GWOT: Global War on Tablesaws

I just read another post about a fellow who hurt himself on his table saw. I think it takes guts to report an injury like this on a wood working forum and I applaud all who do. Unfortunately, I’ve seen several such posts and I don’t read the “Normal” forums.

I make all sorts of mistakes in my shop. I think I’m a little clumsy in some ways. But none of my accidents have or even have the potential to rob me of my digits. And I guess I’m wondering how long we’re going to sit here and do nothing about the table saw. We express our sympathies, suggest one can continue doing good work without one’s fingers (even though we know it’s not true) and move on.

I’m sympathetic to the issue: A basketball injury left me with a poorly functioning right forefinger. The middle joint dislocated while blocking a chest pass and the upper bone punched thru the skin on the inside of my hand. All the ligaments and tendons were damaged. It’s a common injury for basketball players but a devastating one for woodworkers who enjoy fixing cars. I have very little grip in my right hand, and my hand aches (even after 13 years) following a hard day’s work. I was told my middle finger would compensate. It hasn’t. My wife has to open the pickle jars. This is a tiny glimmer of what it must be like to lose even a portion of a finger.

So I’m thinking it’s time to declare all out war on table saws. There are people in this world who have to use table saws. But I’m not convinced any of us are among them. There are alternatives. I’m looking to the woodworking press (in all its forms) to take the lead here. Its been (we) the press that have told woodworkers the table saw is a “must have” and “essential tool”. We have called it the “heart of the workshop” and depicted it prominently in photos and articles. I think it’s high time we start having frank discussions about the darker side of this tool. In short, it’s dangerous and its unnecessary.

I suspect that many injuries go unreported and woodworkers need to know that in the flash of a second, your future work can be very different. I don’t believe there should be a home in any shop for a tool that can do this. Paraphrasing President Bush, we need to route these tools from the basements where they hide and bring them to justice.

Here’s what I propose: I’d like to see a series of articles in PW (other magazines are welcome to join, Asa) about the risks and reasonable alternatives. I think some such articles have been run, but I’d like to see them repackaged and focused specifically on replacing the table saw. I think Europeans have a few interesting tools like the rail based Festool products. Maybe Marc Spagnuolo can help. They also have special guards. I learned this from Kelly Mehler who’s Felder equipped shop is a sight to behold. Kelly has used table saws and taught students how to use them for a long time. I can tell you, he’s no great fan of the table saw and freely admits it scares him.


Table Saw Magic? The only thing magic about the table saw is that it can rob you of your fingers in the blink of an eye. No offense to Norm, but I’m not crazy about the reproduction in the background. I recall that episode and thought it lacked all the charm of the original. Had Norm used his hand planes and saws (yes he has them) I think it would have been a nicer project. Interestingly, Jim Tolpin, author of “Table Saw Magic” has recently given away his stationary power tools. Tolpin is going unplugged. At least Norm has left the guards on. How many of you have guards on your table saws?

Chris Schwarz recently editorialized about table saw law suits that may force the industry to incorporate expensive guards. I took Chris’ comments to mean he was concerned about the lawsuits pricing some woodworkers out the hobby, or pricing some manufacturers out of business. In my opinion, I think we should employ the “preemptive counterstrike”. If you need this saw to make your living, you need the additional safety equipment. If you are looking to do weekend projects or are new to the hobby, skip the table saw all together.

It has been my experience that a few people, a few articles, and consistent public statements can affect change. This is your chance to get in on the ground floor. It isn’t true that table saws are essential tools. They aren’t. Woodworkers need to see and hear from us on this issue before someone else gets hurt. Let’s put table saws on the endangered species list. Not illegal, not extinct. Endangered.

Adam

56 thoughts on “GWOT: Global War on Tablesaws

  1. theCarpentersShop

    Adam, I suppose that I am the “other fellow…”, and as you and so many others in this particular forum have pointed out, safety is tantamount when using these tools of the devil, and I will be the first to admit that I ignored that advice. And it cost me the feeling in my thumb, but thank the Lord, I still HAVE said thumb.
    But ban power tools? Would you ban automobiles, as they are responsible for far more injuries and deaths, even to innocent bystanders, than any power tool you care to name. I think now. However someone, or several someones, mentioned “Safe Use” training courses for purchasing users. Not a bad idea, but do we really need more regulation? Again, I think not. However, I recently saw a demonstration of a real ‘digit saver’ for table saws, and I think it could be adapted for many other power tools. During the demonstration of that device, a hot dog was fed into a spinning sawblade, but before you could say “Oh S***!!”, that saw shut itself down and applied the brakes to the blade. The hotdog? Unscathed., Now, if anyone wants to ‘regulate’ the power tool trades, then require that that little gizmo be built into every power tool made. There would be a slight (I hope) increase in cost of tools, but hopefully greed would stay out of the way of common sense this time, and keep things affordable. How does that strike you?

  2. BoredCutter

    Mr. Cherubini,

    I applaud and appreciate your empassioned point of view.

    Here is mine.
    I have been an active and rather busy woodworker for quite sometime now.
    I am (essentially) a one-man shop.
    I rely on, and almost continuously use, a 5 HP Delta Unisaw. It allows me to rip cut through 8/4 walnut, maple and Purpleheart stock in an efficient manner.
    I will now give you a great weapon to use against fools like me who use power tools everyday:I do NOT use ANY of the ‘lawyer guards’, except for the riving knife. Surprised? Hold on to your powdered wig and knickers…. I can count to 10 using my fingers just fine.

    How is that even possible???? It isn’t hard to conceive of the answer; I exercise due care, respect for the tool and common sense. Somehow, as incongruous as it may seem to you, Mr. Cherubini…. I am unscathed!!!! How is this possible without key pressure being put on tablesaw manufacturers??? Don’t know, don’t care. Too busy using safe working techniques and getting on with my work.

    We (and the silent majority similar to us) do NOT need anyone (not even you, sir) telling us how or what to use in our craft, or what may or may not be marketed. That is not to say I was not saddened to hear of your basketball injury; I was. I am just guessing that you’re one of those guys who believes heavily in the idea that freedom of choice is fine as long as it’s heavily legislated.

    I am sorry about your basketball injury, but I can’t help wondering…..have you have taken up the charge to outlaw THAT fine sport as well?

    I don’t dare mention my beloved bandsaw, routers and jointer/planer machines — you won’t sleep a wink, you poor thing!

  3. sailorjoe

    Adam, it’s been almost three years since this thread was started. From your perspective, have you seen any changes in the woodworking press along the lines of providing alternatives to table saw use as a matter of course in how projects are put together? Has your article writing changed significantly in some way relative to your thesis in this thread? Or is subject now moot, having been overtaken by newer issues? Thanks.

  4. larrydwilliams

    I’m a hand tool guy although I have to confess to occasional use of a circular saw, cordless drill and even a router. I use hand tools for the satisfaction of developing a skill. Still, after ripping 6/4 quarter-sawn white oak for table legs, I long for a quicker way to get closer to an end result. I have to set my gauge mark nearly a quarter inch beyond the finished dimension to allow for saw drift and the amount of wood I have to remove to get to a square and straight face. Do need a table saw? No! Do I want a table saw? Not often. Do they frighten me? They sure do. I’ve given myself some pretty good nicks with hand saws, chisels and even hand planes. Yes, hand planes. If I can go for a couple of months of safe use of hand tools, then maybe I’ll think about whether I want to spend the money and dedicate the space for a table saw, or maybe a band saw instead.

  5. uncle ben

    Yes, and while we’re at it, lets go to war on lawn mowers, chain saws, garbage disposals…and don’t get me started on cars, since they actually take lives everyday, not just remove appendages. Right?

    What about the band saw? It’s quite a dangerous power tool as well, and I would be willing to bet that the only reason there are more table saw injuries is because that are FAR more tablesaws in daily use than band saws.

    Adam, you said, “I think it’s high time we start having frank discussions about the darker side of this tool.” Have you read the instruction manual for any table saw on the market? Just pick any brand and model and they will tell you all about the dark side of this tool. No one, not even the people making and selling them, tell buyers that it is not dangerous, quite the contrary. But as with ANYTHING that is sharp and/or powerful, rather it be a table saw or a car, they can hurt you if you are not careful and this is a risk that individuals choose to take on a daily basis.

  6. Gary

    Some one needs to seriously address the question of why so many table saws users employ unsafe techniques and remove standard safety equipment. I believe these users as a group are rational people and really don’t want to endanger themselves anymore than they need to in accomplishing their objective. I don’t think these same folks drive with their eyes closed and disable their brakes.
    I don’t know why, but perhaps the table saw is not as "versatile" as claimed and the safety equipment is not designed very well for its intended uses. Couple that with ignorance, distractions, poorly written manuals, and piece of wood being pushed into a sharp blade spinning at around 3000 rpm and you’d expect a lot of injuries. I don’t think the safety issue is unique to the table saw either.

  7. Adam Cherubini

    "I for one don`t want to go back to the dark ages where I spend a week flattening and preparing material before I actually start to make something. My two cents."

    Nobody ever spent a week flattening lumber "in the dark ages" and that’s kinda the point here. That widespread belief inadvertantly supports power tool sales and we haven’t done a good enough job in the press of challenging it.

    Adam

  8. Dave C.

    I’m sorry Adam if that came out harsh but I am a fan of Norm. As woodworkers we can learn so much. One, that he has spent his life in woodworking, using power tools and still has all his digits. Obviously he understands safety and performing operations properly. Perhaps we should be asking him for advice.

    James. You are a salesman and because of that you view it at a different angle-it doesn’t matter, sell another saw, if someone gets injured then you will stand behind them if they sue the manufacturer. Do you actually believe what you are selling then? We can sit here and debate about the virtues and the engineering of the table saw. In fact, it has been gone over for some fifty odd years. North America does not like to change their patterns nor their foundries hence their reluctance to adopt a riving knife for as long as they have. European saw are wonderful tools, sliding panel saws are wonderful. If you have a cabinet shop you just can’t survive with a sliding table saw. There are many operations where the slider actually put the user in a much more precarious position then a cabinet saw. I for one need both.

    From what I read many injuries can be attributed back to a user being tired or performing an operation completely incorrectly. I believe the Sawstop will help in those instances but it still prevents the user from actually how to perform the operation better. Workers need to understand their body and how much rest they need to perform at a peek level. At the end of the day if someone is tired perhaps they should just leave the power operation alone.

    We live in an age when many more home and hobby woodworkers have taken up the craft-perhaps leading to a spike in injuries as well. Perhaps, those individuals should have to pass some techinical course before being allowed to purchase and industrial machine. We do live in an age where many people have the means to have a very well equipped shop.

    I believe some small techinical things need to be addressed. Perhaps making all saws have some crosscut sliding table of some sort instead of relying on the end user to make one. Riving knives are now standard. Perhaps getting Sawstop to licence their technology to all manufacturers so they can produce a line very similar. Then is the end user can have a choice and if they don`t buy the technology then they would have no right to take legal action on the manufacturer. The end user must assume some responsibility. I for one don`t want to go back to the dark ages where I spend a week flattening and preparing material before I actually start to make something. My two cents.

  9. James Watriss

    I’ll try and fail to keep this concise. This is a list of the points and thoughts that I would use to start my reply, however it would be shaped.

    -After selling tools for 3 years, I never, ever, ever had to actually ask the purchaser if they knew how to use it. The only time I refused service was to an elderly gentleman who looked like he was having a hard enough time holding himself up without holding a router. I figured my meddling would help keep him safe. If there is any lawsuit I would stand behind, it would be one where the manufacturers were required by law to send their customers through a tool-specific certification course before handing them the keys to their new device that takes small chunks out of larger chunks… of any material. Hands included.

    -After the great London fire, I wonder if people had these same kinds of conversations about using fire?

    -My shop-mate’s 16" sliding table Oliver is a woodworking monster. It creates a stiff breeze in regular operation. And it gives me the willies. My SawStop, by contrast, runs quietly, smoothly, and doesn’t seem quite as menacing. So I have a vague feeling that some of the industrial age woodworkers had a different sense of safety. Older tools were enormous, terrifyingly efficient, and I’m convinced left no doubt to their ability to do serious damage. And I have a feeling that they’d strike a similar "caution, but not undue fear" kind of mentality into anyone, where modern tools with their cleaner lines and quieter operation seem safer, and less menacing… as they must, if they’re going to sell.

    -I’m not surprised that this has broken down into a fight derived from people defending their table saws. I wish it had evolved into a conversation about how to more effectively educate the masses who don’t know any better… before they bring their new toys home. Or how to build a better table saw that would be just as effective, but used in a different, safer way. I wonder what the statistics are on european style table saws? And is it possible that they’ve found a safer way?

    -Woodworkers are a superstitious, cowardly lot, so my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts. I must be a creature of the dark ages. Dirty. Frumpy. And devoid of electrically powered tools.

    -I think that operations as described should include the guards in the pictures. It’s easy to get access to the business end of the tool when the guard’s not in the way. Apologies to Marc, but the guard typically feels like it’s in the way. I’m sure aftermarket guards are better, but the stock ones generally beg to be removed for productivity’s sake. The motorcycle helmet equivalent of some of these guards would be excessively heavy, with a small, non-opening visor, and made of the cheapest stuff they could make it out of. Demonstrating techniques without the guard in place will only show the technique that will subsequently have to be modified later… so it doesn’t really teach much.

    -I get that this thread is an old one by now. But given that the line of discussion is ongoing, how can we bring all woodworkers to the table and have a safety discussion without raising hackles, and ensuring productivity? Maybe we need to design a guard that will keep errant bloggers from thrusting the conversation into hazardous rhetoric? Injured feelings seem to halt all production when it comes to talking safety. Or, maybe those who come to the table should have the good woodworking sense to keep the parts of their opinions that they value clear of the rapidly spinning conversation, so that they don’t automatically feel injured or threatened by a well-made point.

    That’s all the grenades I’ve got to throw for now… keep up the good work.

    James

  10. Adam Cherubini

    Dave,

    You’re yelling at the wrong guy. I like Norm. I thought the picture was a good one because Norm sort of represents modern american woodworking. That I don’t like teh project behind him is just extra, and I thought it was interesting.

    I care about my fellow woodworkers. I meet a lot of them. I want them to stay safe.

    In an earlier post (don’t expect you to read them all now- there are so many) I’m pretty sure I said i don’t like the law suits or their effects. I call it legislating from the bench. Where I plug into this is where I feel we as a community haven’t done enough to protect our brother and sister woodworkers. I think we’ve recommended a dangerous and possibly unnecessary tool to folks and they’ve been injured. Before someone else we know or love gets hurt, I think we should openly acknowledge the dangers and discuss alternatives.

    I’m finishing up a workbench article that I hope Megan will like (after my insane comment on Chris’ blog here:

    http://www.popularwoodworking.com/woodworking-blogs/chris-schwarz-blog/note-to-self-on-future-hires

    After that, I’ll write some more about table saws.

    Adam

  11. Dave C.

    First of all shame on the man who sued the table saw manufacturer-I would be embarrassed if I were him. Secondly, double shame on the judge who didn’t throw the case out of court and file it under ‘stupidity’. I’m sorry but it seems today everyone seems to be able to sue for some ridiculous reason.

    Another point Adam. You draw Norm Abrham into your discussion. Again Norm gets racked through the coals. At the beginning of every show he starts with safety-yet again, you are critical. Then a quick jab at the project behind him. He has motivated thousands of people to start woodworking. Instead of looking at him as a model, a man that has spent his life woodworking and still has all his digits-I wonder why Adam? Secondly, is your work any better?

    I have no problem with anyone wanting to use hand tools alone or power tools. It is their choice to do so. For many, power machinery saves us time so we can use hand tools for the refinement of the work and bring our woodworking to a new level. To take your approach, perhaps we should have still have lumber yard pits with two sawyers pulling a large bowsaw to cut our rough lumber and then have a team of workers to go at them with scrub planes to start the flattening process.

    This is absurd really. What happens in North America is that the end user assumes no responsibility-blame it on the manufacturer that they woke up and are completely oblivious to using a table saw, or any machinery, safely and effectively. They injure themselves and it’s the manufacturers responsibility that they were careless.

    There is a book called an instruction manual with every new table saw purchase-perhaps the manufacturers should counter sue for not reading that manual.

    We should not be trying to turn back the clock here but move forward and make it mandatory that new users be required to learn about table saw safety and use the tool effectively. Today it is the table saw, tomorrow the jointer, planer, router, bandsaw and whatever other piece of machinery. When does this stop? I for one love my cabinet saw, bandsaw, jointer, planer, numerous routers, mortiser etc, just as much as my handtools.

    And to finish up. Thank you Norm Abrham for filling my Saturday afternoons with his cheerful personality.

    Dave

  12. Adam Cherubini

    "I could name something I depend on my tablesaw for, and then folks can chime in on some alternatives. Hmm…gears are turning…."

    Bring it on, Marc! 🙂 Good idea.

    "So the real problem is that people are using the tool in an unsafe way.’

    I think that’s real life tho. I don’t think these are stupid people or inexperienced people who are getting hurt. Sam Maloof cut himself.

    Personally, I’d prefer to use tools that are forgiving of my humanity. Likewise, I prefer to fly in airplanes rather than helicopters for the same reason.

    If you cut yourself with a chisel, you get stitches. If you cut yourself with a table saw, you never pick your nose again! (now there’s a quote.)

    Adam
    P.S. Thanks for joining in Marc. This has been a better conversation because you stepped in.

  13. Marc Spagnuolo

    Took me a while to respond. Its been a busy week in my shop.

    When you pose the question like that Adam, its very compelling. "Is this tool worth the risk for normal woodworkers?" Well first off, I have yet to meet a normal woodworker. Most of us are pretty weird. 🙂 But seriously though, I think the difficulty I have is with the assumption of an inherent danger in the tool. Proper training, safety gear, and a little common sense make the tablesaw no more dangerous than any other tool in the shop (just my opinion). But the problem is, many new woodworkers will purchase a tablesaw without training, safety gear, OR common sense. Obviously this is bad. We also have a situation where the veterans among us simply neglect to follow the rules they’ve been taught, or figure they haven’t been bitten yet so why bother, and whammo, they receive an injury.

    Now I won’t pretend to be aware of any statistics on this, but can anyone tell me of an instance where a person was injured at the tablesaw while using a splitter, a guard, and a push stick? Bueller? Bueller? If it has happened, the frequency must be so low that its non-significant. So the real problem is that people are using the tool in an unsafe way.

    There is a ton of info out there on tablesaw safety, but of course we have that classic issue of leading the horse to water. You could put a holographic safety video with dancing girls and a free slice of pie in every new tablesaw box and if its filed under the heading SAFETY, most folks will ignore it or simply "read it later". Not sure why people do that.

    So to come back full circle, I don’t think the average home hobbyist NEEDS a tablesaw, as evidenced by the countless woodworkers who produce amazing work without one. And using a tablesaw without the guards is absolutely an unnecessary risk, no doubt about it. So if its safe to assume that most people will continue to use the saws in an unsafe way, then perhaps there IS a good justification for moving education toward tablesaw alternatives. But I am a fan of the tablesaw and I count on it daily for its speed, reliability, and versatility. So I will continue to champion its use (with safety in mind). But I certainly don’t see the harm in teaching alternatives.

    Because of my own curiosity, I would love to start a forum thread that provides somewhat of a point/counter-point discussion on woodworking techniques. I could name something I depend on my tablesaw for, and then folks can chime in on some alternatives. Hmm…gears are turning….

  14. Bruce Jackson

    Adam,
    In the spirit of Gary’s post calling for special interest publications from Popular Woodworking, Fine Woodworking, Wood, American Woodworker, among others, where hand tools are the center, I wouldn’t mind another special interest publication where garage shops are featured.

    We see the truly professionalized shops of contributors, almost all of them featured the table saw as the centerpiece. Those of us who had to carve out a space for anything in the garage have had to make do with that limited space. To be fair, FWW does have one contributing editor who has a “garage” workshop, but the high class of his shop has left me wondering if he has to deal with a wife who uses the couple’s buggy in her work and usually makes it a point to come home while the sun is still up for several hours to come. And, to boot, she insists on parking the car in the shop which she calls the garage. So, everything woodworking has be rolled away to make room for the car.

    Anyway, here are some ground rules I’m offering for glossy pictures of a “true” garage shop:

    a. Table saws, if any, must be stowed or stowable in an area no larger than 2’ x 3’. That pretty much eliminates the fancy saws which in my garage (at least) would like the owner is trying to park an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Panama Canal;

    b. If the woodworker is shown working on a task which does not require the use of the table saw, said table saw must be stowed (and depicted as stowed);

    c. All tools otherwise on stands must be on wheels (manufactured or shop-made mobile bases or casters);

    d. All benches, assembly tables, and other workstations must also be on wheels; and

    e. Lawn mowers and garden tools must be part of at least two pictures of the woodworker’s garage shop. Hey, in real life these days, a garage shop is as good as it gets. Because I use mostly Craftsman tools, including the mower, the photographer (or the publication) could sell the pictures of my shop to Sears as advertising copy. Just a thought. (The drill press is an old import from South Korea.)

    1. leonardalvarez

      It seems clear that any sort of debate framed as table saw versus hand tools will not be resolved on this forum or any other. I think the important thing about Adam’s discussion, though, is in highlighting the way a woodworking shop is thought of. The images that have become most popularized around the idea of a woodworking shop do privilege the table saw among other power tools. I’d been a reader of the leading woodworking magazines for a while before actually trying to make things from wood in my garage. Between those magazines and my own wood shop class from junior high school many years ago, the image I had was one of power tools. It’s good to see that woodworkers and writers such as Schwarz are popularizing hand tools and that we are able to at least conceive of a woodworking space in terms that are not limited to large power tools.

  15. Gary

    Adam,
    Like yourself, I do not have the answers to this safety issue. The problem, I think, lies not with the table saw but with the people who use it. One only has to look at a few episodes of “America’s Funniest Videos” or “StupidVideos” on the web to see examples of this. We seem bent on turning even the most mundane things into accidents. Most of the time, we are the ones at fault. I remember reading an article which made the comment something like “what is the thing most men say before they hurt themselves – ‘Watch this!” I also remember reading (but can’t place where, so don’t quote me) in an article on shop safety, that many of the men interviewed after a serious tools injury knew that what they were doing was not safe, but that they were either too much in a hurry to go through the proper setup, or thought that they could get by ‘just this one time’. I seem to remember Marc Spagnuolo, in one of his video podcasts, showed his bleeding hand after a mishap with either the jointer or router table where he tried to shortcut a process but got bit with the board catching on the blade and slamming the wood back into his palm, he showed the result to his hand as a warning to other woodworkers (Marc- if I remembered this incorrectly, please speak up and correct me.) Even FWW is guilty of publishing pictures of people doing things in an unsafe way (the one I recall most vividly is a guy cutting a dado in a very thin piece of stock – I think it was a window muntin – with no push stick and his fingers on inches away from a running blade). Although they often state that guards are removed for photo purposes only, a better approach may be to have their artist draw the operation so that a person can “see thru” the guard or push stick, and in that way there would be no doubt as to what is the safest way to do the operation.

    Everywhere you look there seems to be warnings; does it really change the way we work? A while back, I bought a 6’ folding ladder; it had 9 different warning labels on it. I have often wanted to show up on the New Yankee Workshop just after Norm says “…and there is no more important safety rule than to wear these, safety glasses.” And, while pointing to my head, scream “No…There is no more important safety rule than to USE THIS, common sense, and the brains we were given.” Although I disagree with your response to my first post, when you stated, “I think guys don’t think much about their table saws”, (as most the woodworkers I have known are VERY aware of the dangers of a table saw or any power tool, and usually treat them with a great deal of respect), the problem is that we don’t always practice what we preach. Taking into account all that has, and is, being written on shop safety, how much more of it will actually change the way we do things. If your motive for the GWOT blog was to increase the awareness of table saw safety, and the alternatives to its use, than perhaps you, Chris Swartz, Glenn Huey, and the rest at PW could spearhead a collaboration with the other woodworking publication and key woodworking bloggers with surveys from actual woodworkers to find out what the REAL numbers are regarding woodworking injuries and how best to address the issue in a way that woodworkers will actually respond to, (articles that don’t just mention safety, but are dedicated to it; free videos on the proper use of power tools; free videos on alternatives, such as hand tools, to different power tools). Let’s encourage the woodworking press, along with woodworkers, to be the ones to take affirmative action on deciding what constitutes safe tools and safe shops, and not leave it to the lawyers and politicians.

    A brief explanation on my using the term “REAL” numbers. Before I became a chiropractor, I worked at many different jobs, but most seem to include the table saw. At 16, I drove tractor for a farmer who had a table saw in his shed, I was a sawyer/carpenter in a camper factory, I built log homes in a ‘spiritual’ community where we snaked the logs down the mountain to the main roads with mules and we had our own portable saw mill with its 4’ fully exposed blade and a ShopSmith for woodworking, I worked as a carpenter on construction sites where there were miter saws and table saws for anyone to use, I worked in the meat industry for a short spell where there were band saws and sliding table saws to cut huge pieces of meat, I worked at a lumber yard where we used a panel saw and a table saw to cut wood for customers, I did a very short stent working in a frozen food processing plant where I sat in front of a twin-bladed table saw feeding it corn cobs (what, you thought they grew that way – with their ends cut off all even like that), and I even worked in a plumbing warehouse where we had an ancient benchtop table saw that I dusted off so I could make some shelves to store parts. The reason for this list is to show that there are a lot of “table saws” out there which have little to do with the woodworking hobbyist or professional furniture maker. So out of those 30,000 who were injured, just how many were woodworkers (and no, I don’t think the lumber industry as a whole should included in the woodworker’s numbers). I think it would be a great benefit to have a survey of WOODWORKERS who have been injured and when (as old table saws were horribly dangerous and shop safety was chiefly ignored as was illustrated in a couple of episodes by Roy Underhill – yes, THAT Roy Underhill [who recently led a chant at WIA of “Just say no to power tools” {good grief, now power tool users are being classed with cokeheads}] when in one episode he excitedly explored a steam powered small mill and in another, went through a window sash making shop where all the machines were belt-driven and most were over 100 years old. Now those were some scary machines and showed quite well just how far we have come in regards to safety). Anyway, these REAL numbers could help us as a woodworking community pin-point were the problem really is and how best to improve it.

    As a final thought, I would like to make this suggestion; I would be EXTREMELY interested in seeing a quarterly magazine dedicate to making contemporary and period furniture using only hand tools (where you could even take glossy pictures of all those cool hand tools, just like they do with table saws). I am sure there are many serious hobbyist and professional woodworkers who fall into the power tool user class that would be thrilled with reading about and exploring how to expand their craft with professionally written articles on hand tools. I would make these suggestions: one, focus on the serious woodworker and not on how to make a CD/DVD holder that looks like something a cub scout could do, and two, leave out the stuff on how hand tools are superior because power tools are so horribly dangerous, and instead, focus on the peace, joy and pride that working with hand tools bring. I suspect you will win far more converts that way. And many might be surprised to learn that you can achieve a better surface and create better joints faster using only hand tools in many situations.

  16. Stan Bell

    I have owned five different tablesaws and my current saw is the safest by far. It has a fairly good guard with integrated splitting knife and anti-kick-back pawls. It’s heavy so it’s not so inclined to move indepenantly or unexpectedly while in use. I use the guard whenever I can and anytime I cut something smaller than 3 inches from the blade, I use a really well designed push stick. I never reach over the unguarded blade. I never stand directly in line with the moving blade. When cutting small or narrow pieces, I lower the blade. Someone mentioned the variable nature of the wood and I should mention that while cutting, any change in the sound may indicate that there is a really hard section, a knot or a piece of metal imbedded in the wood. In the event of a change in the sound, the safest way to proceed is to shut the saw off immediately and investigate. Even while cutting straight through a very dry piece of wood, you could release tension that causes the wood to warp very badly before you are anywhere close to finishing the cut. To continue such a cut can lead to a very sudden and violent splitting of the as yet, unfinished cut, and the workpiece can move in a way that interacts with the blade, creating a dangerous kick-back potential.
    Encountering an embedded piece of metal or a stone can cause the little carbide teeth to separate from the blade and has been known to cause severe eye injuries.
    I love using hand tools and increasing I think my bandsaw is more valuable to me than the table saw. Part of the problem with table saws is the proliferation of small tabletop models which are often not secured properly nor particularly well equipped with safety devices.
    Woodworking as a hobby is taken up by many people in their retirement years, many of which have never had the physical stamina to rip saw a 6 foot long piece of oak. Many of these same people have arthritis or repetitive strain injuries that would also hamper their ability to perform some of the more labor intensive tasks.
    All sharp edged tools can be dangerous when used improperly. Improperly means without due care, without knowledge of the hazards, without following the safety rules and allowing oneself to become complacent.
    Last fall I had the great fortune of meeting Roy Underhill and he allowed me to drool in his school for a few minutes. He had the safest tablesaw I’ve seen yet and it’s foot powered! Who said that you need 1750 or 3450 RPM to cut wood? If I were to recommend a first or base saw for a shop, a good quality heavy band saw would be my choice.
    Stan

  17. Adam Cherubini

    Gary,

    Good comments. I don’t have all the answers. You’re right, I’m skeptical about the stats. Also, I liked what David said about band saws possibly being just as dangerous. I’m not sure if that’s true, but I think it’s interesting.

    Only quibble with your comment is that I think there’s a difference between dedicating 30 seconds to saw safety and discussing risks and alternatives. I don’t think such a discussion would be appropriate every time some one wants to switch on a saw on a video blog. This really needs to be separate.

    Case in point: For Jed, I’d be happy to stack my dado planes against table saw or routers for the creation of dados. I can make beautiful dados quickly and easily with a plane. If you were cutting 1000 dadoes a day, the physical effort and increased work time (doesn’t take much longer if at all) wouldn’t be worth while. But most of us are only cutting 6 or 8 dadoes if we are making furniture projects. A dado plane is a reasonable alternative to a router or table saw.

    Last- I’m tangentially involved in real battles. I’m not interested in picking fights with fellow woodworkers or magazines. I thought my word choices were pithy. I get that maybe that maybe it wasn’t helpful. Could even be offensive. Certainly neither was my intention.

    I’ve offered to write for FWW on several occasions. I don’t feel as though they have a period woodworker like me in their stable of regulars. I have not been allowed to contribute so far because of my work for PW. So I’ve recommended other woodworkers, volunteered to ghost write or help edit so that FWW could have period ww content. So far that hasn’t happened, but I’m fairly persistent and there’s obviously a market audience for authentic period work so I’m confident that will be just a mater of time.

    I recall the Gary Rogowski article you mention. Gary is one of my favorite FWW authors, altho we have never met. That article ran in a Tools and Shops issue if I recall correctly and it was the first time (and I believe the last) those sentiments have been published anywhere. I’ve quoted that article many times. In that same issue however, were many other articles showing the table saw as the heart of the shop. Don’t have the issue in front of me, so feel free to check that and report back and tell me I’m full of it. I wrote an article about hand tool shops in response to FWW’s tools and shops articles which all basically say the same thing. Locate your table saw and build the shop around it.

    What I’d like to see is a Tools and Shops issue (don’t care what magazine) with the headline, "Is the Table Saw Obsolete?" Then a series of article about woodworkers who do great work without one. I think such an issue would be a great service to woodworkers everywhere.

    Adam

  18. Gary

    Adam,
    Several times in this blog, you have called on Fine Woodworking & Popular woodworking magazines to create a greater awareness of table saw safety by publishing more articles on its dangers and alternatives to its use. Did you bother looking into the actual amount of press it has dedicated to such things before you made your GWOT blog?
    About a month ago, I ordered FWW’s Archive DVD Issues 1-208. Unfortunately, the DVD was scratched when it arrived and although it downloaded OK, not all of the functions worked (a single email to customer service explaining the problem and two days later they sent me confirmation of a new disc is being sent out – that’s what I call customer service!) So I skimmed through each issue, page by page, to see if they were all there. I expected to see an increase in hand tool articles in later issues as the popularity of hands tools has grown considerably in the last decade. What surprise me was the amount of articles dedicated to hand tool use. From the very first issue, hand tools were not only discussed, but encouraged. I was also surprised on how much power tool safety was stressed.
    You claim power tools get something like 99% of the press. From my casual checking, that is simply not true. Fine Woodworking Magazine (I haven’t subscribed to Poplar Woodworking) came into existence as a magazine for the serious hobbyist and professional woodworker. Although I don’t have the actual numbers, I suspect that somewhere between 95-99% of those people DO own power tools, and I suspect that a lion’s share of FWW’s operating budget comes from power tool advertisers. So there would be little reason for them to dedicate any more than 5% of their articles to hand tools. Yet, they have gone a great deal further, and have included articles which not only ENCOURAGE exploring hand tools, but even some articles which call on people to go strictly hand tools. Gary Rogowski even wrote a recent article about his Top Five “essential” power tools – and the table saw was NOT in the list.
    In reality, FWW and PW are largely responsible for the growth in hand tools use and have helped bring about the explosion it quality hand tools. (And as a side note, you commented on the expense of table saws – you failed to mention that you CAN spend $500 on a single dovetail saw and several thousand more than the best table saws on a single hand plane; i.e. Holtey and others. You don’t have to, any more than you have to buy the most expensive table saw).
    As for you call for a discussion on greater awareness to the safety issues surrounding the table saw, what do you have to say that has not been said a thousand times before. It is something which is discussed (or at least mentioned) on every woodworking show, in most articles discussing table saw techniques, and people like Marc Spagnuolo go out of their way to discuss it, especially woodworking safety week. And, since what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, are YOU going to be including in your blog, methods of how we can better enjoy our table saws through improved safety measures. (I didn’t think so.) Also, you may want to be careful about quoting statistics. As a doctor, I learned very early in my training that just about ANYTHING can be proved by manipulating statistics. As a writer, it is your responsibility to check the sources before quoting them.
    I would enjoy reading an article by you in FWW on the joys of working wood with hand tools. I imagine more people will entered into the world of hand tools by reading about the joy and quiet solitude they induce, of being able to teach our young ones how they can use hand tools and the thrill they experience when they see that they can build things too, and the pride and joy we feel about ourselves at rising to the challenge of creating a piece of furniture using only hand tools – rather than being scared into thinking that a power tool is just waiting to rip off parts of our bodies.

  19. Jed

    as a newbie in the arena, I am very interested in the above discussion. I was given a tablesaw by a neighbor, and I spent weeks reading up on tablesaw safety before I fired it up. On a limited minister’s budget, I would not be able to replace it with a Bandsaw, and even if I could, I need it for cutting dados. No matter how healthy my respect for the tablesaw, which is considerable, it pales in comparison to my respect for my router, handheld or otherwise secured. I saw what a router could do to an inattentive teenager’s thigh in high school and have no desire to recreate the experience, so I will be cutting dados on the tablesaw, taking as many precautions as possible. A tablesaw is no more dangerous than a circ saw or a router, or a chainsaw, and all are equally damaging to soft tissue.Villifying the tablesaw is like villifying pitbulls.they are not in themselves evil.When one characterizes them as such, You leave out utterly the context and, as you pointed out in talking about puffy shirts, context is everything.

  20. james

    LOL @ "Puffy Shirt Police"

    Dead funny. Well, Adam maybe went over the top a bit as far as global war an such but the main thrust of his argument is valid. Operating machinery is dangerous, simple as that. Why shouldn’t hobbyist woodworkers at least consider hand tools in place of power tools?

  21. kees

    handtools vs machinery (machinist) . Everybody can be trained to do just one trick according the late John Brown (smoking in heaven).

  22. Roy Turner

    Adam, hats off to you for your willingness to take a little heat for encouraging this discussion. Here’s a thought: what would this discussion be like if the jury had simply told the guy that because he was responsible for his own actions there was no one to blame but himself, and therefore, no monetary award? I believe the real issue is how the litigation lawyers are affecting our economy and way of life in indirect ways. For example, it seems that the insurance industry is penalizing the rest of us by raising our rates to pay for these type of lawsuits. I wonder how much of the settlement his lawyers will get. I’ll bet it is most of the amount. Litigious greed is like a cancer; if we don’t demand reform from congress our economy will continue to suffer.
    I have a table saw, I also have knives and guns.

  23. Adam Cherubini

    I take criticism seriously and allow people to be critical of me here.

    I’m not lobbying congress for tough new anti-table saw legislation. And I like to think i have no "bully pulpit", no influence over woodworkers.

    But the guys who accuse me of being what I call the "Puffy Shirt Police" (I’m not trying to force anyone to do anything, I simply advocate for alternatives) have a point. I think we really do read magazines and try what we learn there. The images of shops really do influence us and that’s exactly the point here. Where hand tools and hand tool shops have been shown (not often) they have been influential. The other 99% of articles show table saws and their use.

    When I shoot photos, I am very careful of backgrounds, the esthetics, and any implied narrative messages that might be interpretted. That’s the chief reason I wear the puffy shirt. It’s not just decorative. It’s part of the message i seek to communicate; I try to represent 18th c sensibilities as accurately as possible, not my interpretation of 18th c sensibilities or what I think may be useful to you. I leave it to you to sort out the usefrul from the ridiculous.

    I’m looking for other authors to do the same vis a vis table saws. If it’s not that important to you, don’t glamorize it by placing it proiminently in photos. Tell us what you have in your heart in your photos.

    My sense is this saw is probably not worth the risks it poses. Read any magazine knowing little about woodworking and you’ll be left with the impression that the first tool you need is a table saw. Even if you just look at the pictures. I recall that being my first impression. If that’s true, so be it. But I suspect it isn’t true. It’s certainly not so prominently depicted in European woodworking magazines.

    I’m not convinced I’m right about about a great many things. I could be all wet here too. But my wish is that this gets discussed. I hope my invective filled post lights fire under some guys. It has been my experience (despite the fact that I don’t believe it) that what gets written here shows up elsewhere in 6 months time. I hope that’s the case this time too.

    Adam

  24. Peter

    Hey Dave,

    I understood something different in "Let’s put table saws on the endangered species list. Not illegal, not extinct. Endangered." As in "some whales are endangered because people have got rid of them" instead of "central government decrees tablesaws are off limits".

    May have something to do with being a Brit in S America, therefore using a diff interpretation than the one you imply (I know the restriction of civil liberties has been impressive and IMO excessive).

    As a corollary you might want to read "My first real injury", Konrad Sauer sliced himself with a chisel not long ago. (http://sauerandsteiner.blogspot.com/)

    Cheers,
    Peter

  25. David Nesting

    Peter –
    Some of the editorial ideas of showing possible alternatives are fine. Fine Woodworking has done several of these for dovetailing and making cabinet door and hand cutting tenons versus cutting with a tablesaw and dado stack.
    I see things perhaps more literal than you do – when someone whos business is writing clear and concise like it is for Adam goes for the case
    "There are people in this world who have to use table saws. But I’m not convinced any of us are among them"
    "Let’s put table saws on the endangered species list. Not illegal, not extinct. Endangered."
    I take him at his word. the only way to get to the ‘endangered list’ is through legislation, and some Nanny operation deciding that X is too dangerous, but Y is ok.

    If we honestly believe that it is up to the individual, then it should be just that… and not driven by folks fundamentally from the "Lets have Zero Power tools" camp decide for me.

  26. Bill

    All of life carries inherent risks. Your car could be leveled by a dump truck leaving the driveway, what good was the airbag? Point is, we are each responsible for our own safety and even at maximum diligence, accidents can happen. But no amount of saftey mechanisms can prevent the truly careless from hurting themselves or someone else.

  27. Peter

    Steve,
    you’re welcome!

    David,
    quite right to point out the possible statistical skewing when comparing accident data… (It’s more likely I’ll die in a car accident than a motorbike ’cause I don’t ride a bike)
    Most of the bandsaw accidents I’ve seen were in the meat industry (I don’t know what you call "resawing" pork etc. is called)

    Cheers,

    Peter

  28. David Cockey

    I use a bandsaw more than a tablesaw. The bandsaw "seems" safer than the tablesaw …. but is it? My table saw has an aftermarket guard which is used always. My bandsaw doesn’t have a guard other than the shield for the blade above the top support. I don’t recall ever seeing a guard for a bandsaw. Accidently run a finger into the exposed teeth of a running blade and the finger will lose. A quick internet search for bandsaw accidents brings up many, including multiple finger lacerations.

    The statistics show far fewer accidents with bandsaws than tablesaws. 2001 data shows 38,000 tablesaw accidents and 4,060 bandsaw accidents That’s the statistics for total number of accidents. How about the statistic for accidents per thousand hours of use? Not available, but lets make a few estimates. For bandsaws to be as safe as tablesaws on an accidents per time spent using, total bandsaw use would have to be at least 10.7% of tablesaw use. My guess is total bandsaw use compared to tablesaw use is a lot less than that.

    Perhaps the bandsaw is more dangerous than the tablesaw.

  29. Peter

    Hey Dave,

    although Adam’s wording may be rather harsh and emotion induced, I think the message is that maybe we need to rethink how and why we do things. e.g. I want to make a laminated workbench (Roubo style from C Schwarz’s posts on popwood) Do I need a jointer + planer + a tablesaw and jigs to prep and cut the joinery? Some other method? It would be silly to attempt it with a chisel exclusively, but there are alternatives.

    Each can do as he/she sees fit, but my untabulated experience is that tablesaws are one of the more "accident prone" machines in the shop (after angle grinders). I see plenty of injuries, some irrelevant others life-changing.

    Do you need…? (fill blank as appropriate) Only you can answer that question for your case, but it does seem fair to call attention to the pros and cons of the machinery to make what is known as an "informed decision".

    Cheers,
    Peter

  30. Dave Nesting

    This seems odd to me that the dedicated neanderthals – are starting a war on the table saw.

    There are many ways to do any task. I certainly have no interest in ripping an 8/4 walnut board with a handsaw.

    "Need" is always a difficult discussion, how big a house, do we need a Car, on a per user basis, more injuries happen on bicycles, and many many more injuries in automobiles.
    It will be a laughable excercise when the new focus is to villify your advertisers products as Unnecessary and overtly dangerous. Perhaps we should report all purchase inquiries to the FBI or Homeland security and make sure those who want a saw are placed on the no-fly list?

  31. Adam Cherubini

    Marc,

    The question I have for you is (and I’m asking for your recommendation for somebody else) "Is this tool worth the risk for normal woodworkers?" Of course everybody gets to decide for themselves. You’ve been around this thing a long time, not unlike my brother Steve. He’s a professional cabinetmaker, and boat builder. He’s also a really fine guitarist. So I’m really looking to you experts to tell me, not vice versa,

    Like you, I meet and shake hands with many woodworkers. Hundreds and hundreds of woodworkers at least. And a lot of those hand shakes feel weird because those guys are missing fingers. And those are just the right hands. I suspect this occurs to more left hands, the hand used to move the waste away from the blade. These guys are older, seem experienced, obviously intelligent. Didn’t Sam Maloof lose some finger tips?

    It seems to me Festool is a safer way to handle sheet goods. And these injuries always seem to involve small pieces, probably better cut on at the band saw any way. Can you push an 8′ board across a band saw? Do we need special outfeed tables? I know band saws have fences.

    Instead of looking at this like we’re trying to hurt the table saw manufacturers, maybe this is an opportunity to create some new safer tool. A band table saw. With fences (I know they have them now) and larger tables.

    Marc, I love your safety week, be happy to write something on this. I tried to join you and talk about hand tool safety last year. Wrote several posts on everything from chisel safety to appropriate foot wear. No obligation for you to participate here, but I think your expertise would be welcome. Love to see a video blog from you on alternatives.

    Adam

  32. Peter

    Hi Adam,
    as a hand surgeon in a workers comp. hospital I see the result of accidents, most of them due to negligence, lack of training and being careless… I agree wholly on people being careful with all tools.

    Almost all hand injuries leave some disability, whether it’s feeling, movement, strength or just a painful scar. FWIW having a cutting accident is better than one where tissue is lost and mangling is the worst from the surgeons point of view. Please remember I’m often treating people for 3 to 12 months for 1 bad decision.

    Just to give readers an idea:

    Fracture (with no soft tissue injury): 4 – 16 wks + rehab

    Tendon laceration and suture: 1-2 surgeries with 4-12 weeks rehab. Tendon reconstruction or transfer: 1-3 surgeries over 1 to 3 months with 12 wks rehab on average

    Nerve injuries:
    Cut (chisel anyone?): 1 surgery 2 wks + 1day per mm of growth needed to reach the inervated area, with a diminished feeling and 1/10 doesn’t work

    Tissue loss (angle grinder/table saw): 1 or 2 surgeries (probably with a graft) same as above but with a far lower rate of success (even worse if you are >50 y.o. and/or smoke)
    Mangling injury: NOTHING to do but wait (upto a year, yup 365 days!)

    This of course is added to the risks of surgery which include but are not limited to death, infection, failure of the surgery, bleeding requiring blood transfusions or reoperation, implant failure and other complications.

    So the next time you decide to do something foolish (and we all have) please remember I love my job, but I’d rather be woodworking at home. For all of our sakes.

    Take care,
    Peter

    BTW I’m going the hand tool way
    1) my youngest’s got asthma and the shop is right next to the house
    2) SWMBO would object to the noise and dust too
    3) I do it for fun, I operate as carefully and quickly as possible, the shop is under less pressure (or so I try)

    Sorry for the rambling post!

  33. Marc Spagnuolo

    I don’t really want to dive into this rather heavy topic on a Sunday morning. Shoot, I haven’t even had my coffee yet! But I have to admit I got a little giddy when Adam mentioned my name. I hope we have a chance to actually meet this year at WIA!

    Anyway, I would love to see more talk of tool alternatives. I usually do recommend that folks use their bandsaws for most of their rips. With a good blade in place, its not only safer but has a thinner kerf and makes less dust.

    But I would have a real hard time getting rid of my tablesaw. Promoting the tablesaw as the "heart of the workshop" may be a bit over-done, but in my world, its true. As a person who tries to incorporate hand tools into every project, I would still find myself a little lost without my tablesaw. Let’s forget about simple cross-cuts and rips. How about its versatility for joinery and adaptability for thousands of jigs. Not saying these things can’t be done with other tools. Just saying they are done very efficiently on a tablesaw. And that’s the reason I would have trouble with an all out effort to remove tablesaws from our shops. Again, let’s educate the heck out of people so they can make smart choices. Let’s get some serious functional safety gear on these tools and let’s show people how to use them. And I should probably correct David who said I don’t use a guard. I have had the HTC Brett guard on my saw for a couple of years now. There was a period when I didn’t use a guard simply because the stock guard was crap. The Brett Guard, however, covers the blade in a way that compliments my workflow and really makes me feel safer. Of course, my riving knife is installed 100% of the time (with the exception of certain specialty cuts). Anyway….

    Now that 30,000/3000 stat is pretty scary sounding. But the one thing we don’t know is who these people were. How many of them were hobbyists? How many of them were working on a cheap contractor saw on a job site with no guards in place? If a large percentage were the latter, all the education, articles and blog posts in the world won’t help someone who isn’t out there looking for the information. I wonder if anyone has any statistics specifically pertaining to small shop woodworkers.

    So I am all for more safety but I am also for choice. I don’t see my tablesaw as a 40-tooth monster just waiting to attack me when I least expect it. But I do believe that the tablesaw is a tool deserving of an enormous amount of respect to ensure my personal safety (much like a vehicle, a lawn mower, a firearm, a car jack, etc…). And with those safety-precautions in place, my tablesaw is a tool that absolutely deserves the square footage it consumes in my shop. But I certainly respect anyone who chooses not to use one for whatever their reasons are.

    Hey Adam, any chance I can get you to write an article on tablesaw alternatives for our next Safety Week? That would be AWESOME!

  34. Luke Townsley

    Adam,

    I like your last statement in the article- "Let’s put table saws on the endangered species list. Not illegal, not extinct. Endangered."

    In the context of the hobbiest woodworker, it makes a lot of sense and has the power to dramatically lower the bar of entry into hobby woodworking.

    Luke

  35. Adam Cherubini

    Gary,

    You’re right. I think I got carried away with "clever" rhetoric (I’m putting that in quotes because maybe it wasn’t so clever). I played up the whole GWOT stuff just to make my point. I think guys don’t think much about their table saws. I’m just looking to raise their consciousness and hoping to attract some other ww press types to join up. So I apologize. I offended you and that’s not my goal here. We can drop the GWOT rhetoric.

    I found some website called Science Daily. I don’t know if it’s a front for Saw Stop or some hoax. What they said is that 30,000 Americans hurt themselves on their table saws each year. Of them, 10% or 3000 people lose fingers or more.

    If true, a good portion of those may well be wood working magazine, web forum, and blog readers that we can reach. I think we owe it to them to remind them that this saw, above all others, has this safety record. And that if they are concerned about it, they can do x,y, and z. That’s not exactly the holy crusade I made it out to be. It’s really just good public safety information.

    Adam

  36. Gary

    Gerry,
    First let me say that my comment in "Enough is enough" was addressed strictly to Adam. I agree with you that for many operations the bandsaw is a far safer choice than a table saw.

    Adam,
    If there is no "holier than thou" side to this than please explain some of the comments you made

    1. GWOT – global war on table saws (to me, and I may be misinterpreting your meaning, but it sounds quite similar the rhetoric the pope used for the Crusades and the Taliban use today)

    2. "I’m thinking it’s time to declare ALL OUT WAR on the table saw (that doesn’t sound like frank and honest discussion to me)

    3. "we start having frank discussions about the darker side of this tool. In short, it’s dangerous and its unnecessary." (two point here, you call for discussion and then state "In short it’s dangerous and it’s unnecessary – that’s not a discussion, that’s a verdict – as in kangaroo court verdict. Also, you mention it’s "darker side". I’m sorry, but I have never heard of a saw getting up in the middle of the night and attacking someone. ALL injuries on any tool are the results of the operator, (except maybe a blade flying apart)either by doing something in an unsafe manner or by a momentary lapse in attention.

    4. "I don’t believe there should be a home in ANY SHOP for a tool that can do this." (Sound like a call to make ownership illegal. Although you later state "not illegal", this is the same tactic used by many groups to bring about eventual litigation to make something illegal. First a call to regulate something, then a call for only selective use, then an outright ban.)

    5. "we need to route these tools from the basement WHERE THEY HIDE and bring them to justice." (Right, sound like more ‘frank and honest discussion’ to me. For some reason, you seem to want to attribute some innate evil character to something that is absolute incapable of such. Most machines are dangerous if used improperly – from garbage disposals to hay baler – but none of them are evil.

    Other things you mention are also questionable. You state "How long are we going to sit here and do nothing about the table saw." That’s odd, because since 2004, SawStop had done a lot to address this problem. Many of the major saw manufacturers are now including riving knifes and the guards are greatly improved or older styles.

    You comment on the saw being wrongly called "an essential tool" has some validity. NO tool is totally essential – not even hand planes – as there is always another way to do something with wood. It comes down to choice, the Freedom of Choice for which you dawn on a uniform and bravely protect this country (and no, I am NOT being vicious but am grateful for our soldiers) It is common for any writer to claim whatever they are writing about as being "essential" whether it be table saws, workbenches, or battery-powered tape measures. It is up to the reader to make an educated decision.

    As to your stating we need more in the press, EVERY book I have seen on table saws goes into great depth on saw safety. MOST of the articles written about a sawing technique usually mentions to one degree or another about what is and isn’t safe. As far as presenting alternatives to the table saw, there has been much written in the last few years about rediscovering hand tools, which is why there has been such an advancement in the quality of hand tools. There is no reason why certain woodworking magazines should go out of their way to expound your particular opinion if their readership is more interested in power tools. And as far as using fancy photography to display the table saw, that’s called marketing and is used to sell everything from toilet paper, to sports cars, and even our beloved hand tools.

    But the thing that I was most objectionable to was your use of FEAR as a means to put forward your argument. I won’t re quote you, but take a look at all the times fear is used in your article. This is the same tactic used by every hate-group or fanatical party since time recorded. Maybe your whole intent was to throw a humorous slant to your article, but unfortunately, I didn’t find it funny.

  37. Clayton Blake

    I believe the discussion is important. I have known a few people with missing digits due to a table saw mishap. In each case it was not the saws fault. The operators used the saw without the guard in place. But I can’t throw stones – I also use mine unguarded. I do use proper work hold downs and push sticks, and I have all ten fingers still attached. I am just VERY careful. I respect the saw, but I do not fear it.

    Due to a repetitive motion injury in my elbows, to remove my table saw from my shop would probably end the hobby for me. I simply cannot rip with a hand saw for any length of time without enduring a large amount of pain. I still do a lot of work by hand, always mindful of my elbows, but the table saw is vital for me to enjoy the hobby at the level I desire. I realize my band saw is a viable alternative, but my table saw is very good at what I use it for. Again, I am VERY careful.

  38. Gary Roberts

    Adam

    Speaking as having worked as a vocational rehabilitation counselor for 15 years, the single most dangerous piece of equipment in wood shops, is and was, the table saw. I saw way too many people with missing digits, hands, hand injuries, eye injuries, etc. The second most dangerous piece of equipment is and was the motorcycle.

    Why? Because way too many people become complacent in their ‘expertise’ with the tool and start to neglect safety precautions.

    We’re in an impatient, results-now society that won’t abide by the time it takes to hand saw a board.

    Me… I use a Milwaukee circular saw along with some long straight edges when I have to dimension a really big piece of wood or plywood.

    FWIW, I’m putting my Delta contractors saw, bandsaw, drill press and jointer up for sale soon. I like my fingers as they are and have no desire to become a client of a voc rehab program any time in the future. And I’m in no rush to do the work. I don’t make a living at woodwork, so why not relax and enjoy the experience? Even when I worked in an architectural fixture firm, we rarely used the table saws. The bandsaw was more often turned to for trimming and dimensioning.

  39. Adam Cherubini

    Yahoo,

    You are misreading me. There’s no hand tool versus power tool here. I’m suggesting, tho admittedly ignorant, that the band saw may be a better and safer way to saw wood. This isn’t a hand versus power thing. I’m advocating for a different power tool. I’m doing it to help guys who use power tools. I’m not looking for converts in my plan for hand tool domination. Guys (okay Schwarz) kid me about stuff like that. To quote the 20th c philosopher Austin Powers "Hey that’s not my bag, baby."

    Gerry,

    We’re human being and we make mistakes. There’s no holier than thou side to this. If there are safer alternatives, we should know all about them. I read a lot of woodworking magazines. Even Norm talks about shop safety on every show. But what i NEVER hear from any source is "Pros use this tool, but it’s expensive and it’s dangerous. You can use this tool instead. To make this work for you, you’ll have to do x,y,and z"

    That’s all I want.
    Adam

  40. Bryan Lloyd

    I don’t use power tools for three reasons: Melanie, Alex, and Patrick, my three kids. They are naturally curious, careless, and clumsy, and they often cannot help themselves despite numerous warnings. I would recommend that anyone with small children carefully consider their tool purchases with this in mind.

  41. yahoo.com

    Adam,
    Enough is Enough. I am sickened by all this "hand tool vs. power tool" mentality. It is starting to have the same verbiage and logic of hate groups and religious fanatics. We are all woodworkers and the method we prefer should not be denigrated by fellow woodworkers. No one is denying power tools can be dangerous if used improperly, but if we were to follow your logic then we should stop driving simply because other people are getting killed on the roads. If you are uncomfortable with a table saw than by all means don’t use it, but don’t start ranting about how we need to "route these tools from the basements where they hide and bring them to justice."
    It is sad that you would use Norm Abram in you argument against table saws as he is a master CARPENTER, not a furniture maker. His work has rarely gone beyond that of what you would find in Walmart, but it is not simply because he uses power tools. The vast majority of all finely crafted furniture, both modern and reproductions, is created, at least in part – the table saw included – with power tools.
    Should we all reject Shaker furniture, since they were the ones credited with bring the evils of the table saw into being? Do you honestly believe that the majority of 18th century woodworkers would have turned their noses up at a modern power tool. By all means, write of the virtues and joys of hand tools; I, for one, rejoice over the hand tool revival, but don’t try to turn it into some kind of religion by condemning those who enjoy doing it a little differently than yourself.

  42. Gerry O'Brien

    Adam,
    I’m not an expert and have never professed to be, but in the 40+ years that my occupational and recreational persuits have included carpentry, woodworking, metal machining, automotive repair & restoration, house renovation and machinery restorations I have both used and owned just about every type of tool and machine you can imagine. Woodshop equipment, metal lathes & mills, pipe threading machines, jackhammers, nail guns, diamond masonry saws, farm tractors, chainsaws, etc., they’re all sitting either in my shop or on a project site as we speak. Friends often joke that I should open my own rental center because of my vast collection of tools & equipment. As I’ve amassed and worked with this eclectic mix of implements, I’ve come to realize one consistant fact… far and away the single most dangerous element in any operation is ME.
    Tools and machines act very consistently. A tablesaw for example just sits there spinning it’s blade in a predetermined orbit without variation. Barring a catastrophic failure of the arbor which turns the blade into a lethal frisbee, the cutting teeth are incapable of reaching out and touching you. It is the erratic actions of the human operator which creates the recipe for disaster…laying other items on the table where they can vibrate into the blade, reaching over the blade to retrieve a cutoff, using a twisted piece of stock and pushing harder when it starts to bind on the blade the list goes on and on. I’ve seen tons of palm lacerations over the years that look as though the victim had been shaking hands with a running chainsaw. The culprit?, a simple screwdriver…and a workman who grabbed a worn tool or one that didn’t properly fit the fastener or simply didn’t want to take the time to bore a pilot hole and tried to force a screw into hardwood. Is it the screwdriver’s fault? I’d say no. In your "declaration of war", you admit to your own tendency toward accidents, but contend that they are all minor because hand tools are’t capable of jeapordizing your digits; however in a March1, 2009 posting about hand tool safety you clearly state that it would be easy to cut your finger to the bone with one of your chisels…doesn’t the resulting severed muscle and/or tenon constitute a jeapordized digit?
    Don’t get me wrong, I fully agree that we have to stop glamorizing our tools and ignoring the fact that they will slice through human flesh as easily (or perhaps easier) than they will truncate a block of rock maple. Neither am I preaching as Saint Gerry the perfectly safe worker… far from it, I’m admittedly one of the worst sinners in the congregation. All I’m saying is the next time you find yourself thinking "it’s only one hole, I don’t need a clamp", "I don’t really like this, but I think it’ll work", "It’s a little short, but I think I can joint it" or any similar sentiments STOP! and realize the danger you’re placing yourself in. If you need 3 specialized jigs to place your stock in the correct relation to the cutter…you’re probably asking the machine to do something for which it’s not best suited – beg, borrow or buy the right equipment for the job. If you have to contort your body into some unnatural shape in order to feed the material through the machine…you’re probably using the wrong technique – try another way.
    So before we condemn any single tool and declare global warfare to render it endangered, please consider the words of the old time comic character Pogo "we have met the enemy, and it is us". Let’s declare war on the human frailties which are the real culprit before we discover that the woodworkers are the endangered species.
    Gerry

  43. Adam Cherubini

    Paul,
    I don’t run the magazine (yet), so all I can do is lobby, but yes, you have the right idea. PW isn’t going to throw away their table saw(s), but they don’t have to appear prominently with the sexy tool porn lighting.

    You all know how magazines and photos in magazines work. They make things look deceptively inviting. Even when you are not looking at an advertisement, smart people who take the pictures are trying to represent some narrative. I do it. My shop is the basement of my crappy split level, not an 18th c wood shop. Had I left the cinder block walls, and flickering fluorescent lights, you would feel differently about my work, including my writing. My pictures, poor as they are, are evocative in some small way.

    Real table saws in real shops are typically covered in dust, with piles of saw dust under them. Glue spills and stains marr the table. With the exception of Kelly Mehler’s shop, I’ve never seen a table saw that looks in any way inviting. I find the noise of the cutting gives me tunnel vision. Other loud noises do this to me as well.

    Showing these tools for what they are is an important first step, Paul. So yes, it would be my goal to stop "euphemizing" images of table saws in the PW shop. Wish me luck with that.

    All,
    I think there are folks who use these tools safely. But people who use them know the risks they pose. My guess is, I can get pros like Glen Huey to participate in GWOT. I’m fairly certain he knows all the power tool alternatives, how much longer they take, all the ramifications etc. Understanding the issue 360 degrees around is really what we want.

    Adam

  44. Wilfred

    I have Japanese saws, crosscut saws, ripsaws, dovetail saws, keyhole saws, coping saws, gent’s saw, drywall saw, hand miter saw, power jig saw, power circular saw, chain saw, table saw, and two BANDSAWS. I use the bandsaw for cutting curves, intricate figures, re-sawing and ripping. I have a large number of blades for the bandsaw from 1/2" 4 tpi all the way down to 1/8"16 tpi. I do not like to use my table saw, but sometimes it is really the only practical way to perform a task. My next major tool purchase will be a large bandsaw in the 20"+ range. At that point I will probably get rid of the table saw. If I had the room I would try to find one of those very old, very big bandsaws.
    I suppose you could hurt yourself pretty badly on a bandsaw, but you would have to try pretty hard to do it.

  45. Rick Lapp

    The very best quote I’ve ever read about tablesaw safety was from James Krenov: "Exercise caution, but not undue fear". I saw that to myself whenever I use my tablesaw. I heartily agree that alternatives to the great screaming monster ought to be promoted.

  46. Luke Townsley

    The tool I would actually like to have is a bandsaw. Given that my health hasn’t been too good, that would take out some of the grunt work out of resawing.

    However, in some ways they scare me more than a table saw. Especially with the guard up for a heavy duty resaw, which is what I would really want it for.

    My other idea is to work on refining a frame saw setup for resawing. It would still be a lot of work, but perhaps I could very significantly reduce the effort require with a better saw.

  47. Jim S.

    I would definitely add the power jointer to this campaign. Both my father and grandfather lost tips of fingers in their jointers. It’s a one-trick pony that can be replaced by a limited set of hand planes. My power jointer has already tasted human flesh (it was my grandfather’s) and I’m worried that it wants more. 😉 I haven’t used it in a year or so since I’ve been trying to do all my jointing with hand planes. It takes longer for me at my current ability level, but that will change….

  48. adam

    First: yours is one of my favorite wood working blogs – I commend you for putting this idea out there. I don’t have a table saw and have no inclination to get one. My Story:

    I grew up in my dad’s shop and the table saw was the only tool that I never used, at some level the thing just scared the heck out of me, plus I have a very strong memory when I was really young watching my dad rip some stock for some project we were working on. When he made the cut, I innocently reached across the table while it was running to grab some waste material! Dad quickly grabbed my wrist and while he didn’t scold me, he did proceed to tell me in graphic detail what he imagined was going to happen to my right hand if it continued on it’s way, and how awful he’d feel for having allowed anything like that happen under his watch.

    It was at once a very endearing memory of my dad as a concerned father, as well as a powerful lesson on safety: plan for the worst case scenario, and make sure you are protected from ever having to be in that situation. For me, now pushing 40, I’ve seen bad things happen to the carefullest people. I know all too well my own fallibility, and because I have no professional alignment with wood crafts, I agree wholeheartedly that I can get by without one, pursuing the craft at a slower pace..

    – Adam of Oakland

    P.S. I do plan on getting a band saw, though 🙂

  49. Shannon

    I see a big can of worms that is not only open, but spilled all over the floor of the shop. (that is a slippery safety hazard by the way) There are some good comments here Adam but I think I see the nobility in your statement that media should make an attempt to popularize alternative methods and write/shoot/speak about more projects that don’t require the table saw. I wrote a post several months ago about abstaining from my table saw and jointer to see how my work would change. I didn’t miss either of them really and could see many alternatives that didn’t just involve hand tools. I did not however, write about any of those revelations. I think this is something I will take to heart and see if we can at least get people thinking about options instead of the knee jerk "gotta get a table saw first" reaction.

  50. Adam

    I’m not interested in removing choices, just as I said. Nor do I want to put anyone out of business.

    The argument that we can hurt ourselves with hand tools is a hollow one. Lots and lots of guys are loosing pieces of themselves on table saws an jointers. These are devastating accidents that no amount of stitches can fix.

    The accidents happen in a flash to even experienced guys. Ask Kelly Mehler what he thinks. I’d like to see him interviewed about power tool safety.

    We can say all power tool accidents are user error. But there’s something particularly unforgiving about these high speed blades that can take your fingers.

    Not looking for ban. Just frank discussions about the risks, the injuries, the disabilities that result and the alternatives. We need to stop the "Table Saw Magic" myths and it needs to stricken from the "Essential Tools" lists. FWW’s "win a shop full of tools" should no longer include a table saw.

  51. Dave Laaneorg

    If I may, I’d like to share two points.

    Firstly, Chris’ article illustrated one thing to me: civil litigation has gotten out of control in America. Another illustration of this, look at warning labels on products. We recently had some friends come and stay with us for a few days. For their kids, I inflated a twin sized air mattress. As I did that, I noticed the warning label on the back side. Read the english version and you get three paragraphs of warnings about not using it in water for risk of drowning, near fires, or heating elements, et cetera ad nauseum. Then look at the warnings for other countries in other languages, 15 words. Why the warnings for us? Civil litgation. We are supposed to have brains, and be able to use them. But alas…

    Secondly, my day job is in a small cabinet shop, and for a professional (read: someone who needs to make a living making something) the time savings by using a table saw are huge. And time is money. As well, most shops I know remove most if not all the guards. We use splitters when necessary, but otherwise we follow shop rules for the use of push sticks and keeping yourself out of harms way. Have I had close calls? Yes, all due to me pushing those limits.

    That said, at home I only use hand tools, barring my use of a circular saw to cut down sheet goods and rip long boards. At home, time is not money, time is pleasure. That makes all the difference.

  52. Luke Townsley

    I think you are right on that its importance should be downplayed instead of promoted for home woodworkers. There are cheaper, safer alternatives for most types of cuts. Like handsaws.

    Unfortunately, hobby woodworkers are patterning their purchases after production shops. In part, this is because most magazines have to sell themselves twice. Once to the reader and once to the advertisers.

    As was mentioned, a great part of the problem is running saws without the safety equipment installed. Another part is that hobby woodworkers often end up making some weird cuts that big shops don’t.

    Also, a lot of people work with plywood frequently and that is where a tablesaw "shines." Of course there are alternatives, but they aren’t as versatile or are even more dangerous- like a hand-held circular saw.

  53. David Pruett

    I have injured myself more on my hand tools that on my power tools – all minor thankfully. Should we put some safety devices on chisels because some still push the sharp part towards our soft parts? Stupidity is pervasive whether it is in using hand tools or power tools.

    If you want to make a good start of power tool safety, start covering up the table saw blade in the TV shows – even Mark Spagnola leaves it uncovered. I have seen enough of the round saw going through the wood to know it is not that dramatic.

  54. Bob Rozaieski

    I think I read the same post as you. I genuinely feel for the gentleman and can’t even imagine being in the same situation. I hope he recovers quickly and as fully as possible. It’s really a terrible thing that happened to him.

    However, reading a little more into HOW the accident happened, I don’t think that the saw was to blame (not that he ever implied that it was, just to be clear). From the gentleman’s description of the accident, it sounds as if the guard had been removed from the saw. I can’t see how it could have happened with the guard in place, even the cheap factory guard. It also sounds like the cut being made did not require the guard’s removal, so there really should have been no reason to have it off.

    I like choices myself, so I’m not ready to declare all out war on any type of tool, whether for the home shop or not. I do agree with you that no home hobby woodworker NEEDS a table saw. For that matter, no one NEEDS a jointer, planer, bandsaw, drill press, dust collector, etc. either. All of these tools can be dangerous if not used properly. However, just because people get hurt from using the tools carelessly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have the choice to use them safely. We all need to be responsible for our own actions and not place the blame on someone else (the manufacturer for not including flesh detecting technology or the magazines for saying the tool is a must have).

    Hand tools are no different. While it would take some effort and determination to completely remove an appendage with one, they can still seriously injure and handicap a woodworker. Last year at WIA, while helping in the SAPFM Hand Tool Olympics, Alan Turner (PFW was in the adjacent booth) and I had to stop numerous participants several times during the dovetail cutting event because they were holding the wood in one hand and paring with a sharp chisel with the other hand…directly toward the hand holding the wood. It doesn’t take much imagination to guess what could have happened had one of them slipped. We certainly could have seen a serious accident with the potential for permanent damage. After stopping them, explaining what could happen and showing them how to secure the stock to the bench properly, thankfully, there were no accidents.

    But chisels don’t come with guards, labels, warnings or instructions. I like to think they don’t need to, but when I see how some folks try to use them, I wonder if there should be. Table saws (and other power tools) on the other hand have huge warning labels, multiple guards and several pages in the front of the instruction manual warning how to properly use the tool and to never use the tool without the guard in place. Still, people remove the guard or never install it in the first place. This is not the fault of the tool manufacturer, the magazines or anyone else but the person performing the action.

    With that said, I do very much agree with you that it would benefit everyone if alternative methods to the table saw were popularized. Not because there is anything wrong with table saws (when used properly and safely), but because budget and space minded home woodworkers need to know that there are better, cheaper, safer alternatives to dropping several thousands of dollars and needing a shop the size of a small warehouse to get started in woodworking. Choices are a good thing for everyone involved.

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