Actual Table Saws in Use: A Numbers Game

We’ve all been following the lawsuit where a jury awarded a Massachusetts man $1.5 million dollars for an accident he had while using a Ryobi table saw. (Need to catch up on the story? Click here for an article in the Boston Globe, here for an article in INC. magazine about the SawStop technology and here for a piece from The Oregonian). Catching up with the case is easy, but working with the numbers, not so much.

The Oregonian reported that there are, “An estimated 700,000 table saws are in use across the U.S.” It goes on to report that “According to the Journal of Trauma, an estimated 565,670 table-saw-related injuries were treated from 1990 to 2007 in U.S. emergency rooms.” That’s an average of 33,274 injuries per year. Of those injuries, it is estimated that 10 percent result in amputation. I found that statistic alarming, and I’m willing to bet that most woodworkers did, too. Imagine what non-woodworkers might think.

The more we talked about the figures here in the office, the more we wondered if the numbers were real. I don’t intend to question the number of injuries reported. I’m sure those numbers are well documented , insurance companies are like that. But let’s look at the other number in the equation: 700,000 table saws caused more than half-a-million injuries. In 17 years, there’s nearly one injury for each table saw being used. How dangerous is this machine?

Are there 700,000 table saws in use in the United States? There must be, I read it on the Internet. In fact, I’ve already seen that same number repeated in another online write-up. Soon it will be fact! (Note of sarcasm in my voice.)

After discussing the numbers, we thought it best to talk with someone in the industry. Someone who has held a position in a number of the companies that sell table saws and other woodworking tools. Someone that has dealt with factories abroad, large chain store orders and has worked a lifetime inside the woodworking machine and tools industry. We wanted a reliable source.

In talking with this someone, we found that Sears, which back in the day was the only woodworking machine seller I knew about, sold Craftsman table saws in huge numbers. During its hey-day, the stores would sell about 50,000 contractor table saws and 150,000 benchtop saws per year. Back a few years, Delta would sell 15,000 to 18,000 Unisaw models each year, as well as 25,000 contractor saws annually. One of the large chain stores placed an order for benchtop table saws in excess of 110,000 units, and that was just for the holiday rush. These numbers don’t add up to 700,000.

If that doesn’t make the hair on the back of your neck stand at attention, take a look at this figure: There is a single factory abroad that produces 700,000 benchtop table saws every year!

I think it’s safe to say that the figure quoted in The Oregonian is not even close to accurate. When asked to provide a number as to how many table saws are in use within the confines of the United States, our source said, “Four million, maybe more.”

That certainly changes the injuries-to-table-saws ratio. Doesn’t it?

– Glen Huey

28 thoughts on “Actual Table Saws in Use: A Numbers Game

  1. CJ

    Greetings everyone,
    One of the things that I find interesting in the thread is "money","lawyers" and "Government" arguments.

    From what I have read the major cause of serious injury is related to kick back. I have not read that any one was impressed with the current safety features available from US manufacturers. The general feeling that I picked up from the thread that they were poor at best.

    If the industry had taken the time/effort to design in a few safety features this issue may never have happened. This partially self inflicted by the manufactures.

    What about the human cost? It would be interesting to hear from someone who has had a serious table saw accident. It is an academic argument for the rest of us.

    Take a moment to make it personal. We have all done things around the shop that could have caused serious injury to ourselves or worse someone else.

    How would you feel if your son/daughter/friend had a serious accident from a poorly design machine?

    I grew up in a time it was usual to have a memorial candle at a High School Graduation because one or more kids got drunk and got into an accident. It was a bunch of Mad Mothers Against Drunk Driving that started the ball rolling about teen drinking and driving. It wasn’t a industry group, lawyers or government. It has saved lives.

    Remember that someone was seriously injured. I hope that the outcome from this is we will not know someone who was injured from a table saw.

    I want to teach my son and daughter about wood working and using power tools. I don’t want a trip to the hospital.

  2. mitchell M

    a few things to note-

    the 3-8% proposed royalties were ON TOP OF the cost of completely re-engineering, re-tooling, & mfg the saws. contrary to what you may have read about it ‘adding only about $150’ to the cost of a new saw, that would, at best, be the long term per unit cost AFTER all of the aforementioned. in the relatively short run, say 5-10 yrs, even bench top & contractor saws could have doubled in price, effectively killing their market. in short, i believe the main reason most mfrs passed on the technology was this unavoidable price increase and unprofitable margins. if they thought this would be a moneymaker AND improve their liability, they would have jumped all over it.

    also, SawStop claims 20,000 units sold since 2004(?) and 700 appendages saved. charitably assuming this isn’t just cartridges replaced, incl. misfires (which happen), they’re saying 1 out of every 30 of their customers has already nearly cut off a finger in just the last few years??? is this a self-selected group of klutzes or what?

  3. Lea

    From what I have read in the magazines, the SawStop saws are very nice machines, independent of their braking technology. New models from other major manufacturers are also coming out with better guards, riving knives, etc. So market pressure is definitely having an effect on upgrading the safety level of new machines at most?/all? price points.

    Now consider this possibility. IF SawStop is successful in getting the GOVERNMENT to pass legislation mandating some kind of blade braking technology on ALL new tablesaws manufactured or sold in this country, what is to prevent the GOVERNMENT down the line from mandating that NO TABLE SAW, NEW OR **USED**, MAY BE SOLD IN THIS COUNTRY WITHOUT INCORPORATING A BLADE BRAKE?

    Think it can’t happen? Just read the Consumer Products Safety Act, especially the parts restricting the types of USED books and children’s clothing and toys that can be legally sold at garage sales and second-hand stores.

    So you want to upgrade to a SawStop – fine. At that point, how do get rid of your 5-year-old top-of-the-line Powermatic with 50 years of use still in it? Chop it in half with a Sawzall and scrap it? One commenter thinks that is the only responsible thing to do. I respectfully disagree.

    When you give the GOVERNMENT the power to regulate what you MUST BUY, you have handed them the power to regulate what you are allowed to RE-SELL.

    Just something to consider.

  4. Jim S

    Chris C,

    I’m sure people are getting tired of me on my soapbox, so this will be my last post. I think you are absolutely correct that the low demand for European saws is a result of their high price. I also think you’re absolutely right that many people are willing to trade safety features for low price.

    What I think people should be asking is, why did the lower end manufacturers refuse to use riving knives and ignore the obvious problems with their guards for so long? I just don’t believe that these things are difficult engineering challenges, or that they would add much, if any, cost to the saws.

    If you think about that question, you might come to the conclusion that saw makers don’t care that much about the safety of their products. They didn’t take affordable steps that would make their machines a little safer. At the same time, they were able to control their legal liability up until now by putting some cheap piece of junk on top of the saw and calling it a safety device. That sort of thinking made companies like Ryobi vulnerable to this lawsuit, because there was no fig leaf to hide the fact they didn’t have something to stop the blade from spinning. The necessary equipment was offered to them, and they backed away from it.

    Thanks for listening.

  5. Chris C

    In response to Jim S:

    You can buy lovely European woodworking gear with every manner of safely device
    and fancy guards on them. They do not sell well in this country. There is nothing
    wrong with them. In fact, they are quite nice. And most of them have safety features
    that best even SawStop(though not the flesh detection).

    Why don’t they sell well? Because they are very expensive. You are free to buy one if you wish. But some of us are willing to assume a certain level of risk in trade off for the cost of the device. I am willing to agree, to some extent, that mandates for things that are inherently dangerous to OTHERS for your misuse might warrant some sort of regulation. For example: firearms having a safety that prevents it from accidently firing when not intended.

    As for the cost of the SawStop, the price analysis is puzzling. How much does the device add to the cost really? From what I am seeing, you can buy a number of very good quality saws for about $1000 less than the SawStop. These saws have riving knives, and excellent guards. Much better than in years past. Why is their such a difference in price? Is it because they don’t do the volume of the other vendors? But they are the self proclaimed "#1 selling table saw". Something is not adding up to me.

  6. Jim S.


    I didn’t see enough info on the economics of the proposal to form an opinion on your question about the increase in licensing fees. Just to be hypothetical, if a saw wholesaled for $500, the fee would be $15 at 3% and $40 at 8%. That $35 increase would most likely be significant to Ryobi, but then again their competitors would be paying a similar fee.

    It seems like SawStop never intended to be a manufacturer, so the actual SawStop equipment going into the saw would be manufactured by someone else – Ryobi or a 3rd party. Getting into the market first with a new technology has risks and rewards. You get a lead on figuring out how to make the technology efficiently, grab market share, lock up contracts with suppliers, and create goodwill among consumers (both for offering a new safety technology and being innovative). Even if you don’t offer it on all products at first, it brings positive attention to the brand and maybe generates sales in another line. The other brands have to play catch-up if they want to keep their market share.

    The downside is you also end up having to sell for a higher price initially and you (potentially) deal with headaches if there are bugs to be worked out.

    So, I would never claim that it wasn’t a complicated decision for Ryobi. There were risk in proceeding. However, they had a chance that they didn’t take, and that was a risk too.

    I’ll say one more thing. I would be way more willing to cut Ryobi (and anyone else) some slack if they had a previous strong committment to safety. The reality is that the guards/splitters/antikickback pawls offered on most tablesaws in the US (not just Ryobi)… well… they just suck. They’re inconvenient and clunky to use, and most users just remove them and never use them again. Then since the antikickback features are built into the guard, there is no antikickback either. How hard would it be to put a riving knife on a saw instead? How hard would it be to make a guard that’s easy to remove and replace? Even without SawStop, they weren’t doing enough.


  7. Dan

    Jim S – I thought the article pretty clearly implied (right or wrong) that Ryobi walked away from an unsigned agreement. But I’m still wondering if the price vs. adoption structure described makes any sense. I could see Ryobi trading X% of its wholesale price for the advantage of being able to claim the safest saw on the market. But why would it (or any other company) want to see its expense grow to almost 3X% to say that it’s no more safe than anyone else? Granted, all the companies seemed to have chosen to keep their money and say that they’re no *less* safe than anyone else (an argument the jury clearly had no sympathy for), but the pricing structure still seems backwards.

  8. Jim S.

    I think the car airbag analogy is excellent:

    "Further, car air bag analogies are just fraud. Why?
    1. A better analogy might be: Would you buy airbags
    for your car if you were the only car on the road? "

    Haven’t you ever heard of someone killed in a single-car accident where someone hit a tree or some other large object? It happens all the time. It would be silly not to buy airbags even if there were no other cars.

    "2. Contrary to the anti-capitalist rhetoric, a number of car makers already offered cars with air bags PRIOR to any federal legislation requiring them to do so. I would speculate they would have eventually become ubiquitous on their own. So perhaps the fed move sped it up. But not for free. All of the other people with more expensive cars at the time who wanted air bags essentially subsidized the other vehicles."

    There was a federal law in the 1980s that required passive safety devices, which were airbags or those cheesy automatic seat belts. Airbags were often offered on expensive cars standard or on average cars at a higher cost. I recall the Chrystler made the decision to offer airbags in ALL their cars as standard equipment. That really helped brake the logjam. Airbags were certainly available (on a limited basis) before that. But consumers had to learn to demand it and manufacturers needed to figure out how to do it affordably. After that, making a lot of airbags for a lot of cars made them better and cheaper. The result is many lives saved.

    So really, federal regulation is not the issue here. As far as I know, there’s no federal regulation proposed for tablesaws.

    The airbag analogy works, I believe, because we need one of the major saw manufacturers to make a gutsy decision (like Chrystler did) to offer the technology on reasonably-priced saws. Pretty soon, consumers would widely demand the technology, and it would soon become much more affordable.

  9. Jim S.

    A couple of people have commented here and elsewhere that companies weren’t able to come to an agreement with SawStop. They have implied that SawStop was charging too much or being unreasonable in some other way. I have read the articles and I don’t see any evidence for that view.

    In the case of Ryobi, the sides had fully negotiated a contract and Gass was informed by the company that it would be signed within the week. They never signed. It wasn’t a passing interest that led to a couple of meetings and then died. There was a complete contract waiting to be signed.

    I think it’s likely the jury was informed of this, and that was why they made their judgment against Ryobi.

  10. Dan

    If there really was collusion among companies, are we suprised? The articles say that the inventor was asking for a 3% cut of wholesale initially, increasing to 8% as the device became more widespread. That type of pricing structure is meant to encourage the first guy in; you not only are the only player who can advertise a safer technology, you get it relatively cheaply. However, since the structure takes a bigger bite from *everyone* as more companies adopt the technology, the marketing distinction goes away while your costs go up. In many cases, technology becomes cheaper as it becomes more ubiquitous. In this case, by taking a cut of the *saw* price (if I’m reading the articles correctly), the technology becomes more expensive.

  11. John H

    When lawyers come in the door, truth goes out the window. But, even if there are over 5 million saws in use, 500,000 accidents and 50,000 amputations are far too many. When I bought my Ryobi contractors’ saw I bought what I felt was the best saw for the money I had, but I could not have afforded the steep premium for saw-stop even if it did exist back then. But all tools can be dangerous in untrained hands, and here the whole industry fails. Scott Phillips does an excellent job of talking about safety at each step in his American Woodworker programs and Norm Abrams at least mentions it at the start of NYWS. I’ve seen the clowns at This Old House mocking Norm’s ubiquitous "safety glasses" comment. Beyond that, safety is a separate issue to be addressed in "safety" articles in magazines or programs. You editors need to insist that your articles mention the risks in each step of a project and the steps to avoid them. Contractors need to do more than just put the tools at a job site and assume everyone knows the right way to use them. If not, soon we’ll all be paying way too much for tools that have so many guards on them that they’re unusable.

  12. Chris C

    They could not have possibly proven collusion in such
    a forum. Perhaps you don’t have to do that in civil
    court, but doing so is an anti-trust matter. That would
    have to be settled elsewhere.

    I don’t agree with a number of the posters here suggesting
    there is an pro-SawStop or anti-Sawstop partisan debate
    going on. On the contrary, I think the overwhelming
    majority actually love the idea and think the SawStop
    is a great saw. Myself included.

    It is a good question: If manufacturers could add this
    technology, and do so fairly cheaply, why aren’t they?

    Not ONE company has been able to make a deal for a
    license? Not ONE? Why not? Collusion? I doubt that.

    Further, car air bag analogies are just fraud. Why?

    1. A better analogy might be: Would you buy airbags
    for your car if you were the only car on the road?

    2. Contrary to the anti-capitalist rhetoric, a number
    of car makers already offered cars with air bags PRIOR
    to any federal legislation requiring them to do so.

    I would speculate they would have eventually become ubiquitous on their own. So perhaps the fed move sped
    it up. But not for free. All of the other people with
    more expensive cars at the time who wanted air bags
    essentially subsidized the other vehicles.

    Also, a marketing question and paradox:

    1. How many Sawstops are being sold? they claim to be
    "the #1 selling table saw". I find that
    hard to believe. How many are they selling?

    2. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and grant
    them the best selling saw status. In
    this case, the market is choosing the saw it wants and
    they are killing their competition. I assume they will
    or already do own the market on table saws.

    But this brings up an interesting paradox: If this is actually true, then the market is already moving the
    debate in an obvious direction. So why would you need
    lawsuits, government mandates and strong-arm tactics to
    to artificially induce a market that already exists? SawStop’s sales numbers say so.



  13. Dave Jeske

    First, Never trust anything The Oregonian says. There are many names for the paper but accurate is not one of them. Regardless of the numbers I think Saw Stop has developed a very competitive saw with important features. However, I do not think that the device should be mandated. We live in a free market, capitalist society and the market will help drive continued innovation. I will soon be in the market for a new saw and will carefully evaluate the features and benefits of all saws available. I will choose the one I feel will best meet my needs.

  14. Joe

    If Sawstop had been invented by a gas station mechanic or a dentist as opposed to having been invented by a lawyer, would there be the almost rabid opposition?

    The cost of the mechanism raises the cost of the saw to be sure, just as the cost of air bags raises the cost of an automobile. Ask yourself this question: Would you buy a car without airbags? You drove cars for years without airbags and are still alive, aren’t you? Both devises save us from ourselves, from carelessness and from our inattention to what is going on around us, yet there is the large vocal group who rail against the sawstop.

    The device was first offered to saw manufacturers yet they turned it down for what I suspect were purely economic reasons. But suppose that the invention was conceived and introduced by Delta or Powermatic, do you think it would be on their saws and heralded in their adds?

    A guy made a discovery that has proven numerous times that it can prevent frequent and catastrophic injuries. Is his invention embraced? Is he regarded as a genius? No he is not. Think it might be because he is a LAWYER? I suspect so.

    No, I don’t own any stock in Sawstop nor have I ever met anyone affiliated with the company or their subsidiaries. Do I own a Sawstop? You betcha!

  15. Mark Hochstein

    Two points: 1) I’m sure a small percentage of the table saws sold over the last 40 years are still in use. Every time I go to our local dump I see several old table saws in the scrap metal container. 2) The jury awarded the settlement because evidence was presented that made a convincing argument that there was collusion among the top table saw producers not to license the SawStop technology. "If none of us use it, then the technology will wither and die" appeared to be their attitude. However they drastically underestimated the public’s desire for this appendage saving technology and the resolve of the SawStop team to bring it to market. Maybe that’s why the SawStop table saw is the best selling one in the world now.

  16. Merlin Vought

    Is this just another example of people wanting the goverment the enact laws to keep us safe at the cost of the consumer and the financial advantage of the few? We need to really think about personal responsablity not always have someone else to blame for an accident. Sorry I just don’t think it should be law the option is fine for those that want it.

  17. gdblake

    I agree that the rate of injury from tablesaw use is terribly high. I’m all for making use of the best safety devices available. But folks seem to be missing the fact that Ryobi cannot legally include the SawStop break system on their saws. Neither can the other saw manufacturers. Why? Because they were all unable to negotiate a contract with the inventor that would allow them to make use of the technology and include it on their saws. There has to be a reason none of the manufacturers could work out a license agreement that goes way beyond the supposed $69 the breaking system costs to produce.

  18. Bill Wiese


    Are the publicized numbers correct? Probably not. What are the real numbers? It is probably impossible to get an accurate number. Does it Matter? Not as far as I can tell.

    First, I must admit that I recently bought a SawStop contractors saw. I am very pleased with it. And, I am quite evangelical about the product, its quality and the concept. Thus, it is obvious that I have biased opinion, dare I say a political like opinion, about SawStop technology. And, that is an important realization. This whole issue of the SawStop technology—how to advance it, how to derail it, how to promote it, how to defend ones vested interests ones views—is a matter of personal political posturing.

    The predominate rhetoric about SawStop, old style, new style, personal responsibility, litigation, safe, not safe, cautious, dumb, money grubbing, greed, I’m a safe saw operator, He is a nitwit that needs to be protected from his or herself are all expressions of cultural and personal political posturing that is all about sociology and have almost nothing to do about woodworking.

    No, I could not afford to spend the $2000. for the contractor saw that I purchased. But, I did it anyway because it was the correct thing to do. To get the money I drove around a couple days a week for more then a year and picked up pieces of scrap metal. When I had a trailer full I took it to the scrap yard and sold it. It took a lot of loads and a lot of time. But, I have a new saw and I am confident that I did the right thing. What did I do with my old table saw? It was a very good saw in excellent condition. I cut it in to two pieces and took it to the scrap yard. Why? Because I was born to be my brothers’ keeper and I cannot find a way to sell or give away a machine that has a very high probability of destroying someone’s ability to have a wonderful life.

    So, what are the real numbers? That does not matter because the answer only adds fuel to the egotistical and political fires of emotion that have come to dominate the SawStop technology issue. SawStop has it disciples and it has it’s detractors. But, for the most part, I think the issues are being fought on an emotional level just as one my fight for ones views on health care, abortion, immigration, states rights, personal freedom, gun control or global warming.

    Finally, I think it is much more productive to do what one has to do to be safe. Get back to making sawdust. And, teach others to appreciate and love fine craftsmanship. One good steep in that direction may well be swallowing ones pride and buying a SawStop. That is what I did. And, it is one of the best decisions I have ever made.

    Bill Wiese
    Melbourne, Florida

  19. John Preber

    We should all be fearful of the bigger problem. If the lawyers and accountants have their way, we may not be able to get health insurance if we admit that we practice such a dangerous hobby as woodworking.

  20. David Donovan

    I agree with @Steve here. People are trying to make this out to be a "personal responsibility" issue, but the point is that these things are accidents. One can make all kinds of assumptions of how much of an "idiot" this guy was, but the point is that the technology exists to prevent his kind of injury. It’s like saying we should have a no seat belt option in cars. And the bottom line is that we can either pay to avoid these injuries up front by incorporating saw stop tech in our saws, or we can all pay for them later in health insurance costs (at a much higher rate, no doubt). The lawsuit is really meant as a punitive strategy to force saw manufacturers hands into providing safer saws. While doing this through litigation and not legislation is certainly distasteful, is the debate really about whether we think saws should required to have this tech, or whether this guy deserves a million bucks? I think its more productive to focus on the former, personally.

    I think we can all agree that preventing injuries is a good thing…. it’s a fine line to balance the freedom of choice of individuals (and companies) against the fact that we do live in a society in which our actions affect each other (especially through the collective nature of health insurance premium)… we may be cutting off our fingers to spite our hands.

  21. Steve

    You make a good point, Glen: The numbers you give strongly support the incorporation of better safety devices in table saws. As you note, the accident rate is off by at most a factor of six. That means that the rate of table saw accidents is only astonishingly horrendously high, rather than really, really astonishingly horrendously high.

    Coincidentally, the annual table saw-related accident rate is approximately equal to the motor vehicle fatality rate. Per mile traveled, the motor vehicle fatality rate has decreased by more than a factor of three in the last fifty years (NHTSA data), almost entirely the result of safer cars. That translates to somewhere around 70,000 lives saved in 2009. Just think how many fingers could be saved by some well-chosen safety devices on table saws.

  22. Jim Lebans

    Even at 4 million the proportion of injuries to saws is still alarming. The fact that the idle Delta in my basement, if i plug it in, has a 1 in 5 chance of biting me rather than a 100% chance during its/my lifetime is enough to give me the heebie jeebies and reach for a handsaw instead. I’ve got more time than I have fingers, but that’s the benefit of being a hobbyist. If I was a pro and required to use the tablesaw, I’d be all over the Sawstop.

  23. gdblake

    41 years ago my high school shop teacher insisted that the most dangerous tool available to us was the bandsaw. He claimed that the thin blade with limited exposure mislead you into thinking it was safe to get your fingers close to the moving blade. Just to emphasize his point, as he was teaching us how to cut on the bandsaw he took his eyes off his work to look at us and make sure we were all paying attention. He accidentally ran the blade halfway up the middle of his right thumb. It was a great object lesson in shop safety that I will never forget.

    If I understood the news articles correctly, it was the "victim’s" health insurance company that came up with the idea of the lawsuit because they are tired of paying out for these types of injuries. Then you read that Gass, who invented the SawStop breaking system, is a former patent attorney who played hardball with the machine manufacturers to the extent that they were unable to reach an agreement which would have allowed the manufacturers to license his patent and still make a reasonable profit. Now he is hoping this lawsuit and others will force the industry to adopt his breaking system regardless of cost or liability. So the big question is who is really profitting from all this? The idiot who bought a cheap saw and didn’t exercise proper precautions while using it, the attorneys, the health insurance companies, Gass, or governments who will benefit from higher taxes tied to the increased cost of machinery (the answer is all of the above). We all know who will pay for this mess. (I’m glad I got a great deal on a Jet tablesaw a couple of years ago that will outlast me.)

  24. Steve

    Rob has a good thought on the saws with multiple users. But that is likely dwarfed by the number of saws purchased that go unused.
    I agree with the concern over the numbers…they don’t add up. There is no way 80% of all saws in use within the past 10 years have sent someone to the emergency room.

  25. Marcelo

    I’ve got distracted by seeing the exact same table saw I have in the picture. Is that the table saw in question? Can I get in line for my $1.5 million?

  26. rob


    You should also consider that a number of the contractor table saws are operated by many members of the crew. So, any given day three to five guys might be cutting on the same saw.

    I would also guess the production houses will also have multiple users.

    Additionally, most shop classes have a limited number of saws versus the number of users.

    Just some food for thought.

Comments are closed.