Chris Schwarz's Blog

Table Saw Guards: Pass and Fail

When people visit our shop at Woodworking Magazine, they are surprised to see the guards in place on our Powermatic 66.

“Those are on just for visitors, right?” is the typical reaction.

Actually no. Years ago I got religion on table saw guards. It wasn’t because of an accident , I am accident-free on the machine. Instead, I decided to use a guard at every opportunity after shaking the hands of woodworkers at shows who had missing fingers. I concluded that it wasn’t a question of “if” I would get injured. It was just a matter of “when.”

So we installed two bits of aftermarket safety gear on the table saw. All told, the upgrade cost us less than $200, but there have been some bumps in the road with both the basket guard and the splitter. In the spirit of Safety Week 2009, I’d like to give you an honest long-term assessment of this equipment.

The MJ Splitter from MicroJig
I installed this little splitter on our 66 in 2004. I also installed it on my Unisaw at home. Because the jig is $20, this should be a no-brainer for all but the professional skinflints among us.

In essence, the MJ Splitter is a semi-circle bit of polycarbonate that presses into three holes in your saw’s throat plate. You get two splitters with the kit. And each face presses your wood against your fence to a different degree.

Installation was a snap. The instructions were great and everything went together as promised. And I was quite happy for the first year.

The problem with both the jig at work and the jig at home is that the three little legs below the splitter become weak or bent after use. The first time I had trouble was when I was ripping some stock that had a little bit of tension in it. The kerf closed on the MJ Splitter and pulled it out of the throat plate on my saw.

This happened more and more as the little legs got weaker and bent. Now it’s time to replace the whole thing. The splitter is difficult to push into the throat plate and comes out far too easily. I wish the legs were made from a more robust material. But what do you want for $20?

All in all, it’s silly not to get the MJ Splitter, but it is silly to expect it will last forever.

Penn State Industries Dust Collection Guard
Among aftermarket basket-style guards, the one from Penn State Industries has all the features you need at a remarkable price , just $170 direct from the company.

It has a shatterproof clear plastic blade cover that has a counterbalance on it. Moving the basket up and down is a breeze. There’s even a port for dust collection to help reduce the spray of sawdust from certain cuts. And you can use the system with just about any blade, including dado stacks.

So what’s the downside? The guard tended to sag, which is no surprise because of all the weight cantilevered out over the blade. No matter how firmly we fastened the whole assembly to our saw and a storage cabinet, it still tended to droop.

So we fixed it MacGyver-style with a paperclip, some nylon twine and Nair (just joking about the Nair). We looped some string around a fitting in the ceiling and tied it to the paperclip. Then we bent the paperclip into a hook shape and hooked it to the guard. The string prevents the guard from sagging and the paperclip allows us to unhook the guard when we need to slide it aside.

Bottom line: I’d purchase this guard again.

- Christopher Schwarz 

P.S. Read the other Safety Week stories here.

16 thoughts on “Table Saw Guards: Pass and Fail

  1. Mike O'Brien

    What gives Richard ? In Chris’s numerous reviews on equipment that I’ve read, I’ve never felt even a twinge of endorsement of a product. In fact, I’ve always appreciated his forthright honesty, good or bad, on his reviews. Granted the opportunity for paid endorsement is there, but Chris has too much integrity to take that bait. If you’ve ever meet him as I did at WWIA last year, you would know what I mean. In his reviews, when he really likes an item (recent eg. expensive handmade plane ), he purchases it like you or I would. Perhaps he would qualify for a discount, but to maintain that integrity I would hope that he would buy it at nearly the same price we would. Mike O’Brien, Valley Head,AL

  2. Christopher Schwarz

    Richard,

    I’m not following you, I’m afraid. I was not paid by Penn State or anyone to review that guard. We bought the guard. We used it. I reviewed it.

    If you could explain the shill part, I’d appreciate it.

    Chris

  3. John Ballance

    Richard, the answer to your question is in the lead sentence of the fourth paragraph …"So we installed two bits of aftermarket safety gear on the table saw." The article was entitled Table Saw Guards. The article clearly addresses both the blade guard and anti-kickback device (splitter) Chris has on his PM 66.

    Why criticize Chris for including performance reviews of two safety products in a single blog entry?

  4. Intermediate woodworker

    What does the Penn State Dust Guard have to do with a "splitter"? Usually I admire Mr. Schwarts writing and comments but this time I feel he is being a shill for Penn State. There is line between being a relatively objective reviewer of all that comprises woodworking and that of selling products for a paid endorsement. This is not the publication to do this and I know quite well it wont be the last.
    Come on Chris, do one or the other!

  5. John Ballance

    I have the Biesemeyer overarm guard mounted on my Unisaw, and have no sag problems whatsoever. I then made my own splitter to insert into the base of the Delta removable splitter (part # 1349941 on ServiceNet), similar to the SharkGuard shorty splitter. I made my splitter from 1/8" thick x 1" strap steel, flat-filed on the side to provide a little clearance. It projects about 3/4" above the table. It locks securely in the Delta splitter base, and only needs a saw-cut at the back of the insert for clearance. This splitter is in all the time except when I’m using the dado blade, and the splitter plus guard work great for me.

  6. Ike Daniels

    well i didnt read everyones comment on the penn state blade guard but i was wondering iy u tried to install it from the ceiling instead of the the saw itself? or is it easyer to install on the saw? cuz i was pondering getting one of these but the money kills me i know the saw will too and u cant put a price on safety but these days its tuff then i thought just get the hood and make the attachments my self also i can make the hood too cuz i work with plastic and acrylic etc. but i saw how the guy at eaglelakewoodworking.com put his together and thought its a good idea!!

  7. Val Ingraham

    I have the same PSI guard/collector as you. I solved the sagging problem by moving the lower base anchor closer to the saw enough to provide for the arm to be parallel with the saw surface. This amounted to about a 7 degree tilt of the support column but proved very beneficial overall.

  8. Peter Howell

    As a safety engineer by profession, I am always concerned about safety in my home workshop. That is why I installed a Biesemeyer splitter on my PowerMatic 66 many years ago when they first became available. It is a steel plate that is firmly bolted to the trunnion. It is strong enough to handle the forces put on it by wood in tension or wood that has other stresses in it. It will easily come out, but only if you pull on the quick release knob.
    I use an Excalibur blade cover. It is well engineered and constructed. It can be left in place for almost all types of cuts. It can be slid to the side to provide better access when changing a blade or can even be swung back. It performs well and helps to prevent fingers from contacting the blade. It also do a very good job of dust collection.
    Ask yourself "How much would I pay to have my fingers back if they were cut off?" Or "How much would I pay to not have had a kickback break your wrist, your arm or a rib, or even puncture your stomach?”. I’ll bet it is a lot more that the cost of a good splitter and blade cover. Being penny wise on safety equipment is being pound foolish.
    The government now requires that all newly designed table saws sold in the USA be equipped with a riving knife. A riving knife is the ultimate splitter because it is always close to the blade and thus almost eliminates the potential to kickback. If you are thinking of a new saw, this is the way to go. Even better, do as I did and upgrade to a saw with a riving knife that also automatically stops and retracts the blade if it contacts your skin. Expensive? Yes. Worth the money? Definitely.

  9. Gerald Jensen

    Chris … I’ve been thinking about the PS Overarm Guard, but I have a contractor’s saw (Jet 708100) on a mobile base and am not quite sure how I could mount the mast.

    Ran into a little conundrum last weekend. My Jet has combined spltter / anti-kickback pawls / guard, and when I installed a Freud Diable thin kerf blade, I had a devil of a time getting the splitter aligned. Turns out the splitter is almost exactly the same thickness as the teeth on the Freud blade. I’m sure this is the case with other thin kerf blades.

    Thanks for the post!

  10. WMC

    Re: Sharkguard

    I can speak from personal experience with owning and using a Sharkguard for more than five years on my tablesaw.

    For saws that make switching between the guard and splitter difficult (screwdriver, wrench, etc), the Sharkguard is an essential upgrade. I never have to remove the splitter unless I’m using the dado stack. I can remove the guard itself in about 5 seconds, and more importantly, PUT IT BACK AS FAST. This design completely solves the problem/complaint with people not putting their guard back "for just a quick cut". I also like that I can pop the dust hood off, adjust the fence to the blade for a precise cut, and pop the hood back on. With all-in-one hood+splitters, they also seemed to flop down when I was trying to measure the distance.

    Lee’s site also links to reviews, but the vast majority of them have the links moved, making it difficult.

    When it came time to upgrade my saw, my #1 criteria was "is there a Sharkguard for it?"

    Yes, the guard is expensive. But for most saw where the above-mentioned basket is impossible/impractical, this is the best thing going.

  11. MarkJ

    I don’t have the sharkguard that Mattias mentioned, but I have been using just the splitter from Leeway for about a year and it’s been great! I got a deal where I bought the low profile splitter and also get the medium one thrown in. It’s easy to put on and take off the saw (for non-through cuts) so it actually gets used!

  12. Richard Bazeley

    From my experience with saw benches a piece of wood that binds on the back of the blade is just as likely to be thrown up as back at you. I never work with out a guard but then in Australia guards and riving knives have always been used.
    Go Safety Week!

  13. MikeH

    Mattias,

    Missed it on first read, but picked up the tip this time around. Yes indeed, the link is good, and they do have a SharkGuard for my model, in fact, I’m quite impressed by the wide array of equipment they can service, and the price? WOW. It’s ironic that Biesemeyer cannot readily supply a pop up splitter for my Delta. You sir, have saved the day.

    Many thanks for this information.

  14. MikeH

    Regretably, mine didn’t even last the best part of a year before a pretty easy bind tore off two of the pins off the +/++ one, which was ideal, so now I’m getting by with the 0/+++, which just doesn’t work quite right.

    Finally some incentive to get a real splitter and guard. I was all but sold on the Penn Guard, till I came got to the Nair part. If you can’t use Nair on that hairy beast, I can’t imagine how the thing could possibly hold together, even for a short a time as my green MJ splitter held out for. So I’m looking at the Excalibur, which I’m assured can have all sags tightened up with the application of a well chewed chaw – tobacco or gum, pick your poison, it really doesn’t matter either way, provided it is well doused in beer immediately prior to application. However, it’s a little pricey, especially up here in CanukBuks, so I’m going to hold off a bit until I can check out that Nairless one that you seem to think well of, except for the saggy part of course.

    As for the question, what do you want for twenty bucks? I dare say, a little more than just a bit of green plastic – not to mention $40 if you also have a thin kerf blade and opt for the itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot version.

    I don’t think that parsimony has anything to do with it – IMHO the value simply isn’t there. In the meanwhile, I’m going to go back to my little skinny bit of hardwood, approximately 0.1267505 inches thick, glued into my zero plate until I can get my hands on a Biesemeyer retrofit, or some reasonable facsimile thereof.

    Ideally, I’m drooling over the new Unisaw, which will obviously obviate the need for any kind of aftermarket accesories, but that will have to wait for a while, quite a while in fact, seeing as I just recently (3 years ago) bought a Delta Hybrid, which don’t get me wrong, I really like, but it’s no Unisaw, so all that will have to wait until the kitchen and bathroom are done, and a few dresses and pairs of shoes are acquired. But not to worry Chris, because when it does happen, it won’t exacerbate my beloved’s standing in your "Wives Lined Up Around The Block Whose Household Budgets are Blown Into Oblivion Waiting to Maim and Murder Scwarz and Perform Unspeakable Atrocities Upon His Drawn and Quartered Corpse Strictly With Hand Tools Only Klub," as this rightfully belongs in Huey’s bailiwick. Does he have a club too?

  15. Paul Kierstead

    I have a template of my insert, which I use to very quickly make inserts (bandsaw/template route, couple of holes and your done). I made one for the splitter and glued in the MJ splitter.

  16. Mattias in Durham, NC

    Thanks for writing this post! After a circular saw injury two weeks ago I am taking a hard look at safety in my shop. The first thing that came up was the TS splitter (or lack thereof) for my Delta contractor’s saw.

    Just this morning I ordered an aftermarket snap-in guard/splitter. I hope the link is OK – I can’t really endorse it since I haven’t used it, but I think it looks great and I did place the order:

    http://www.leestyron.com/sharkguard.php

    I did look at the MJ splitter and came to pretty much the same conclusion: I’m sure it’s better than nothing. But, I am happy to spend some more for a "real" splitter that won’t pop out, and that can stay in place for angled cuts, and pops in&out easily when I want it to.

    You would think the aftermarket guard/splitter market would be huge, since there are all these old saws out there with more or less useless (or missing) guards, but there really aren’t a lot of options I can find. I guess most people (like me) think "I’ll just be careful". There is nothing like a bunch of stitches in your hand to convince you that safe habits and safety equipment is a pretty good investment.

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