkward operations. If you feel like a gawky fool doing a cut, then don't do the cut in that manner. This helps you avoid losing your balance and possibly falling into the blade or table. 

Use a push stick to cut stock that is 6" or less in width. A hand that isn't close to a blade isn't going to get cut. Generally, a 6” minimum distance to the blade is considered safe, though some recommend 4”. 

Use a stop block when you crosscut short lengths. Mount a stop block on the fence--this can be as simple as a clamped on board that stops just before the saw blade, so that cut-off pieces cannot bind between blade and fence. 

Position your body so that it is NOT in line with the blade. This keeps sawdust feeding back through the slot of the blade out of your face, and much more important, it keeps you out of the line of most kick-backs. 

Never reach behind or over the blade unless it has stopped turning. Sometimes this looks safe. It almost never truly is. This does not mean you should stop pushing your work before it finishes passing through the blade, itself an invitation to kick back.  

Always disconnect the power before changing the blade or performing any other maintenance operation. I like to drape the plug over my fence rail so I know in an instant the saw's unplugged…or not.

Make sure that the blade has stopped turning before you adjust the table saw. The reasons are obvious. Making adjustments can get hands too close to the blade, and even a slowly spinning blade has a multitude of sharp edges that can do damage.

Always make sure that the blade is turning free before you turn on the power: this is especially helpful after you make changes or adjustments. In other words, spin the blade without power a time or two to make sure there are no scraps or tools touching it.

Keep the tabletop smooth and polished. A dirty or rough table requires you to use more force to push the stock through the blade. It may also rust like crazy, further reducing the saw's effectiveness. 

Keep the rip fence parallel to the blade so stock doesn't bind on the blade and kick back. Some woodworkers prefer to keep the rear of the fence kicked out (away from the blade) by 1/64". I believe parallel is better, but a friend of mine, with more experience than I, keeps the back of his fence kicked out. Both work. 

Use zero clearance inserts. These reduce the chance of slender cuts dropping into the lower part of the blade and making the round trip to speed by your head. They also reduce splintering in cuts.

Never operate a table saw with the throat insert removed. Wood that is fed into a gaping hole can drop down and get caught on the blade. That can't happen if the throat insert is in place. 

Do not make free-hand cuts on a table saw. Guide the stock through the blade using the rip fence or the miter gauge.

Keep the blade guards, splitters and anti-kickback fingers in place and operating freely. Check the action of these items before starting work. 

Work should be released only when it is past the blade. Releasing work too early is an invitation to kickback as it is possible for the blade to grab the part that has not yet gone by. 

Whenever the stock is lifted or tilted above the surface of the table, the saw is able to shake the stock. If this happens, and you lose your grip, duck down and hit the stop button because losing your grip on the work means it probably is going to come back at you. 

Check stock before cutting. Look for nails, knots, screws, or stones. Such fun items may become projectiles. If they hit, they smart, and may cause serious injury as well. Also, damage to carbide tipped blades can be major, even if all it does is scare you.

The fence and the miter gauge are not meant to be used together. Under some circumstances, you can use both (see above on stop blocks), but the fence then needs an auxiliary fence added. That fence or stop must end just before the saw blade. Don't mess with the fence adjustment when the saw is running. And a general addition, which goes for all tools and all techniques in a wood shop: if a procedure feels unsafe, it probably is, so don't use it. Find another way to do what has to be done.

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