Workshop Mishaps: Countering Kickback

The story

I set the fence on my contractor’s saw and started a ripcut without using the machine’s guard/splitter assembly. (I had long ago removed it because it always seemed to get in the way.) As I reached the halfway point, the board became harder to push. Suddenly, its leading end flew upward toward my face. Luckily, I blocked it with my left hand. While I saved my good looks, I ended up with a deep triangular cut on my palm, a badly bruised wrist, and new respect for the pitching force of a tablesaw.

Case analysis

A misaligned saw fence most likely caused this ripping mishap by Chris Buddie of McLean, Virginia. When he revisited the crime scene later, he found his saw’s fence angled about 1⁄8" closer to the rear of the blade than at the front. As he fed the board into this “funnel” between the fence and blade, the rising rear saw teeth grabbed the leading edge of the board, hurling it upward and backward toward him. A properly-aligned splitter would have prevented this kickback. Unfortunately, hindsight does little to hide his scar.

Shop-smart strategies

Chris learned the hard way that, although a good tablesaw is a precision tool, it can quickly turn against you if it’s not properly tuned and used. 

Adopt these guidelines for safe and accurate ripping with every flip of the switch.

  • Adjust the fence parallel to the blade. After locking the fence in place, measure from it to the front and back edges of the blade to ensure parallelism. Refer to your manual to adjust your particular fence. 

  • Use a properly-aligned splitter! In spite of its name, the primary purpose of a splitter is not to prevent the wood from pinching on the blade. Its real job is to keep a board from wandering over toward those rising rear saw teeth, eliminating kickback. These days, there is no excuse for ripping without a splitter. Unobtrusive aftermarket models are available, or you can make your own from wood or aluminum and mount it to a shop-made zero-clearance throat plate insert. Use a straightedge to align the splitter with the fence-facing side of the teeth.

  • If you insist on working dangerously without a splitter, make sure to use a “shoe-shaped” pushstick, as well as a featherboard or hold-down to press the stock firmly against the fence and table while sawing.

  • Whenever a workpiece bogs down, shut off the saw, remove the board, and check your setup.

Note: For more about tablesaw tune-up, safety, and operation, pick up a copy of Taunton’s Complete Illustrated Guide to Tablesaws by Paul Anthony

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