The table saw is arguably the most dangerous tool in a woodworking shop, but it is perfectly safe to use if you treat it with respect.
Photos via wooden-box-maker.com
Rules for table saw safety:
1. Start off with common sense:
- Keep long hair tied back; no loose clothing or jewelry.
- Always wear safety glasses.
- Don’t work when you are tired or under the influence of alcohol/drugs (including prescription medication). It is too easy to make mistakes if you are tired. Work on something else for a while, take a break, drink coffee, whatever. Just don’t work on your table saw.
- Be aware of where your hands are at all times. (I have a general rule of (keeping) thumb — no hands within the insert area. Ever. The only time my hand goes near the blade is if the saw is unplugged.)
2. Cut small work pieces with a jig
Don’t cut small pieces without a good jig. You need to have a good grip on your wood when it goes through the blade. Small pieces are harder to control. If you don’t have a system to hold your work in place, it’s best to cut small pieces with a bandsaw, scroll saw or hand saw.
3. Use push sticks
Use a push stick. I have a number of push sticks that I use for different circumstances. I have ones of different thicknesses and shapes. I have several homemade ones that I use when I know I’m going to cut through the push stick.
I also use a feather board. The feather board serves two purposes: It keeps the board tight to the fence and it also prevents the board from coming back at me if something happens mid-cut. Make sure you keep the feather board in front of the blade. You don’t want to pinch the wood against the blade.
Between the push sticks and feather boards, I keep my fingers attached to my hands. Just where I want them.
4. Keep your work area clean
This sounds obvious, but it is easy to ignore.
Does your saw ever look like the one in the left of the photo? This could become a disaster, something could fall onto the blade, the boards to the left could get knocked into your work piece. Even if nothing else, it is distracting. In the photo on the right, the area is clean, with nothing but your work at hand.
5. Never freehand a cut
Sounds obvious, right? Yet, someone always wants to try it. Don’t! Always have your wood tight against the fence.
6. Use properly milled wood
You want your wood flat against the table top and square to the fence, otherwise you are risking kickback. For this reason your wood has to be properly milled. If your board wobbles as it goes through the blade, you are much more likely to lose control of it.
Remember that your hand is never going to be able to compete with a blade that is spinning at 3500 RPM. Keep your wood tight to the fence.
7. Use a sharp blade
A sharp blade goes through the wood more easily and that is what you want. Never try and force your wood through the blade. If you have to push on your board, STOP. Hold the wood in place and either turn off the saw or lower your blade until it is entirely out of the wood. Look and see what is going on. You may need to cut your board in several passes, or it may be that you need another method entirely.
8. Consider the tool
Sometimes the safest thing is another tool.
These are a few basic safety tips for using a table saw. In other posts I will discuss cross cutting on a table saw as well as kickback.