Table Saw Injury Survey Results

© As are all of our blog posts, this story is protected by copyright; Popular Woodworking Magazine, 2010.

Last week’s table saw safety survey generated a lot of interest and numerous responses. Around 6,000 participated and shared their experiences. Before we look at the results of the survey, a few words about the survey are in order. As many commenters pointed out, this was not a “scientific” survey.

With a sample of people who opted to participate, rather than a random sample, the data collected can’t be used to determine the chances of having an accident while using a table saw, nor can it be used to calculate the number of accidents likely to occur compared to the number of table saws in use. That wasn’t the goal. What we were after was a sampling of our readers, their experience in using saws, the type and severity of injuries they suffered and what safety equipment was or was not in place. We won’t be listing specific numbers; you’ll see the results in terms of about, nearly, most and some.

We last paid for a scientific study of our subscribers in 2005, and the percentages of readers who owned table saws and the number of years experience they have is in line with the results of the blog survey. The paid survey was about marketing our publication not about safety, so there were no questions about accidents to refer back to. Our motive in last week’s quick survey was to learn more about our readers and their experiences, not to sell anything, please or antagonize any advertisers, former advertisers or would-be advertisers. So here is what we know about those who took part in the survey:

Most of you own and use a table saw. A little more than half of you own a contractor’s or hybrid type saw, and almost a third have a 3hp or larger cabinet saw. Around 10 percent have a benchtop or portable saw, and less than 2 percent of those who responded have no table saw at all. Beginners were a distinct minority, less than 10 percent have only a year or two experience, about 30 percent have two to five years, and most of you have been using a table saw for five years or more. You’re a serious and experienced bunch; you have a significant investment in your machines, but the majority own middle-of-the-road machines.

And a lot of you have hurt yourselves with your table saws, about one in seven of those responding reported an injury serious enough that it required medical treatment. Here is where the statistically flawed sample of the survey shows up, and it makes sense to us that those who had been injured would be more likely to respond. Tangling with a table saw leaves a lasting impression, especially if, like me, you have a funny looking finger that you still notice 35 years after the fact.

When we wrote the survey, we gave three options for types of injuries: Being struck by something kicked back from the saw, having a hand or other part of the body come into contact with the blade as a result of a kickback, or moving your hand into the path of the blade.

There were other responses we didn’t anticipate, saws accidentally being turned on while changing a blade or checking the height of the blade, and one reader who, when he was 10 years old, stuck his fingers into the back side of a running blade, figuring it was the other side that did the cutting. Many of the injuries reported seemed mild to us. As a group you’re either very lucky (the curious 10-year-old reported that his bruised backside as a result of his mom seeing his wounds later in the day was more painful than his cut fingers) or we didn’t make it clear what we were looking for. We didn’t intend to count knuckles scraped during a blade change or a nick in the end of a push stick as table saw accidents, but some of our respondents did.

The good news is that most of the people responding have not had an accident at all, or at worst, what we termed a “close call” without an injury. Of those who did report an injury, slightly more than half didn’t require medical attention beyond first aid at home. Of the accidents that couldn’t be treated at home, three out of four were repaired with bandages or stitches. On the other hand, about one of five of reported injuries requiring treatment resulted in the loss of one or more fingers. Hands and fingers weren’t the only parts of the body to suffer; there were also injuries to eyes and soft tissues. Being in the way of a piece of wood kicked out of the saw left one reader without a spleen, and another missing a testicle.

We asked what safety equipment was in place when the injury occurred, and in about three out of four cases none was present. It would be easy to jump to a conclusion and say, “See, if you’d only left the guard on this wouldn’t have happened.” But there isn’t much evidence that guards or other safety devices can actually prevent accidents; their main purpose is to mitigate the damage after the operator loses control of the workpiece or places his or her hand in the path of the blade. About 10 percent of the reported injuries were on saws that were equipped with the stock splitter and guard, or a riving knife and guard. The severity of those injuries, including the loss of digits was within a percentage point of those injuries that occurred on saws without any safety equipment in place.

The frightening part of this survey was the number of table saw users who accept kickback as “something that happens” or simply weren’t paying attention to where their hands were, or where their hands might go if something went wrong while operating their saw. Moving the hand into the path of the blade was the most commonly reported cause of injury, accounting for six in 10 injuries. Three in 10 injuries were related to material kickback, either being struck by the material or having the hand pulled into the path of the blade.

In the October and November 2008 issues of Popular Woodworking, we printed articles on using a table saw safely, and on preventing kickback, written by Marc Adams, owner of the largest woodworking school in the country. We have decided to make those articles, as well as Marc’s safety rules for using the table saw available online. Look for links to those articles in a blog post to follow.

The one question I wish we had asked was this:

Looking back on your injury, what could you have done differently to prevent the incident from happening?

If you’ve had an injury while using your table saw, leave a comment if you would like to answer that question.

–Robert W. Lang

36 thoughts on “Table Saw Injury Survey Results

  1. Michael DeWald

    Unfortunately, the industry was ripe for something like this to happen. My injury occurred while resquaring cedar shingles. I was using a home made panel cutting jig to do this. The guard supplied with the major label direct drive (but not portable) saw I was using was so flimsy that it came out of alignment with the blade at the lightest nudge, and would flop out of alignment when any bevel was used on the blade. My first attempt to use it resulted in the work piece being jammed by the support for the guard that is supposed to double as a splitter. Readjusting the alignment resulted in the work piece being bound against the blade. The guard went in the trash shortly afterward. It was a hazard. I was injured as a result of fatigue, my back went into spasm and I bent slightly further forward unconsciously as a result. The movement forward was at an angle to the blade, and i pushed my left pinky into the blade, severing it just distal to the last joint. It was sewn back on, but the last joint is permanently fused, and the end is numb. It could have been much worse.

  2. Tim V

    I don’t remember if the survey allowed for 2 different type of injuries with table saws. Years ago when I first started woodworking, I had a powerful kicked back piece hit me in the chest. It felt like I was hit with a golf ball. Luckily there was only a welt. But, I analyzed why it happened and did research. This was in the mid-90′s so there wasn’t much on the internet then, but I found enough to make learn not to do that again.

    Then in the early 2000′s I cut my thumb. I had an afternoon flight to England one Sunday. I was working on a project in the shop so I thought I could jut make a couple of quick cuts before I had to pack up. Of course I was safe because I paid attention to how everything was set-up and how the cuts were made. I wasn’t going to have another kick back accident. I made the 2 cuts and turned off the saw. While the blade was free spinning, the back edge of the cut piece was dinging the blade while setting on the outfeed table. The dinging noise bothered me so I reached over the non-guarded, non-splitter, free spinning blade, grabbed the part and pulled it toward me. I’m glad the blade was not under power because it sliced my thumb. I missed my flight…

    I stopped paying attention because I turned off the saw. I was so p*ssed at myself, not for cutting myself, but for letting my brain turn off too. I always give my full attention when I’m around it now, on or off.

    Tim V

  3. J.C. Collier

    I ask myself one question BEFORE I crank up my saw for the day, "Where are your fingers?"

    While I empathize with the victims of random table saw violence, the fact is that ALL mishaps with the tool can be traced to bad judgment either literal or by default. No "idiot proofing" device has been invented by man that will save everyone’s digits 100% of the time. I am sure that even the hallowed SawStop can be misused to ill effect by the right hammerhead operator.

    always,
    J.C.

  4. Dick Heatwole

    I was cutting baltic birch ply drawer pcs not using a push stick or splitter on the saw. Piece twisted and pulled my fingers into spinning saw blade. Fortuneally I only had the blade about 1/2" above work piece but still managed to cut one finger almost entirely off and major cut to thumb and another finger. Surgeon was able to reattach finger and stitch up the other two and I still have use of all three (no feeling in one).
    LESSON LEARNED – Was late and last few pieces, never try to complete a project in a hurry and not use safety equipment.

  5. Moe Yoder

    Well, my accident, too was preventable. I was tapering some table legs for a coffee table with a homemade tapering jig. I had the guard off cause the tapering pushed the guard into the blade. I had just made the last taper, and let it fall to the floor so I didn’t have to reach across the blade to retrieve it. (A smart move, I thought). When bringing my hand back, the blade was set too high, and my right thumb contacted the blade. I spent some time in the emergency room, and now I have a constant reminder of shop safety, I have very little feeling in my thumb. I, too, remind myself that I am not smarter than everyone else.

  6. Pat Scott

    My injury happened 30+ years ago using my Dad’s table saw. My only instruction on proper safety was watching him make cuts. I did everything wrong: no splitter, no blade guard, and I used the rip fence and miter gauge at the same time to make a through cut. I was cutting a hexagon shaped piece for a flower stand I wanted to make as a present for my Mom. Being a hexagon the surface contacting the rip fence or miter gauge was small. After cutting a corner off, I PULLED THE PIECE BACK. I didn’t know you weren’t suppose to do this. As I pulled it back you can imagine what happened – it got trapped between the blade and rip fence. The blade grabbed the back of the piece and raised it up. Since it was a hexagon (picture trying to cut a circle on the table saw), it also rotated. As it rotated counterclockwise, my right hand was dragged across the top of the blade. Thankfully I didn’t lose any fingers or cut any nerves. I did have to get a skin graft to cover the top of my chewed up index finger. I didn’t go anywhere near any power tools for 20 years after that. Now woodworking is my passion and I’m Mr. Table Saw Safety. My scarred finger is a constant reminder to be safe! At first I blamed my Dad for not using any safety devices on his saw or not supervising or instructing me. But it’s my fault also because I didn’t ask.

  7. Rocko McCombs

    My accident was preventable. I used the fence and miter gauge at the same time leaving a small block of unsupported wood between the blade and fence. It was left unsupported well before reaching the splitter. It shot out at Mach 5 and hit me in the chest after bouncing off my right hand. So 100% preventable. Any amount of safety gear was not a factor.

    No physical permanent damage.

    -Rocko

  8. Bill Donnelly

    I was cutting some small triangles out of 1/2" plywood (8" on each side). My previous cut had been a dado, which required removing the blade guard & splitter, and I did not take the time to reattach them. I was stacking the finished pieces on the far left corner of the table. I turned away to grab the next work piece. I turned back to the saw, and just as I began to think the stack was too high, it toppled over. One of the pieces fell into the exposed, spinning blade.

    Proximity to the actual saw was not a factor in this incident – I was about 2 feet away from the machine.

    Personal safety gear was not a factor, either – I was wearing goggles and a dust mask.

    I calculated that the edge of my 10" blade is moving at about 102 mph. That’s how fast the triangle was launched at my face. I got hit squarely on the underside of my chin. The resulting gash required eight stitches, and the impact slammed my jaw shut, cracking a tooth and popping out an old filling. And broke two carbide teeth off the blade.

    <ul>
    <li>I should have had the blade guard installed</li>
    <li>I should not have turned away from the machine while it was running</li>
    <li>I should not have stacked those pieces on the saw table</li>
    </ul>

    I now have a trail of blood splats on my workshop floor, leading to the slop sink, to remind me of this incident. I could have been hit in the mouth, nose, eye, or worse, the throat or carotid artery. The triangular piece could have easily pierced the artery and I would have bled out on my basement floor.

  9. Douglas Coates

    So far I have avoided accidents with my table saw – but I think this safety tip works well for me – just once every so often stand in front of the saw, switched off, and imagine what happens when your shirt cuff gets caught, or you slip forward etc. By pausing for a moment to imagine the consequences, I find I take extreme care!

  10. Richard

    I encountered a kickback and automatically deflected the wood from my face and my right hand crossed the blade cutting all four fingers, one finger suffered nerve damage, and my index finger was cut off. The emergency room reattached my finger incorrectly and removed it a week later.

    I usually us rollers and feather boards but this particular cut would not allow their use so I swung them up. The factory guard was always causing problems. I now use an Micro Jig splitter I now use an over-arm guard and it is NEVER removed. The big lesson is if I need to make cut that requires removing safety equipment I use a different tool! I had POS hand tools then and with my good hand saws I can make these dangerous cuts by hand with excellent results!

  11. Greg

    I experienced a minor injury from kickback, resulting in a bruised abdomen that didn’t require medical attention. As I mentioned in a previous comment, I don’t use the factory splitter/guard because they really make me feel less safe – not because they don’t work, but because their design shortcomings force me to adopt less safe pactices.

    My injury occured while "cross-cutting" plywood (i.e a piece wider than it was long), using the rip fence.

    What do I wish I’d done differently? Had an effective splitter, first of all (The MicroJig™ is a manageable retrofit). The second thing that I’ve found helps a lot doesn’t get all that much attention in table saw safety discusssions, and that is adequate outfeed support. This really helps to keep your hands and eyes focused on the actual task.

  12. Stuart Hough

    My near niss was a result of doing something my gut told me was not smart. I was trying to crosscut a piece of 4×4, without the miter guage. I was able to keep everything straight on the first cut, but when I turned it over and started the final cut I guess I pushed one side faster than the other. As I got to the final inch the wood caught up on the blade and twisted slightly. The blade cut though and jerked the wood almost out of my hands, causing me to momentarily lose my balance. I caught myself with my elbows on the front edge os the saw, and turned it off. THEN, I began to get wobbly-kneed at the thought of just how close my face came to the blade. It was then and there I made a promise to myself to follow all the rules of table saw safety from then on. Now if I have to take off the guard, I make sure there are other implements in use to allow me to do the job safely. Rule #1 is alwas said out loud before I start anything "I am NOT smarter or better than everyone else…be safe, dummy!"

  13. Lou Hodson

    Good survey,
    I have had two near misses with my power saws. The most recent was 5 or 6 years ago when I ripped some s2s oak to width. It was apparently some torsion wood. It bent severely into the blade and raised with enough force to remove my fence and splitter from the saw. I know it happens very rarely but once is often enough. It took a half an hour to pry and lever the board off of the saw table, repair my splitter and guard and throw away the blade( badly bent).
    The first was 15 years ago from trying to rip a 2×12 down to width on a radial arm saw. The blade climbed up on the 2×12 and swung the arm back against the 45 deg. stops and blew out the lights. Never try to rip with a RAS. I swore never to do that ever again. My next tool was a table saw.

  14. Mike T

    Mine happened when the small part (about 4"x4" square) I was rabbeting kicked, spun, and knocked my finger into the blade. Can’t Dado with the guard on, but if I’d had the piece horizontal instead of vertical, it would have been safer. A router table would have been even better (didn’t have one at the time, but my loving wife got me one the following Christmas), both for safety and because it would have left a cleaner rabbet.

    But when I’m working with small pieces these days, I’m much more likely to use hand tools.

    Am I the only one to learn a new appreciation for hand tools after an accident?

  15. Jim Woodward

    I was one of the respondents to the survey who had a kickback injury. I had a piece I was ripping thrown back at me and hit me in the abdomen and caused a good amount of bruising/swelling. I just nursed it at home and didn’t work out in my shop for the rest of the day.

    Looking back in what would I do differently – well its what I pretty much always do differently today. I don’t stand directly behind the region between the fence and blade when ripping stock. I try to keep my stance slightly to the left of the blade so anything thrown out will fly past me and not into me.

    Of course I also have to add that at the time of the accident my table saw was not well tuned and I recall that the fence at the time was the old Craftsmen sheet metal fence that tended to get tight on the back side of the blade. Since then I have a very good after market fence and I keep my table saw well tuned with blade and fence kept parallel to the miter gauge slots on the table. Keeping the saw tuned has done a lot to reduce likelihood of kickback situations – pretty much now if it happens its usually because I managed to cock the piece while feeding it.

    Anyway good survey and I am glad you guys are putting the table saw safety stuff up on the website.

    Jim Woodward

  16. James Roberts

    I have been bitten twice by a tablesaw and, luckily, neither of those accidents resulted in loss of digits. The first time I was working in a production cabinet shop around 1995 cutting laminate strips for a series of shelves. I was running them through without a pushstick and pulling the strips out the back side. I knew then that this was not the preferred (read: recommended) method, but production sometimes takes priority over safety (unfortunately). On one of the strips, I reached to the back of the blade to pull it through and my left thumb contacted the blade; right on the meaty portion. Luckily, the saw had an 80 tooth laminate blade on it and I really believe that is what saved the thumb. I only went to the immediate care facility to have it documented as a "just in case" because if there was real damage that I couldn’t forsee, I wanted to be able to do a workmans comp claim and that wouldn’t be possible if I took care of it myself.

    The other time was in late 2003. I had a very popular 10" contractor saw with the factory plate in the table and was ripping some wood strips to about 3/16". I was using a push stick, but with the thin strips I was cutting, I was unable to have the splitter and blade guard installed. I had probably cut 15 of the strips I needed and on one of the last ones, the strip slipped down between the blade and the insert. This threw the push stick back behind me and my right index finger had a neat 1/8" kerf through the nail to the tip of the finger. Painful to be sure, but again no more than a little cleaning and a bandage.

    After performing my first aid, I immediately stopped whatever project was in progress and made up a few zero clearance inserts before using the saw again.

    It’s important to note here that I knew better in both instances. Since the last episode, I have really been a huge stickler for safety and there are many common procecdures that I won’t even attempt (i.e. raising panels) on the table saw as there are better ways to do them and I can be efficient and safe. I hope someone reading this learns from my two mistakes and this prevents someone from suffering similar injuries.

  17. Ron Ecke

    I wanted to add to my comment that my incident occurred within less than a moment,less than a blink of an eye, which I could have lost. It took more time to realize that I had just been struck.
    I still have all my digits and one of the fortunate ones that survived my "simple spell" as we call it around here.
    Thanks again,
    Ron

  18. Ron Ecke

    I was one that responded to the survey that I was injured by kickback, badly bruised in the chest, but not bad enough for medical attention.
    I had the overare guards (no riving knife on mine)off my tablesaw because I was cutting 4"x4" pine lumber to lengths for planter boxes. I had to cut, then flip each section over and cut again to completely severe the wood as my 10" blade height is only 3-3/8" tall. So the incident occurred while immediately finishing the first cut then lifting while pulling the lumber back towards me to make the second cut. While pulling it back towards me, I hadn’t lifted it quite high enough to clear the blade which caught the lumber weighing around ten pounds, and launched it directly at my upper left chest as I was "almost" clear of its path. This was a case of a momentary loss of concentration due to being in a hurry. Hard lesson learned for me which I will NEVER forget as it could have been much, much worse.
    Thanks for listening,
    Ron

COMMENT