California Considers Table Saw Law

California assembly member Das Williams has introduced a proposed law that would make the sale of new table saws without active injury mitigation technology, illegal. As written, the law would take effect January 15, 2015 and defines the requirement as:

“technology to detect contact with, or dangerous proximity between, a hand or finger and the teeth of the blade above the table top of a table saw, and to prevent the blade from cutting the hand or finger deeper than one-eighth of an inch when the hand or finger approaches any portion of the blade above the table top at a speed of one foot per second from any direction and along any path. Notwithstanding the prior sentence, active injury mitigation technology may be temporarily deactivated by a person so that a saw can cut material which would otherwise be detected as a person.”

The proposed legislation can be found in PDF format at this link

The federal government, through the Consumer Products Safety Commission, is in the process of considering proposed product safety requirements with similar specifications, and will be holding hearings sometime this year. While this law would not directly effect sales of table saws in other states, consumer legislation in California often has an impact beyond the borders of that state. Documents from the CPSC regarding this matter can be found at this link.

Popular Woodworking Magazine has written extensively about this issue, and related blog posts can be found here.

–Robert W. Lang

62 thoughts on “California Considers Table Saw Law

  1. ewdysar

    I love to read internet comments, people make the most outlandish claims while they try to make a point, life does indeed imitate comedy…

    There will be no buy back program because the proposed legislation does not require retrofits, anyone can operate an old “unprotected” saw as long as they want. As far as the “excessive cost” of returning the saw to operational after you trigger it, I expect that I will never trigger the stop for as long as I live (I’ve never set off air bags either). And if I do, I’ll gladly pay with cash rather than body parts.

    Yes, there are other options besides SawStop. The big players are already gearing up with their own solutions that meet the proposed specifications. They will not be released until mandated. When this happens, I believe that SawStop will go out of business unless they can provide some other reason to purchase their saws rather than all of the other saws that will be just as safe. The funny thing is that this legislation just might guarantee that no major tool manufacturer will ever use the SawStop patent.

    This is just like the way that seatbelts and airbags were phased in. I still have two cars that are perfectly legal in California without seatbelts, although the oppressive California vehicle regulations require that I add a brake light to my car that was built without one (there were actually no electric lights on the car when it left the factory). I’m actually planning on adding turn signals and marker lights also to encourage other drivers to not destroy my car while I’m in it.

  2. Eweber

    Here we go again. Fisrt of all I think it’s a pretty cool technology and can help reduce accidents, but there are some issues. Lets start with the fact that this is a moisture sensing technology unable to detect the differance between a finger a hotdog or a piece of damp lumber. The fact that it can be turned off tells me it still needs tweaking. To add to others car analogies, you can’t reach up to the dash and turn off your antilock brakes. The way in which this issue has been “sold” to the CPSC is a bit distasteful.
    The main issue is the slippery slope theory. If this law passes, then whats next. I firmly believe that my tablesaw is neither safe or unsafe, rather that the operater, me, is either safe or not. “I” don’t want to be regulated.
    CA is usually first on these issues, wether for good or bad and we residents will simply have to deal with it the best we can.

  3. JReininger

    There once was a state in the west,
    whose politicians knew all that was best.
    For safety they raved,
    to our freedom they caved.
    To thee I raise the finger you saved!

  4. Chris652

    The issue I have with SawStop is the inventor is a Physicist and a Lawyer. He’s using his law background to force other manufacturers to adopt his technology. It’s plain unethical behavior. Allow the marketplace to work. Let people choose and let the demand for this product stir more research by other manufacturers to improve safety.

    Look at the table saw accidents that get media attention. No safety devices, pulling a board with you hand a few inches behind the blade, etc. Some people will even try to carve out a bowl by resting a blank on top of the blade and rotating it around the blade with their hands. It’s plain nuts!

    There are alternatives to this technology that shouldn’t force manufacturers to have this device on their saw. My favorite being a sliding table saws that keeps your hands well away from the blade. Beyond that I would expect training and personal responsibility will go a long way toward mitigating a good number of table saw accidents and help prevent injuries from using other machines. There are so many other machine tools that are so much more dangerous the SawStop doesn’t address. Just watch some of the YouTube videos for examples of people doing stupid things with Shapers. Some of it will pop your eyeballs out.

    The comments about pen knives, razor blades aren’t too ridiculous as one commenter notes. The only time I’ve ever taken stitches to a wound has been a stab wound due to a utility knife opening up a 5 gal bucket of paint. There are many, many ways to inflict serious injury to yourself in the shop.

    1. CarlosJD

      I think it might be important to remember that SawStop tried to promote this technology to all the other established saw manufacturers. Because of their short sightedness they reject it so he decided to start his own company incorporating this technology. I own a SawStop, however legislating the use of this technology rubs me the wrong way. I think what should be legislated against is the frivolous law suits by operators who get injured by using the equipment in very stupid ways.

  5. jasstack

    I’ve been a professional woodworking for 35 years and I’ve logged thousands of hours behind a table saw. 9 weeks ago, I almost lost my ring finger and tore up my little and middle fingers. The surgeon saved my finger because the nerves were still intact. I was lucky.

    I still believe common sense can’t be legislated. I also believe that a saw-stop setup would have saved me $30,000.00 in medical expenses (well, saved the insurance company the money). That money could have bought several saw-stop table saws. So, therein lies the rub. Saw-stop technology is expensive and retro fitting a saw to accept the new technology costs a lot (I’ve seen $700.00 and up).

    I’m saving up to buy a saw-stop saw, but that’s my decision and no one told me to do so (my wife is all in favor of it because she drove me to the emergency room).

    BTW, the emergency room workers told me they see a table saw injury once a week, sometimes more depending on the time of year.

  6. gwatson

    The real problem is that young, entry level woodworkers will learn to use an inherently dangerous tool that has been been cleverly modified to appear less dangerous. The essence of any good safety program is the level of awareness on the part of the tool user. The less experienced users of these modified saws will be less aware of the actual potential for injury that results from poor practices. Once a user has sufficient experience with a standard saw configuration to learn proper use, the modification might make sense. After all, there are many more potential sources of injury in any workshop than just the table saw. I can think of several more effective uses of the $1000 to improve the safety of my shop. Awareness, knowledge, proper use of tools, and common sense cannot be legislated.

  7. ebates

    The sawstop is a wonderful piece of American ingenuity, and I am proud of it. Does that mean I should be forced to buy it? I’m convinced that the dangers inherent in my table saw make me a better woodworker. Becuase my table saw is a dangerous tool, I approach it with respect and a great deal of planning and patience. I move slowly around my table saw and really think things through before I flip the switch to “on.” Also, push-sticks, people. There is no reason for your hand to ever come close to the blade. I’m convinced that the patience I have learned from working with a table saw has carried over into all aspects of my woodworking and made me better at it.
    I’m all for airbags and anti-lock brakes in cars, especially for my high-school age boys, BUT I would argue that these safety features result in less-skilled drivers. If the car is going to protect you in case of an accident, you have less incentive to be a good driver. I believe the same to be true of table saws.

  8. CessnapilotBarry

    Well said, Areselle and Walsh…

    Personally, I chose to purchase flesh-sensing technology after nearly 20 years of accident-free table sawing. I’m happy there are still SawStop haters, ’cause I got a great return on my 11 year old cabinet saw. I chose to purchase flesh sensing technology because it works, it’s obtainable, and I plan to get as much value from the crematorium as I can some day. Why pay the same to dispose of less body? They can cremate all the fingers I’m paying for. ;^)

    Those that think proven safety gear is “stupid” or “nanny-like” should be required to post proof of full insurance coverage, or a cash bond to cover yourselves in the case of an accident that could have been prevented with available safety gear. This includes safety “technology” like safety glasses and hearing protection.

    Why should I pay higher insurance rates, or hospital fees because you’re thick as a brick? I think you’re fully entitled to lose digits, blind yourself, or go deaf, but you’re on your own…

    An alternative to mandated safety gear might be mandated training, but I haven’t seen it mentioned.

    One a side note, if you’re in my car, you’re wearing your seatbelt, because I don’t want your body crushing me in a crash. If you’re working near me, you’re also going to be using riving knives, personal protection, and proper technique, anytime your choices might affect me.

    1. robert125

      Great, then lets force everyone to have a Mercedes since they are much safer than my Ford Escort. We would all love to have the best and safest equipment (no one here wouldn’t) but since we don’t have unlimited budgets, some choices have to be made. Our problem is being forced because some people think everyone should. By forcing this, you would push out some new woodworkers because they couldn’t even afford to get in on the ground floor.

      1. areselle

        Technological innovations always become cheaper when generalized. StopSaw technology will also. One severed finger at $20,000 for hospital and rehab (not to mention lost income, disability payments, and suffering) will buy a lot of stop saw technology. Would you like to buy a Ford Escort without airbags and save $300 (in the 1990′s they cost $1000+ before being mandated)?

        You have safety legislation and not ‘the market place’ to thank for (cheap) air bags. What is the market’s stand on safety? ‘Caveat emptor’ — ‘Let the buyer beware.’ That’s great, if you’re qualified to expertly assess each and every product you buy, and have the time to assess each one before you buy it.

  9. finzona

    I’m not opposed to table saw safety so much as the cost and time involved to fix the SawStop. There has to be a way to instantly stop the saw other than what this company has come up with. Only time and competition will tell.
    I find the chop saw far more dangerous than a table saw. They are in much greater use in general construction. I have seen many more serious injuries from the chop saw than any table saw. When I worked at a level one trauma center of a major hospital not once did I see or hear of an injury by a table saw. There were many emergency cases of chop saw injuries.

    1. ibdavidc

      Typically, the cost of the technology will drop quite a bit once it is in larger-scale production. This leaves the cost of the ruined blade, and I’m sure somebody will figure out how to save that, too, once there is incentive to do so.

      I guess, though, that when I consider the medical deductibles that would ensue (for me, $75 for the ER visit, $125 for admissions, plus all the followup visits to the surgeon at $30 per, drug co-pays, and lost time in the shop), the financial incentive actually is there today, even at the current cost. :-)

  10. walsh@iu.edu

    I must admit to being a little surprised by the responses here. It’s not about government impinging on personal freedom; it’s about safety. The comments about toothbrushes and penknives and razor blades are just plain ridiculous. How do we feel about seat belts or airbags? After all, we’re all safe and responsible drivers, right?
    I could go on with a list a mile long here, but you get the picture.

    It boggles the mind that people that will spend thousands of dollars on woodworking equipment, materials and supplies are against spending perhaps $200-$300 more to render one of the most dangerous tools we use daily a little safer. Come on, people!! This is a true piece of good old American ingenuity and we should be proud of it.

  11. areselle

    I’m old enough to remember cars sold without seat belts. I can only imagine those who feel their freedom gravely under attack by product safety requirements would have been screaming bloody murder when they became required safety equipment (the auto industry resisted this innovation), and they likely have prepared for armed revolution once most states require that you actually use them. For those who find safety-securing features a metaphysical assault on their dignity and freedom, remember this: you can easy circumvent them (hey guys, you can just hook your left shoulder through the safety belt and so the cops think you’re wearing it — be free!) Yeah, children scream ‘Tyranny!’ when you say they have to do their homework before settling down in front of the TV. This blog is filled with similar hyperbolic Chicken Littleisms. When was the last time someone accidentally slit their jugular with a razor, or cut their hand off with a back saw? Toothbrushes with face shields?!? This sounds like the poorly reasoned whining of spoiled children.

    People have a god given right to do stupid things. But why should the rest of us let the puerile self-assertion of ‘freedom lovers’ force us into the situation of either telling the ‘rugged individualist’ who shows up in the ER with a bloody stump that they’re going to have to take care of that themselves at home — or force some hospital or insurance pool pay for it? Freedom isn’t free, and stupidity is really expensive.

    How could our sense of freedom have become so pathetically diminished that we actually think it is endangered by product safety requirements? Try living in a country where there is precious little freedom. You’ll almost certainly not find anything like a CPSC.

    1. robert125

      Then buy a saw-stop but don’t force me to buy one? I’m not stopping your choice, why are you trying to force me to your choice. And it is not $200-$300. I keep hearing that figure, but I can’t afford a 2k table (and I don’t expect you to subsidize it so I can). Yes a table saw is dangerous, but so is the bandsaw, radial arm saw, and hand saw (hack saw will cut you to the bone just as quick). I’m not against innovation and that they have a solution is great, just don’t force me to buy that when a standard table saw does the job just fine.

      1. ewdysar

        Currently a SawStop contractor’s saw with a 52″ fence is available for about $1000 more than comparable saws from other major manufacturers (I think that SawStop is trying to get their money while the getting is good). So that is the premium for the technology right now. The $200-$300 figure came from SawStop when they were promoting their technology to the major manufacturers, these figures include assumtions based on economies of scale. The major manufacturers agree with these figure, and the solutions that they are developing (not SawStop) should come in right around that number.

        Without legislation that requires this type of technology, we’ll never see the safety premium drop to less than $300, because no major tool company will make the capital investment to ramp up to the high volumes needed. As such, this kind of safety equipment will continue to be elitest, only used by those with enough money to pay for the extra technology. The people most at risk, untrained jobbers at worksites, will remain unprotected and continue to lose digits from their ignorance.

        It’s sad that it takes legislation to fully adopt any sort of safety equipment that we take for granted like airbags, GFI circuits, any OSHA regulation, etc. The list goes on and on. For those who believe that the government is too intrusive about safety regulations, go to another country and look at working conditions without our regulations. All of these places have cheap safety solutions available, thanks to US and European safety regulations forcing the economies of scale, and yet most workers are left to fend for themselves to save surprisingly small amounts of money for the company owners.

  12. affyx

    Makes me wonder, cynic that I am… Are SawStop saws are so darn expensive because they’re paying lobbyists? if their patents are sewn up nicely, this law might remove all competition in Cali

  13. Lee

    Another Dumbass decision from California. They should put more time into figuring out how to get out of debt than sticking their noses in other peoples business. Can’t wait for an earthquake that seperates that state from the rest of the nation amd sends them out to sea. Dumbest Democratic State of our nation.

    Who the hell do they think they are telling “We The People” What we have to do. Up Theirs!

  14. GunnyGene

    Das would no doubt be horrified to learn that it’s common practice when using a hand saw for the woodworker to rest the saw against a finger for stability and guidance when starting a cut. OMG, why isn’t there a sawstop device to prevent people from sawing their finger with a back saw?

    I also use a knife to clean under my nails. Quick, draft a new bill! Must Eliminate All Sharp Objects From Society. (PS, make sure there’s some money in it for my campaign)

    Bunch of maroons.

  15. Julian

    I like the idea of a buy back program but that doesn’t seem to be part of the new proposed law. Apparently justice is served to those who can afford the best lawyers.

  16. buddhawan

    What next? remove razor blades from the market because you might get nicked?

    Hummm . . . wonder if there will be a buy-back program from the state for current table saws that do not have these safety features. Its not like we are running a major deficit or anything like that. Rather then solve problems our outstanding legislature will impose more and more rules, the whole time failing to see any connection between their stupidity and the declining economy.

    Maybe its time to consider moving back to Ohio

    1. gumpbelly

      Living in Ohio is a good thing for more reasons than this. You Cali folks can let Das know what you think of the outstanding job he is doing next time he comes up for re-election. At least there is a process where citizens can cast a vote in this regard, unlike the CPSC cramming it`s wishes down our throats.

  17. ramster805

    Just because we have the technology to have saw stop devices on a saw doesn’t mean everyone should have it, it should be a choice. We also have the technology to put breath-a-lizer in cars people get killed everyday and we don’t have them in every car. If a person decides to remove a safty feature from any device the tool should then be owners responsibility not the manufactures.

  18. metalworkingdude

    What a phenomenally bad idea. Unfortunately, California (where I live) tends to be a predictor of national policy on things like this.

    Did anyone miss the fact that the recent landmark lawsuit on saw safety centered on a saw that already had safety mechanisms that had been removed? Or that in was incorrectly being used?

    I’m all for tool safety, but what about personal responsibility?

    1. Richard Dawson

      This is America. We don’t operate that way.

      My Plan:
      First, provide an outline of sorts with estimates from Mitch, Paul, Don, and others who have opinions, but not necessarily subject matter knowledge. Be sure to ignore troop level estimates offered by general Shinseki.

      Bomb the capital.

      Place Paul Bremer in charge. He will promptly dissolve the government and send all party members home. This is called “De-Californication.” He will then appoint officials friendly to our national and financial interests.

      Disband all military and law enforcement agencies and send them home, without pay. Let them keep their weapons.

      Confiscate and burn all copies of Blind into Baghdad. Sit back and watch democracy blossom.

      Mission Accomplished.

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